Surgeon Started Career Journey in UT Dallas Class 3 Decades Ago
Cell Biology Instructor Was as Demanding as He Was Encouraging, Class of '82 Alumna Recalls
Feb. 2, 2012
In her office, just a block from San Francisco’s famed Union Square, plastic surgeon Dr. Usha Rajagopal BS’82 is at the pinnacle of a career that began with a cell biology class at UT Dallas.
Dr. Usha Rajagopal
“This was an incredibly demanding class,” she explained. “It was taught by Dr. Jost Kemper, who was equally demanding but in a highly encouraging way. I learned so much in that class, about cell biology and also about myself.”
Rajagopal moved to Dallas two years after her parents, so that she could finish high school in her native India. Her father took a job as an accountant with the city of Dallas with hopes of providing a better life for his family. Two years later he died unexpectedly, leaving Rajagopal, her mother and a younger sister with a big decision. “We chose to make our life here. My sister and I are very determined and knew we could care for ourselves and our mother.”
Rajagopal worked part-time jobs while taking courses at El Centro and Richland colleges. She enrolled at UT Dallas in 1980 to pursue a degree in biology that would lead to medical school. “I was fortunate from the beginning at UT Dallas to have Dr. Dean Sherry as not only an adviser but also a mentor. He really understood that I knew what I wanted to do.”
Sherry holds the Cecil H. and Ida Green Distinguished Chair in Systems Biology and a joint appointment with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where he is director of the Advanced Imaging Research Center. He said Rajagopal stood out among his students.
“Of the many pre-med students I advised in the early 1980s, I remember Usha as one of the more focused and passionate about succeeding in medicine.”
“Of the many premed students I advised in the early 1980s, I remember Usha as one of the more focused and passionate about succeeding in medicine,” said Dr. Dean Sherry, who holds the Cecil H. and Ida Green Distinguished Chair in Systems Biology.
Rajagopal graduated from UT Dallas in the fall of 1982 and was soon admitted to medical school at UT Southwestern. Classes didn’t start immediately, so she began her medical studies with a job as a cardiopulmonary research technician at UT Southwestern.
Rajagopal enjoyed the research so much that she expected to eventually specialize in cardiopulmonary medicine. But during her third year, when students undertake rotations in many fields of medicine, she discovered her passion for surgery. “I loved the surgical rotation. You have the ability to do something that can save a life or dramatically enhance a life that has been damaged in some way.” Her rotation included plastic surgery, but she did not pursue that field when she finished medical school in 1987.
As a surgical resident at Parkland Memorial Hospital for five years, Rajagopal gained broad experience. She returned to UT Southwestern for one year in a surgical research position. “Somewhere during that year, I realized my passion for plastic surgery,” she said.
In 1993, Rajagopal was named to a fellowship in plastic surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, where she became board-certified in plastic surgery. Two years later, she founded the San Francisco Plastic Surgery & Laser Center. “Running my own practice has been very rewarding. I enjoy being my own boss and making key decisions that will impact my business.” Her husband and business partner runs the financial side of the practice. The couple are proud parents of two daughters, ages 14 and 11.
“My time in Dallas was special,” Rajagopal said. “I’m very proud to hang both my UT Dallas and UT Southwestern diplomas here for my patients to see.”
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