By Benjamin Waldrum
Priya Mendiratta, M.D., M.P.H., geriatrician and director for the geriatric clerkship and course for medical students at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), was invested Jan. 16 in the Alexa L. & William T. Dillard Distinguished Chair in Geriatrics.
“Thank you so much for bestowing this great honor upon me and the Department of Geriatrics,” said Mendiratta. “I want to quote Gandhi, who has had a big influence in my life: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world, and always believe something wonderful is about to happen.’”
Mendiratta, who provides clinical care at the Thomas and Lyon Longevity Clinic in the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, joined UAMS in 2005 as a geriatric fellow. An associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine, she will be elevated to full professor in July. She is also a Certified Medical Director in post-acute and long-term care medicine and is medical director of two long-term care facilities in the Little Rock area.
An endowed chair is among the highest academic honors a university can bestow on a faculty member. A distinguished chair is established with gifts of at least $1.5 million, which are invested and the interest proceeds used to support the educational, research and clinical activities of the chair holder. Those named to a chair are among the most highly regarded scientists, physicians and professors in their fields.
“Dr. Mendiratta is a true asset to the senior population of this state, and we can’t thank her enough for all her hard work,” said UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA. “She truly becomes a part of her patients’ lives in a transformative way, and she passes on that knowledge and compassion to her students in the classroom as well.”
The late William T. Dillard, the founder of Dillard’s Inc., one of the nation’s largest fashion apparel and home furnishings retailers, provided the initial funding for the chair. From an $8,000 investment in a single store in Nashville, Arkansas, Dillard built a premier retail chain with a national presence of more than 300 stores in 29 states.
“I am the permanent president and founding member of the Priya Mendiratta fan club,” said Paul Drew, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences and professor and director of research for the Department of Neurology, both in the UAMS College of Medicine. Mendiratta cared for Drew’s parents during the last 10 years of their lives.
“The best decision I ever made was to get my parents to Arkansas, because of the excellent clinical care she provided for them,” said Drew. “She helped them get to the specialists they needed; she arranged things for them to go to the ER; she visited them after hours in the hospital and the nursing home; she visited my father when he was in hospice; and she was there and provided eulogies at my parents’ services. If this isn’t complete and compassionate care, I don’t know what is. She is exceptional.”
Mendiratta was presented with a commemorative medallion by Patterson and Christopher T. Westfall, M.D., executive vice chancellor and College of Medicine dean. She thanked the Dillard family for their vision and generosity in establishing the chair. She also thanked her patients and their families, as well as her own family, her students, and her geriatrics colleagues and staff at the Reynolds Institute.
“We in Arkansas were accepted as immigrants and were welcomed with open arms,” said Mendiratta. “We were supported not only in our workplace, but in the city and the community, which has been an exhilarating experience. We have developed deep relationships with many of you, so thank you for being there for supporting us.”
Mendiratta received her medical degree from the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences in Sewagram, Nagpur University, India, and pursued her residency in internal medicine in India. She later received a master’s degree in public health from Boston University School of Public Health. Her clinical training in the United States includes a family medicine residency and a two-year geriatrics fellowship in the UAMS Department of Geriatrics.
Mendiratta has received numerous awards for her role in resident and medical student education. She has been an adviser to multiple medical students and has been working with the medical students’ academic houses program since its inception. She was elected to the UAMS Academic Senate as a College of Medicine representative in 2018 and is a member of many of the UAMS education committees.
Her teaching methodologies, development of the geriatrics curriculum and use of technology has transformed the student experience. She has introduced many innovative approaches in teaching, including interactive case modules, virtual reality, telemedicine, geriatric boot camp, and interprofessional geriatric simulation. Mendiratta is the state affiliate leader for the American Geriatric Society, representing the UAMS geriatric clerkship nationally at numerous meetings, where her guidance has helped generate an audience for student-developed innovative patient education products. She was named a Fellow of the American Geriatric Society in 2013.
Mendiratta is involved in educating trainees in developing countries and contributes her energy and expertise to various global programs for the underserved. She has been featured in the Best Doctors in America consistently over the past decade and has published clinical research in various peer-reviewed journals.