A Look at a Leader: Pantila Vanichakarn, MD

As a young girl, Dr. Vanichakarn dreamed of going places. Growing up in Bangkok, Thailand, the future cardiologist looked to her parents for support.  “My father, who was a nephrologist, was the one who ultimately inspired me to go into medicine,” she recalls. “He was my role model. Biology was one of my favorite subjects in school and he encouraged me to explore my interests and stay with science.”

After high school, Dr. Vanichakarn was awarded the prestigious King’s scholarship (which enabled her to study abroad). “I wanted to carve out my own path,” she recalls. “Both of my parents had completed their educations in the United States and I aspired to do the same.”

And so she left, using her scholarship to study at the Phillips Academy in Massachusetts in the interim and apply to colleges. “I wanted to stay in the States after my scholarship was over and was ultimately accepted to Harvard. I concentrated on chemistry,” she says.

Upon graduation, Dr. Vanichakarn attended the University of Chicago for medical school. She says it wasn’t long before cardiology caught her eye. “The heart is incredibly powerful. It connects all of the body’s organs together--concentrating on cardiology immediately made sense to me.”

After medical school, Dr. Vanichakarn opted to wind down her time in the Windy City, leaving Chicago to complete an internal residency at Boston University and then ultimately on to Dartmouth to receive cardiac imaging training. “I began to specialize in advanced heart imaging, executing tests like echocardiograms and cardia MRIs. I found it all fascinating.”

But making the leap from Thailand to the U.S. wasn’t easy, Dr. Vanichakarn says, and she began to truly miss her homeland. “My parents and brother were still residing there and I wanted go back and give back to my country. So, I went back to serve and practice at a large teaching hospital for two years.”

And then, she says, Dartmouth called and offered her a job.

“Since I had completed my fellowship there I was already known and was hired on to be an assistant professor of medicine,” she says. “I stayed there for a year.”

When Indiana University Health came calling for her husband (a geriatric psychiatrist and Alzheimer’s researcher who was also working at Dartmouth at the time), Dr. Vanichakarn was recruited with him.

The couple left to make a new life.

Since then, Dr. Vanichakarn says, Indiana has been a happy place to call home.

“The people here are wonderful,” she says, “and I truly enjoy my work. Upon visiting, it was clear to us that IU health really values education, innovation and training. It’s a very supportive environment.”

As a female cardiologist, Dr. Vanichakarn says she has finally found her niche, recognizing the unique needs of women. “I focus on women’s health and taking care of female patients since they often don’t realize that they even have heart disease. It’s currently the number one killer. So, I work as hard as I can to help and strive to increase awareness on this issue whenever I can.”

-- By Sarah Burns


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