UGA Amazing Student: Dhairya Shukla

Dhairya Shukla has packed his time at UGA with public service, research, academics, student organizations, study abroad and more, all of which is setting him on a course to play a part in shaping the health care of tomorrow.



High school:

Columbus High School

Current employment:

This is my third year as a resident assistant with University Housing and first as a graduate research assistant with the Public Service and Outreach’s Archway Partnership. My co-workers, who challenge me to change the world, and residents, who never cease to amaze me, make my job a new adventure every day.

Family ties to UGA:

I am the first Dawg from my family but hopefully not the last. My sister is currently in high school and I’m convincing her to come to Georgia as well.

Expected graduation:

Spring 2019

Degree objective:

B.S. in Genetics, M.P.H in Health Policy and Management

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

During my first semester at UGA, I became involved with University Housing as president of the Myers Community Council; little did I know, this was the beginning of my long and fruitful journey with Housing. I enjoyed utilizing targeted programing to build community and continued with housing as an RA to guide my residents through life at UGA. Now, in my third year as an RA, I am integrating my skills in research with my passion for being an RA to assist the Honors Program as they pioneer a new live-in research community, R-House.

Furthermore, my involvement in Athens and the greater Georgia communities has been a crucial part of my college career. Athens has truly been the perfect home away from home. During my sophomore year, I had the honor of serving as a service ambassador with Serve UGA, an organization that connects UGA students with service opportunities within the community. I served as a liaison between the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia and the UGA students and learned about the impact of food insecurity on Athens. Here, I also connected with students passionate about service and social justice, who inspired me to join the Public Service and Outreach Scholars Program. Thus began another longstanding relationship in my career at UGA, one that yielded numerous opportunities to serve my community and was crucial in solidifying my interest in medicine. As a Public Service and Outreach Scholar, I interned with Campus Kitchen, a student-powered hunger relief organization. Here, in addition to leading a weekly cooking and delivery shift to transform unused food from dining halls, grocery stores, UGArden and farmers markets into a packaged meal, I planned and developed a public health research study, implementing surveys and targeted programing to test the information delivery modality for grandparents raising grandchildren families. I am forever grateful for the support of Brad Turner, Paul Brooks and Paul Matthews throughout this year. From this study, we discovered that, in addition to the food, we could provide information about the SNAP program, free health care clinics and child-care services to help our clients break the cycle of poverty and be healthier members of the community.

Next, I interned through the Archway Partnership, another unit of PSO, to engage in Archway executive board meetings in the rural Pulaski, Washington and Griffin counties in Georgia, discussing plans for improving their rural community health care system with community stakeholders like Taylor County Medical Center CEO, local business owners, senator representatives, community chairman and school system superintendent. Here, I met my second research mentor, Henry Young and, together, we examined issues facing the prescribing of opioid medications, current Georgia strategies to counter the epidemic, diversion of medication, and initiatives to address rising overdose deaths in the Archway communities. The wonderful PSO program continues to support me even in my senior year, funding me as a graduate assistant to support my research with Dr. Young. I have benefited so much from the outstanding people I have met through this program.

During my tenure at UGA, I have been involved with a number of organizations. I co-founded the American Mock World Health Organization with a vision to create an interdisciplinary think-tank that simulates the World Health Assembly and leads discussions on health policies, resolution writing and public health interventions. Due to the hard work of our executive board members, our organization obtained a large student following, hosted a Georgia Regional Conference targeting food insecurity at UGA, won awards at the AMWHO National Conference at Emory, and created an AMWHO-focused policy research class with Dr. Davis-Olwell in the first year. This would never have been possible without the sponsorship and support of the Athens Rotary Club, College of Public Health and numerous other community organizations. Consequently, I want to make the theme of our first intercollegiate conference a topic that continues to haunt Athens. Drawing from my previous experiences, I set the topic of our conference as “Food Insecurity” and authored a theme guide to lead awesome discussion and generate realistic policy resolutions at the conference. For my work in leading AMWHO and our contributions to the UGA campus, I was humbled to received the 2017 Candice Sherman Emerging Leader SOAR Award. My experience with AMWHO contributed significantly to my growing interest in combining health policy and medicine and inspired me to learn about World Health Organization research firsthand at NIOH in India.

The university has afforded me the opportunity to travel extensively during my undergraduate career. As an Honors International Scholar, I spent Christmas break learning about health care policy by working with the World Health Organization’s National Institute of Occupational Health in India. By visiting coal mines and shadowing civil hospital physicians, I learned about the practice of medicine, challenges facing health care providers in a developing country, and the global, yet interconnected, nature of health care. I will never forget the experience of presenting to the director of NIOH and head of occupational medicine, comparing and contrasting the health care issues faced by developing and developed countries and offering alternative public health interventions for India using USA’s health care system as a model.

The cutting-edge research opportunities available to me as an Honors student have been a highlight of my educational experience at UGA. I began working in Dr. Meagher’s genetics lab researching the epigenetic causes of obesity and a possible genetic treatment as early as my second semester at UGA. The Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities has been a constant encouragement throughout my time at UGA by supporting me through research assistantships and a summer fellowship. Because of CURO and my knowledgeable mentor Dr. Meagher, I was able to author (and hopefully soon publish) an undergraduate thesis. As I shifted to clinical research, I, again, found a competent and caring mentor in Dr. Young. Together, we are researching the physician and pharmacist perceptions of opioid abuse in rural Georgia communities.

Furthermore, my involvement with the Student Health Advisory Committee has greatly enriched my experience as a premedical student at UGA. In addition to gaining a close-knit group of like-minded friends and mentors in Dr. Chin, Kristine and Dr. Russo, I learned important skills like budget analysis, programming and leadership. The committee, composed of outstanding future health care providers, initiates efforts like the Mental Health Wellness Summit to unite our school into a cohesive effort against health issues on campus. I am truly blessed to have been a part of this committee since my sophomore year and to call these amazing students my friends.

Finally, I am proud to be an active member of the Indian Cultural Exchange, IMPACT at UGA, Medlife and a few honor societies.

I chose to attend UGA because …

… of the amazing opportunities, scholarships and resources available to me through the Honors Program as well as the location of the university close to home. Experiences like receiving funding to conduct research over the summer and authoring a thesis through CURO, traveling to intern at a WHO’s National Institute of Occupational Health in India with assistance from HISP, and working alongside hospital CEOs, school superintendents, business owners and senators to create policies that improve access to care and quality of living in Georgia communities through my internship with the Archway Partnership are a direct reflection of the support the university has provided me to follow my passion throughout my time here. Also, I wasn’t quite into football when I applied but I definitely am now. GO DAWGS!

My favorite things to do on campus are …

… attending the amazing events hosted by the Honors College. I love getting expert introductions into interesting topics that are outside the scope of my major, but important nonetheless. Recently, I attended a program where a UGA alumnus led a discussion on the biotech industry, Venture Capital, and startups. I definitely learned about a few skills and resources I hope to utilize in my future.

On a daily basis, I am always found exercising at Ramsey after 9 p.m. Ramsey is uncharacteristically quiet during this time and provides the perfect place for me to destress and listen to music while lifting weights or joining a game of pick-up basketball.

When I have free time, I like …

… to spend time with my friends, try new restaurants and catch up on the latest movies and TV shows. I also love playing cricket — so much so that I founded the Cricket UGA club on campus. You can catch us playing cricket every Sunday at the intramural fields!

The craziest thing I’ve done is …

… while I was traveling in Haiti, I went on a guided snorkeling tour with my family. I brought my Go-Pro along to take pictures and had it fastened on my arm; yet, somehow, it came loose, and I realized that I had lost the camera somewhere in the ocean. To avoid telling my family that I’d lost the camera, I snuck away from the tour group and swam alone back through the sea to locate it. Finally, I found it stuck to some coral around 20 feet under water off-trail. I took off my life jacket and snorkeling gear, dove underwater, and retrieved the camera. I do not know if it was my determination of finding the camera, the immense pressure of the water, my heart pounding loudly against my chest, or a combination of it all, but that was one of the most surreal moments in my life. All’s well that ends well. The best part? The camera was turned on the entire time and captured some amazing fish footage.

Also, at the beginning of my freshman year, I created a Groupme and invited a few Indian friends that were going to UGA. The purpose of the Groupme was to meet a few new people and make some friends. Soon, however, the Groupme ballooned out of control. To my surprise, this “Browntown” Groupme amassed over 600 members and is the hub of Indian culture at UGA. Now, I’m often known and recognized around the UGA campus as “that guy that created Browntown”— a title I wear proudly.

My favorite place to study is …

… the science library. Being surrounded by thousands of books and pin-drop silence is ideal for my productivity and finding inspiration. However, as a dual M.P.H. student, I spend most of my time on the Health Sciences Campus and enjoy studying in the historic Carnegie Library as well.

My favorite professor is …

I have learned so much from my time at the University of Georgia, and not all lessons have come from professors. Below I recognize professors as well as mentors who have enriched my college experience and made a significant impact on my past, present and future.

In the Public Service and Outreach department, I would like to recognize Paul Brooks, Paul Matthews, Angel Jackson and Brad Turner; though not technically my professors, each of them has taught me valuable lessons in service, research and leadership. The Public Service and Outreach office has supported me since our introduction in various forms including as a public service and outreach scholar, research assistant, Archway Partnership Intern, Campus Kitchen intern and graduate assistant. This program has single-handedly transformed my college experience and inspired me to work with underserved populations in Georgia.

Dr. Barbara Schuster taught my FYOS on “Controversies in Modern Medicine,” and quickly became a close friend and mentor. I am fortunate to have had her as our advisor during our first year on the American Mock World Health Organization at UGA. We get coffee at least once a semester (when she’s not busy traveling to Haifa, Israel, to continue her amazing work with the University of Haifa and the Bar IIan Medical School, creating questions for standardized medical exams, or writing her own book) and she is always willing to give honest and constructive feedback, even if it is sometimes to just “take a step back and relax.”

By observing Dr. Jean Chin, the recently retired executive director of the University Health Center, during our Student Health Advisory Committee, I have learned numerous lessons in compassion, integrity, leadership and financial management. She continues to inspire me to pursue a life in medicine and I am forever indebted to her for her support throughout my college career.

I am also indebted to Richard Meager, my research mentor in the genetics department for four semesters. He took me on as a first-semester freshman to research epigenetic control of obesity, simultaneously teaching me about the responsibilities of a scientific researcher and the meticulous world of genetics. Because of the trust and support he afforded me as a freshman, I was later able to author my own thesis, receive research assistantships and fellowships, become published and present my research in symposiums and conferences across America.

Henry Young, my current research mentor, challenges me every day to change the face of the opioid crisis in rural Georgia. I appreciate him taking me on as a clinical researcher having only a basic science research background and sharing his vast knowledge of clinical research with me. I look forward to working with him on the Community Needs Health Assessment for Taylor Regional this year.

Finally, I would like to recognize my parents, for they are the best teachers I have ever had or ever will. My amazing father loves medicine so much, he became a doctor twice—once in India and again when he immigrated to the United States at the age of 40. My brilliant mother is a mathematics professor and researcher at Columbus State University. With God’s grace, I was born to such an amazing family who, since birth, have been imparting the value of education, compassion and hard work within me.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …

… my extended family. I have cousins, uncles and aunts all over the world. When we were younger, we used to have camp or travel to various countries and be together all the time. Now, with all my cousins doing amazing things and becoming physicians, actuaries, professors and consultants, there is little time for everyone to come together at the same time. Hopefully, we can all catch up soon.

Also, I would love to spend an afternoon with Barak Obama. I would ask him about the trials and tribulations he faced passing the Affordable Care Act, his views on the future of health care in America, and his views regarding the responsibility of physicians and policymakers to collaborate and propose polices that expand health coverage in America.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …

… start a YouTube channel. I see all these amazing health care providers using social media as a platform to educate the general population and the next generation of providers by sharing their stories and clearing health care misconceptions. I admire the time and dedication YouTubers pour into their videos and, if could not fail, I would love to join these amazing influencers by starting my own channel.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …

… expand insurance coverage to everyone around the world. Health care is a human right, and no one should be limited from proper care due to lack of finances.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?

Population-level differences in quality of health and access to services are a plague within and among nations. I desire to be a holistic physician that can not only treat each patient, but also influence the system as a whole. I have already begun by addressing vulnerable populations around my university through my research, extracurricular activities and an integrated curriculum. Addressing the socio-environmental determinants of health, I conducted a needs assessment on the food insecure grandparents raising grandchildren population living in food deserts around Athens, investigated the interplay between epigenetics and obesity in my research thesis, learned how primary research shapes medical policies and practice through my WHO internship and through AMWHO UGA. Finally, I finished my genetics major in three years and integrated my curriculum to include a master’s in health policy during senior year. I firmly believe that the University of Georgia has enabled me to fully pursue my passion and empowered me to play a part in shaping the health care of tomorrow.

After graduation, I plan to …

… to align with physicians and lawmakers to develop health policies grounded in science to confront health disparities and cultivate an environment of innovation and wellness. This involves balancing dual priorities. The patients within the hospital must receive the best medical treatment and patient-centered care I can provide; the communities waiting just past the doorway must be the focus of my goal of promoting the right to good health. My desire to enter the field of medicine is intertwined with my desire to improve the quality of human life. Thus, I hope to use the practice of medicine and my skills in health policy as a vehicle to create equality where it does not exist and bring hope where people are suffering.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …

… the night of the National Championship between Georgia and Alabama. I watched it at a pub in downtown Athens surrounded by over 300 of my closest DAWGs. The atmosphere was absolutely electrifying with pin-drop silence every play and deafening cheers on every Georgia touchdown. That roller-coaster of a night is something I will definitely never forget. GO DAWGS!

Learn more about the Amazing Students at UGA here.

Posted on November 5, 2018.