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“Time Is the Most Valuable Resource”

Dr. Sumathilatha Sakthivelavan Is TouroCOM Harlem’s 2017 Teacher of the Year

April 03, 2017
Dr. Sumathilatha Sakthivelavan Is TouroCOM Harlem’s 2017 Teacher of the Year.
Dr. Sumathilatha Sakthivelavan Is TouroCOM Harlem’s 2017 Teacher of the Year.

“Time is the most valuable resource,” said Dr. Sumathilatha Sakthivelavan. “It can never be regained. I want to make the most of the time my students give me. It’s not just imparting the materials, it’s conveying the value of healing others.”

Every year, after a teacher is nominated, a selection group composed of teachers, student representatives and deans meet to evaluate the teacher’s performance in the last academic year. While typically only a few students are required to nominate a professor to be considered for the award, 176 current TouroCOM students signed on to Dr. Sakthivelavan’s nomination.

The enthusiasm Dr, Sakthivelavan generates is clear in the letter the students wrote on her behalf. The letter noted that Dr. Sakthivelavan is known as “Queen Sumathi” by her admiring students, and TouroCOM students are also known to proclaim themselves members of “Team Sumathi.” Students Amber Pinson and Errica Caposella (Class of ‘19) recalled the time they discovered an anomaly in their cadaver in her lab class; she encouraged them to research it and write it up.

“Rather than sparking an idea that day and letting it fade, she continued to follow up with us, encouraging us, and making us believe it was a feasible task for two 1st-year medical students,” the two wrote in Dr. Sakthivelavan’s nomination letter. “She didn’t want to do the work for us, but instead acted as a guide, so we could experience creating posters and writing a case report for ourselves. Her pro-active attitude, support and patience are the reason we have presented our case report at two conferences and are in the process of getting it published… Dr. Sakthivelavan is more than a great teacher; she is an excellent mentor and an inspiring role model.”

MS Student Jaykumar Patel explained by email: “Dr. Sumathi Sakthivelavan is one of the most enthusiastic and humble faculty at TouroCOM Harlem. The lectures and the labs that she teaches are fascinating and she is able to simplify the hardest topics in the courses. Even outside the classroom Dr. Sumathi is always there to encourage you to put your best foot forward.”

Born in Chennai, a city in South India, Dr. Sakthivelavan studied OBGYN in the Madras Medical College and Government General Hospital. As someone who always had an interest in teaching, she pursued a second three-year residency in clinical and surgical anatomy after receiving her medical license.

“Teaching is my passion,” stated Dr. Sakthivelavan.

After she finished her second residency program, Dr. Sakthivelavan taught medical students during the day while running her thriving OBGYN practice in the evening; a taxing schedule that no doubt prepared her for her busy academic life at TouroCOM.

Three years ago, as her husband found a residency in St. Barnabas, Dr. Sakthivelavan and her family moved to New Jersey. (Both her children are in New Jersey high schools.) She joined the TouroCOM faculty in 2014 and said that Touro’s mission of serving the underserved appealed to her.

“It’s something I feel matches with my policy,” she explained.  

Dr. Sakthivelavan teaches four anatomy-related courses during the year to TouroCOM Harlem students and her videotaped lectures are then provided to both TouroCOM Middletown and TouroCOM Harlem students. In addition, her schedule is packed with student appointments and meetings with her colleagues. While she hasn’t practiced medicine since she arrived on these shores, Dr. Sakthivelavan says that she finds fulfillment in her students.

“I do miss my practice but the students compensate for it,” maintained Dr. Sakthivelavan. “I’m able to transfer my knowledge so we’re providing quality health care.”

Dr. Sakthivelavan represents TouroCOM at various national and international conferences on her research on human anatomy and anatomy education. Frequently, she delivers lectures at the conferences and she is also a reviewer and editorial board advisor of several well-regarded anatomy journals.

As for her students, Dr. Sakthivelavan called them “inspiring.”

“The students at TouroCOM are so mature and so willing to learn,” she said. “They have so much conviction and they’re willing to take any amount of information. They won’t let me stop teaching them.”

In her effort to help guide her students in their medical career, Dr. Sakthivelavan created Anatomy Lab demonstration videos, which markedly aided students’ understanding and significantly improved their performance. With the support from the faculty and chair of the anatomy department the full digital library of anatomy videos is almost complete.

“I believe in student-centered teaching,” continued Dr. Sakthivelavan, an attitude that certainly resonated with her students. “If they need additional help I’m here to provide it for them. My day is filled with meeting students and working with them on research projects. We had four groups of students presenting at conferences last year. One group won the best poster award at an anatomy conference. Before I arrived, I had no idea how motivated and dedicated the TouroCOM students were. You are always surprised by how much energy they have.”

Dr. Sakthivelavan called the honor a “humbling experience.”

“Every single faculty member at TouroCOM is so hard-working,” she said. “It’s like we are family. I feel like I’m representing them all.”