20 in their 20s

Sugar Land native Trishna Narula is back in Houston after spending the better part of a decade away. An only child of two doctors, Narula grew up playing with her “Sesame Street” stethoscope, shadowing physicians at local clinics and volunteering in the Texas Medical Center. Learning about human behavior and its effect on health in Rice professor Mikki Hebl’s lab cemented her interest in the intersection of psychology and health.

An only child of two doctors, Narula grew up playing with her “Sesame Street” stethoscope, shadowing physicians at local clinics and volunteering in the Texas Medical Center.

After two college summers working with children in India, Narula found her interest pivoting to public health. She graduated a year early from Rice, where she met fellow Bollywood fan and now-husband Jaimeet Gulati ’10 through her involvement with the South Asian Society. Then, while finishing her master’s degree in public health at Emory and internship at the CDC, she applied to attend medical school at Stanford, seeking one-on-one patient interaction and medical skills to inform her public health knowledge.

During medical school, Narula represented fellow medical students as one of the first minority women elected speaker of the American Medical Association (AMA) Medical Student Section. From Chicago to Washington, D.C., to Honolulu to Dallas, Narula attended 17 AMA meetings and co-authored 18 resolutions. One notable bill for which she advocated made California the fifth state in the country to adopt the End of Life Option Act, allowing terminally ill patients to access physician-assisted aid-in-dying. 

Clearly able to make waves in public policy, Narula was hesitant to go down what she describes as a “tunnel-vision path” to practicing clinical medicine without first exploring how to balance a career that included both seeing patients and advocating for healthy communities. When a Rice professor connected her to Karen Tseng, a lawyer leading the brand-new population health department at Harris Health, Narula found her calling.

Combining her training in psychology, public health and medicine, Narula has helped lead comprehensive, preventative programming at Harris Health, where 90% of patients are uninsured or underinsured. The first project she worked on was a “Food Farmacy.” High-risk patients receive “food prescriptions” to be redeemed for 30 pounds of fresh produce every two weeks, coupled with support from staff nutritionists and trained professionals to help navigate federal food benefits. Her work is in health care reform, transforming clinics into community-centered hubs that focus on social determinants rather than funneling resources into treating diseases and complications that are largely preventable.

The first project she worked on was a “Food Farmacy.” High-risk patients receive “food prescriptions” to be redeemed for 30 pounds of fresh produce every two weeks, coupled with support from staff nutritionists and trained professionals to help navigate federal food benefits.

Next up for Narula is applying to a psychiatry residency to continue to advocate for patients in the clinical and social worlds. As she reflects on her path, she realizes that she had spent so many years chasing “global health” in cities and programs far away when there were so many inequalities right here, in her own backyard.

Read more “20 in Their 20s” profiles here.

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