Season 1, Episode 6: Dr. Teena Chopra

WSU infectious diseases expert Dr. Teena Chopra shares with host Darrell Dawsey her thoughts on the nation's progress in battling COVID-19, the urgent need to be ready for the next outbreak, and how her upbringing in India helped ready her for a medical career in Detroit.

About

An infectious disease specialist, Dr. Teena Chopra is a professor of internal medicine, infectious diseases, for the Wayne State University School of Medicine, as well as the corporate medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at the Detroit Medical Center. Dr. Chopra also serves on the Wayne State University Campus Restart Committee, assisting with university preparations and responses related to COVID-19. She has offered her expertise on the virus and infectious disease precautions in a number of local and national media outlets, and has been published in numerous medical journals.

Additional Resources

More stories featuring Dr. Chopra

Transcript

Announcer:

Welcome to Today@Wayne, a podcast that engages and informs the Wayne State University campus community with news, announcements, information and current event discussions relevant to the university's goals and mission. Today@Wayne serves as the perfect forum for our campus to begin a conversation, or keep one going. Thanks for joining us.

Darrell:

Welcome to the Today@Wayne podcast, I'm Darrell Dawsey. After well more than a year of battling COVID-19, U.S. can finally say with confidence that the nation is turning a corner in its fight with the disease. However, not only is that fight not over, but the nation traumatized by more than half a million deaths due to COVID is also understandably worried about our future fights against infectious diseases.

Darrell:

To help safeguard us in that future, we find ourselves turning increasingly to the medical experts whose knowledge and research put them at the front lines of all efforts to not only in the current pandemic nightmare, but prevent another as well. Not unlike other leading research institutions, Wayne State University has seen a number of its medical professionals thrust to those front lines.

Darrell:

None more so than my guests Dr. Teena Chopra. An infectious disease specialist, Dr. Chopra is a professor of internal medicine, infectious diseases for the Wayne State University school of medicine, as well as the corporate medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at the Detroit Medical Center.

Darrell:

Dr. Chopra also serves on the Wayne State University presidential coronavirus committee assisting with preparations and responses related to the virus. She has offered an expertise on the virus and infectious disease precautions in a number of local and national media outlets that has been published in numerous medical journals. Now she's with us here on the Today@Wayne podcast. Welcome Dr. Chopra.

Dr. Chopra:

Thank you, Darrell. Thank you for having me.

Darrell:

Really excited about having you on. So let's just jump right in. With our current situation here in Michigan regarding the COVID 19 outbreak, can you give us your opinion on where we are and where we're heading?

Dr. Chopra:

Sure, I think at this point we are at the tail end. The fact that we have a huge population that is vaccinated and we are going strong with the vaccinations, hoping that more and more age groups are eligible to get vaccinated. By fall, we will have the younger age group also beginning to get vaccinated and I think that's when we will begin to see the end of the pandemic.

Dr. Chopra:

But having said that, these variants will still be with us. They will... We still may need booster doses of the vaccines, but the fact that the immunity from vaccines is so strong and we are seeing marked decrease in hospitalizations and severe disease, I think that is a testament to science.

Darrell:

Speaking of science, public health specifically, has the pandemic elevated the importance of public health in the eyes and minds of the nation? Obviously we know it's an important issue, but it doesn't seem like as a country we're always focused on and taking seriously issues of public health. Has this pandemic made us take public health as a discipline, much more seriously, and if so, why, if not, why not?

Dr. Chopra:

Absolutely, absolutely it has. As you know, as a nation as a world globally, we were under prepared for this colossal collision that we saw with COVID-19. Especially in Detroit, where we saw a tsunami of cases, we were not prepared. We were... The pandemic basically revealed this broken infrastructure that we had, particularly in our community in Detroit and public health has always been extremely critical in preventing these pandemics and taking care of the health of the community.

Dr. Chopra:

This is... Coming from a developing country myself, this has never been more relevant for me. Public health was extremely important growing up in India, when we faced the polio pandemic and we would go to rural areas and knock at people's doors to give them the polio vaccine. We realized the importance of public health.

Dr. Chopra:

I came from a community that was very similar to Detroit, under resourced, below the poverty line, there was a huge racial divide and mistrust in the medical community. All of those factors were there. That's why I always say that growing up, coming from a developing country has never been more relevant to me.

Darrell:

All right. Well, the United States is considered a developed nation of course, but we've seen more deaths in this country as a result of COVID-19 than just about any nation in the world. Why do you think, and I don't want to re-litigate the past too much, but I am interested. Why do you think the U.S. handled this so poorly early on?

Dr. Chopra:

I think with the background in mind that we were not ready in general for a pandemic of this magnitude, we didn't have enough. There were political reasons and instead of funding research around pandemic preparedness, the funds were drawn away from it. The CDC was not ready, the NIH was not ready, and I think all of those factors played a role and underserved communities like ours, Detroit, they suffered the most. It was extremely unprecedented from all aspects.

Darrell:

How unhelpful has the political rhetoric been in terms of helping us fight back, in terms of people wearing masks, taking the proper health precautions, in terms of us trusting the experts? You're our own Dr. Fauci in some ways at Wayne state and here in Detroit. I'm just kind of curious, how does it feel to see folks like him, the experts being battered by the politicians? How unhelpful has so much of this political rhetoric been?

Dr. Chopra:

I think it was extremely frustrating to see the misinformation that was spread in the communities. Not only we were fighting the pandemic, we were also fighting the misinformation when we were educating our community and we still are. We are educating communities around vaccination, and when we see this vaccine has vaccination hesitancy, it is extremely frustrating.

Dr. Chopra:

I feel very angry when I see patients who are very sick in the hospital and they are not vaccinated and they have this huge misinformation around vaccination and the myths that they have around vaccinations it's very, very frustrating. And you're right, the government had a huge role to play in spreading the misinformation in not informing the community well and in having a very disorganized response to the pandemic.

Darrell:

Okay. Now, closer to home Wayne state, we've been pretty cautious about how we've been approaching this, and now there is finally talk about the campus reopening, about people returning and us trying to get as close to normal in the fall as possible. What are your thoughts about the colleges returning to campus in the fall?

Dr. Chopra:

I think it is a great thing. They should return to campus. Our campus is extremely safe and we have a very strong team, a strong force that has been put together as a president's public health committee, and we have very good measures to make sure that we are keeping everybody safe.

Dr. Chopra:

As far as testing is concerned, the fact that we are aiming for a very high vaccination rate, we are wanting our students to be vaccinated. Our faculty has done a great job in getting vaccinated. Now all of those measures are going to keep our community safe.

Darrell:

Okay. Now you talked a little bit about some of the lessons that we've learned from this. What other important lessons have we learned from the response and from what we're doing now? What are some of the big takeaways for you?

Dr. Chopra:

I think the big takeaway is the importance of public health, the importance of working as teams, multi-disciplinary collaboration, which is so important and which we saw at Wayne State University. Wayne State is one of the largest urban universities which excels in research, innovation and service, and all of these things came together during the pandemic.

Dr. Chopra:

We saw people working together, whether it was testing the community, now vaccinating the community, going to people's homes to get them vaccinated, our nursing students, our medical students, helping out with testing our nursing home patients. I think all of that proves, the fact that when we are together, when you are united, we have better outcomes.

Darrell:

Okay. Now let's look ahead. Do you see any other sort of world shaping threats, like the coronavirus on the horizon?

Dr. Chopra:

Absolutely. COVID is the first one but not the last one. We always have looming threats for emerging and reemerging infectious diseases because viruses mutate, and if the mutated virus is going to be a stronger one, it's going to survive in that community and multiply if they find the appropriate host. Hence, it is important that we create in Detroit pandemic preparedness institute, state-of-the-art pandemic preparedness center so we can all be ready and prepared for the next pandemic.

Dr. Chopra:

That is something that I am aiming for in collaboration with my colleagues to make sure that we have that readiness, whether it comes to testing or it comes to educating the community, or it comes to research. Those are the three big pillars that we stand upon as Wayne State family.

Darrell:

Do you think we're going to be ready if and when another major outbreak occurs?

Dr. Chopra:

We want to be ready, so we have to work towards it and that's where we are at this point. We as Wayne State faculty are putting our heads together and we want to make sure we have all the resources that we need to be ready for the next time.

Darrell:

Okay. Now, Dr. Chopra, we know how this has impacted you professionally in terms of raising your profile and thrusting you in the middle of a lot of this, but personally, how have you been impacted by it, by the South Korea?

Dr. Chopra:

I think it has stretched out my limit intellectually, emotionally and physically. It has been extremely exhausting. Especially during the time when you are in the midst of it, you don't realize it, but as soon as you get a breather, you feel the exhaustion and you feel the emotional toll that it has had on yourself, and as a family, it has been hard. I have a seven year old, who's been doing virtual school, from home and every time going to work, spending hours, disregarding your own safety.

Dr. Chopra:

I always had a tug in my heart leaving home, and then coming home thinking you might be bringing the virus home. All of those factors have played a role, but I also like to look at the glass half-full, and I think it has also made us more resilient and stronger. I think that whenever you have adversity and problems, it just makes you stronger.

Darrell:

Absolutely. What do they say, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." I'm just kind of curious, how does one become an infectious diseases expert? How did you get into this business?

Dr. Chopra:

That's a great question. I trained in India and I come from a family of physicians and professors. I drew inspiration from my grandfather who was a physician and he was a public health expert. His name was Dr. Harnam, I never saw him but my childhood brims with stories of him and how, he was the only physician in a very poor community in a 50 mile radius who trusted him, and he gave them a lot of hope.

Dr. Chopra:

In the 1940s, there was a cholera pandemic in India in the city where he practiced medicine and he was the only physician and they were communal riots going on between Hindus and Muslims and he would go in the evenings and do night house calls on those patients and give them oral rehydration solutions.

Dr. Chopra:

Then in the midst of those riots, across religious lines and across prejudices, he was fighting this war and my grandmother who was unlettered, but believed in the Hippocratic Oath actually prepared this oral rehydration solution at night and at home with him, and then he would go and help this community and save so many lives. So I grew up listening to those stories and drawing inspiration from those, Hippocratic Oath was actually displayed in the living room of his house.

Dr. Chopra:

All of these things I think were permanently interwoven in the fabric of our family and I grew up with those. Then also as a medical student in India, I was involved very heavily in the polio pandemic and getting polio vaccination to rural communities, building their trust because like I said, these communities also were under resourced, they were poor and they didn't have trust in medicine. So we would build that trust by going to their homes, sharing a cup of tea with them.

Dr. Chopra:

Then we actually witnessed the fact that polio was eradicated in 2014 in India. We witnessed that. That's how I think I was inspired and then I came here to Detroit and never left this place for 16 years. This is my first job, my first place where I trained, and it felt like family to me because I was seeing similar patients and trying to help the community. Also, I was fortunate to meet some of the best mentors.

Dr. Chopra:

Dr. Jack Sobel mentored me and I was very, very inspired by him and his clinical acumen, and I'm still am every single day drawing inspiration from all these great people.

Darrell:

All right. Well, we're very fortunate to have you here, I know that. Well, that's just about it for me in terms of my questions, but I want to see if there's anything else you maybe want to address. Is there something we haven't had an opportunity to speak about that may be important to you? This is an opportunity for you to just tell that.

Dr. Chopra:

Sure, I would just like to say that, like you mentioned, public health is extremely critical and should be taught in every class at every level, whether it is a kindergarten or all the way up to medical school. I have been approached by a lot of medical students, undergraduates to do work in public health, and I would love to inspire these students so that they can pursue public health in the future because they are the ones who are going to help us in future pandemics. That's what I would say at the end.

Darrell:

Well, I'm glad they've got folks like you teaching. I really appreciate that. Well, that's just about it for us. I want to say thank you again Dr. Chopra for taking your time and joining us here on the Today@Wayne podcast.

Dr. Chopra:

Thank you, Darrell. Thank you for your time. Thank you for having me.

Darrell:

Have a good one.

Announcer:

Thanks for listening to Today@Wayne. We'd love to hear from you, our campus community about other podcast ideas and topics. What compelling things are you doing to spread the good word about living, learning, working, and playing like a warrior. Let us know by visiting today@wayne.edu.

 

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