Dr Varsha Jain
BSc MBBS MSc
ST4 in Obstetrics & Gynaecology, London, and Associate at Baylor College of Medicine, Center for Space Medicine, USA Dr Varsha Jain is something of a rare breed – she is a ‘space gynaecologist’ who is boldly going where very few have been before. Born into a non-medical family in Walsall and brought up watching Star Trek (she’s a fan) as a child, her interest in space had already blossomed, even though she admits that at the age of five, she wanted to be a lollipop lady. As a teenager, Varsha could not decide whether to read astrophysics at university or do medicine. She loved physics. However, the decision came to her after she attended the Medlink course in Nottingham. She heard an Ophthalmologist discuss the satisfaction he felt from restoring sight to people in Africa. Varsha realised that she, too, could make more of a difference to people as a doctor. Varsha studied medicine at Imperial College in London. Once again her interest in her alternative passion was piqued when she saw a poster about the first UK space medicine day. She attended the UK Space Biomedicine Conference in 2004 to learn more, and from there, she discovered that she could study medicine of extreme environments. She managed to take time out of her undergraduate training, and moved to University College London for her BSc in physiology. During this time, she focused on the body’s response to extreme environments, such as deep sea diving, at extremes of temperature and of course, in space. Varsha’s BSc was her gateway to her elective. She secured a three-month research placement at NASA Johnson Space Center in 2007. For Varsha, this was a dream come true. At the time, she worked on research related to balance control mechanisms in astronauts when they returned from space. She qualified in 2008 and found herself being drawn to a clinical career in obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G). After completing her foundation year, she started her O&G training in the West Midlands deanery, having ranked the highest in the scoring system. However, within a month of starting her training, Varsha discovered a Masters degree in space physiology and health at King’s College London. She secured a three-year, highly sought after NIHR academic fellowship, which she sees as one of her greatest achievements. This allowed her to follow a clinical academic path and her thesis project saw her return to
NASA Johnson Space Center to investigate the health systems on board the International Space Station. It also allowed her to meet Dr Virginia Wotring, her supervisor, who has helped Varsha go back to Houston for placements where she researches female health in relation to spacef light, and specif ic a lly menstruation and the risk of developing thromboembolism. She has found a much under-researched area and it would be fair to say that she is one of the first doing this as a clinical academic. It has taken Varsha years of dedication, drive and determination to get to the point where she is being taken seriously about the research that she wants to do. There were plenty of naysayers who told her that there was no need for her research, but Varsha ignored them and persevered. She is now back doing full-time clinical training but is applying for grants with her supervisor, so that she can further her research with a PhD. Varsha has been an active member of the UK Space Biomedicine community, has co-led the organisation team for two UK Space Environments Conferences and recently completed a one-year placement as coordinator for the UK Space Life and Biomedical Sciences Association. She has delivered many lectures and talks nationally and abroad to demystify her work, which is not about having babies in space. In 2007, Varsha received the Humans of the Year Award from Vice-Motherboard and was supported in her research by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists/ American Gynaecological Club Travel Fellowship. She also received a Baylor College Travelling Fellowship. * Favourite Music: Maine Pyaar Kiya – a Bollywood blockbuster about determination and drive to succeed * Three objects Varsha cannot live without: Glasses (I am blind without them), Laptop, Phone
Varsha’s advice to junior doctors is “Always follow your heart, passions and dreams but never compromise yourself or your values.”
Published on Apr 26, 2017
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