Infinite Careers is a collaboration between Career Services (CAPD) and the MIT Alumni Association to explore career paths and the non-linearity of career decision making. Read profiles of alumni with unique career paths, hear their stories and network at a series of talks.
- MIT, BS Mechanical Engineering, 1990
- MIT Sloan, Executive MBA, 2023
Dheera is an academic orthopaedic spine surgeon, currently practicing at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. She also is a philanthropist and entrepreneur, having worked with Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization, in addition to being a founder of Orthopaedic Link, a non-profit that matches unused orthopaedic implants with surgeons and hospitals in developing countries. She is currently enrolled in the Executive MBA Program at MIT Sloan, Class of 2023.
What influenced your choice of undergraduate major? How has it shaped your career choices and professional ability?
I arrived MIT thinking I would major in biology and then apply to medical school, as I have wanted to be an orthopaedic surgeon since I was 10 years old!
But once I arrived at MIT and started taking my freshman reqs, I realized I really enjoyed the math classes, and was disappointed when they were finishing. I also was fortunate to work on a prosthetic project in Woodie Flowers lab, which got me thinking about mechanical engineering as a major. I’ve always loved working with my hands, so it seemed like a good fit!
What influenced your choice of graduate programs? How have they shaped your career choices and professional ability?
Once I got going in my Course 2 classes, I realized that I had found my people! I also was struggling in my premed classes, and getting a bit disillusioned about my ability to be successful in med school. So I decided to abandon my childhood dream and go to graduate school in Bioengineering at the University of Washington. This was actually a very formative time for me- I was working side by side with orthopaedic surgeons in the lab, which was exciting. But I realized that while they could walk onto my turf (the biomechanics lab), I couldn’t just walk onto theirs. And I realized that I really really wanted to do that. So I came back to my childhood dream and applied to medical school.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
I love helping people and fixing their problems! I do a lot of scoliosis surgery, which involves long (~12h) surgeries that loosen and straighten up the spine. They are very involved in all aspects, most importantly the impact they have on patient’s lives.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in your career? How have you managed or overcome it?
The most difficult challenge I have faced has been being a distinct minority in my field (orthopaedic surgery is still about 90% male, spine surgery over 95% male). This had made a lot of things difficult, but I allowed it to impact my confidence and hold me back in many things. Unfortunately I still struggle with this in some ways, but I have tried to just put my head down and do good work for my patients. This has made all my sacrifices worth it.
Making decisions, especially important-feeling career decisions, is really challenging for people at all stages of their career. What strategies have you used to make career decisions?
I have been fortunate to have a really sensitive gut! Many of my life decisions have been made based on gut feelings. When I don’t have these feelings I am a bit lost.
What professional development activities do you find really useful these days?
I am so lucky to be back at MIT getting my Executive MBA at Sloan! It’s been great to learn new things, none of which we learned in medical school, and nearly all of which are very relevant in my day to day life.
What do you like to do outside of work for fun/relaxation/inspiration?
I still play tennis a lot! I actually have been hitting on the MIT courts, which has been a blast from the past. I also love to cook and travel and hike.