When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Dr. Alaina Rajagopal, an ER doctor was shocked at how much misinformation abounded. She decided to take it upon herself to share her knowledge as a doctor, public health specialist and virologist to share scientific but easy to understand information about the pandemic and emergency care. Her mission to educate and inform took shape as a podcast, The Emergency Docs, where Dr. Rajagopal interviews top experts to help pull back the curtain on controversies and myths surrounding health and medicine. Today the Orange, California-based entrepreneur is balancing running her podcast, being a doctor and a new mom, all while remaining committed to helping the public better understand science and health.
Rajagopa’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
The world of medicine is notoriously complicated, especially when it comes to emergency care. There’s a wealth of information available. Unfortunately, much of it is overwhelming and difficult for the average person to understand. And when you add a pandemic into the mix, it’s easy for patients and their loved ones to feel scared and uncertain. I saw this fear firsthand at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. I witnessed how misinformation spread like wildfire as our nation searched for answers. As a trained emergency medicine physician, virologist, and global health specialist, I knew I had to do something.
So I launched The Emergency Docs Podcast, a series that educates and empowers the public about emergency medicine and diseases. While creating the podcast I had a realization. I was seeing how there is so much valuable information that exists and which the general public never gets to see. Oftentimes, they’re left to form their own opinions about emergency care from the television shows or movies they watch. This over dramatization does little to inform them of the realities of emergency medicine. I sought to correct this through the careful design of my podcast episodes. Episode topics range from particular diseases, disease processes, interviews with leading ER doctors, and interviews with patients who have experienced emergency care. At the heart of each episode is the intersection of humanity and medicine. It is my passion to put a personal face to medicine. Emergency medicine clinicians are strong, inspirational people. Like their patients, they also experience love and loss. This podcast series spotlights the many facets of emergency medical providers – from their many job functions, to the struggles physicians face in the ER, to personal triumphs and downfalls.
How do you define success?
I really appreciate that the definition of success is unique to each individual. I define success as finding a way to contribute to the world in a meaningful way – to leave the world each day a little better than I found it. I have always wanted to make the world better, even when I was a kid, and I think that need to contribute and give back helped inspire some of my career choices in becoming a scientist and physician, and now a podcaster and entrepreneur. My definition of success constantly changes depending on the timeframe. I think it is really important to always set new goals for myself and to work hard to achieve new things whether that is a career goal, an athletic goal, or learning a new skill.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
I have so many different jobs and aspects of my life, it is difficult to choose one success because I think that so many of these successes are interconnected. I would have to say my biggest career success is simply persevering through 15 years of training after high school. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology, a PhD in public health, virology, and space life sciences, a medical degree with concentrations in global health and aerospace medicine, and finished a residency in emergency medicine. It was a really long road and there were many, many days that I thought about giving up. I am most proud of the fact that I never gave in to those thoughts and worked hard and now have a very fulfilling career that allows me to dabble in many different interesting disciplines!
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Any time you start a business, it is difficult to figure out how to balance investing money in the company versus making sure you don’t accrue so much debt that you never become profitable. I have always been very careful about not overspending and making sure that every expenditure early on in a business is a necessity. If the business can’t grow without a particular expenditure, then it is easy to choose to spend the money to invest. The less tangible investments are more difficult. I try to always make sure that I have specific goals that I need to achieve in order to justify any of these less tangible expenditures.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
I became a new mom in 2020 and while it was truly one of the most joyous experiences of my life, nothing can prepare you for the exhaustion and the new challenges presented by balancing work (in my case five jobs) and motherhood. I took a period of time after my son was born to step back from some of my career responsibilities. While I do question how this decision affected some of my jobs, I don’t regret for a second taking time to spend with my family and learning how to be a mom.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
I don’t know that there is a one-size-fits-all piece of advice that I can give other than persevere. Starting a new company is difficult but very rewarding. There will be people along the way who may doubt that you or your company can be a success but as long as you believe in your mission, and work hard, no one can determine that outcome but you. Don’t let others’ doubt affect your work.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I find inspiration everywhere! It depends on the day and the problem but I often find peace in exercise, particularly running. Sometimes, I need a distraction that I can find through reading or watching a movie. Other times, I might just need some quiet time for thought with yoga or meditation. There are an infinite number of ways to relax and I think the world is such an interesting place. I never really struggle with finding inspiration.
Who is your most important role model?
I have really looked up to my mother and grandmother as women who are strong, elegant, funny, compassionate, and intelligent. They have challenged me and helped me grow. They have always encouraged me to self reflect and consider what I can do better tomorrow that I didn’t do today. They are very hard working and instilled the value of hard work in me. I will always be grateful to them for leading by example and teaching me how to balance all aspects of my life.