Adaptability helped doctor in practice, life

By Kristina Jackson

Part of Dr. Rahila Andrews’ job in occupational medicine is to help people transition back into the workplace.

She helps patients deal with workplace injuries, working them through physical or occupational therapy to get them back in the swing of things.

“I like seeing people get better,” said Andrews, who joined Mercy West’s occupational health team in the fall of 2012. “It’s nice to see that patients get back to their regular duties at work.”

Between her job and her personal history, Andrews is familiar with making transitions. She grew up in Trinidad and Tobago and moved to the United States after graduating from high school. Now that she’s done with her education and settled into a regular practice, the adjustments have stopped for a while.

Andrews studied in North Carolina and Utah before settling in Manhattan, but she said the hardest transition was moving from Trinidad to Georgia. She made the move at age 19 before beginning her undergraduate career at Spelman College in Atlanta.

“I was moving to a totally different county that I’d never been to before,” she said.

Andrews said that in addition to being far from family, she encountered differences in food and language.

“You’re both technically speaking English, but sometimes there’s a different phraseology,” she said.

And even though she was living in the South, Andrews said cold winters were a major adjustment as well.

“In Trinidad, the weather is warm all year round,” she said. “Once it got cold, there are no words to describe the shock.”

After finishing medical school at Duke University and a year of preliminary residency in North Carolina, Andrews moved to the University of Utah for her residency in occupational medicine. She said moving across the country to the West was another adjustment, but it was made easier by the small number of residents in her program and her own involvement in the field.

Her time in Utah was when Andrews really became embedded in the field. She said much of this was because of her passionate and involved instructors.

“The faculty was on the ground floor with research,” she said.

Andrews became interested in the field after seeing patients with chronic ailments while at Duke, where she said some patients came as a last resort when their chronic condition took a turn for the worse.

“When you saw some of these folks, you saw the worst of the worst,” Andrews said.

Now Andrews is a professional in the field, having made one more transition to Manhattan. She said the move was easier this time because she had the help and support of her husband, whom she married in her last year of residency, and a friend who already lived in Manhattan. Mercy also helped with some of the details, she said, and she was jumping into an established practice at the occupational health clinic.

“It was easy enough to jump on the train,” she said.

Although this move came with its own adjustments regionally, culturally and weather, Andrews has learned to take on these challenges.

“I feel like I’m a very adaptable person.”

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