Denver physician-attorney believes in the power of a unified voice to effecting change

Ricky Dhaliwal, MD, JD, is a dual-trained emergency and internal medicine physician and attorney. He also has a background in computer science and programming that includes work at the National Defense University and Government Accountability Office. He currently serves as vice chair of the Colorado Medical Society’s Council on Legislation, and is a past president of the Emergency Medicine Resident Association and the Colorado Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians. He works for Carepoint Health in Denver where is serves as the Director of Government Affairs and is also the Associate Medical Director of the emergency department at Skyridge Medical Center.

1. Who or what inspired you to pursue medicine?

From the perspective of where it all started, as a first generation American, I had a deep appreciation for math and science because of my parents. I started in computer science doing consulting work on a project related to HIPAA. Working in hospitals and interacting with physicians renewed my feeling that medicine was what I needed to do. I also heard from physicians about the frustrations with changes to medicine where they had no insight or voice. I took both the MCAT and LSAT, and got a dual MD/JD degree; I didn’t know how I would use the degrees together, but that was my onus for both.

2. You are actively involved in advocacy; why is advocacy important for physicians?

I think that deep down there is an altruistic reason every physician has when they choose to go into medicine. I think our goal is to fulfill this altruistic passion, and the hardest part is the red tape that makes it more difficult to practice or changes the way you can provide care to patients.  Whether it’s directly related to patient care or reimbursement and pay– physicians ask, “can I work in this environment and still pay back my loans or support a family?” With all of the different moving parts, things become complicated.

One of the reasons I’m involved in advocacy is because I know if we’re not the ones creating that message, then it’s going to end up being someone else. That someone else might not understand how medicine works or may be incentivized by something that doesn’t benefit patients. If we don’t own this, someone else will and we’ll be left complaining about how medicine used to be.

3. Can you share a story of a patient that has really stuck with you?

I had a patient who was Spanish speaking only. He was uninsured, jumping from place to place and kept getting the runaround. No one was addressing his problem of debilitating abdominal pain and he was being criticized for seeking care in the ER. I sat down with him, considered his cultural differences and personal challenges – he worked full time and couldn’t go to a clinic during business hours – and wrote a care plan with him. I called him a week later and he said I changed his life. I think it was because I listened to him. We’re in a state of health care where you’re almost like a widget; it’s difficult to slow down and take in, glean information, and look at our patient’s full picture. There’s a cultural piece as well and we need to learn that a lot of people have different parts of their lives that affect their health care. That was eye opening. I’m a first generation American; it’s these small things that make a difference and I have seen their implications in my own family.

4. Why is CMS membership important to you?

You’re seeing overall a shift in terms of people participating in societies. I think the reason is that many wonder what difference being a member in a medical society or specialty society can really make. But if you look at the role of a society – yes, you can get education and other benefits – but most important is it’s a bigger voice. My belief is that with a larger voice and a clear vision of what you’re trying to accomplish, you can really change the message and facilitate positive change to the health care system.

If you look at Colorado ACEP (Colorado Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians), we have become a group that legislators come to because they know we’re involved. I’d say the same thing about the Colorado Medical Society. When you get into a multi-specialty organization, it’s harder because different specialties have different priorities, but ultimately it comes down to us wanting to provide the best care for patients. Whether it’s substance use disorder or payment reform or gun violence, a unified message is so much stronger than each individual by themselves. I want to help in this. It’s like herding cats, and we need all the cats to go in the same direction; the only way we do that is by participating.

5. What advice do you have for physicians-in-training?

First, don’t pick your specialty based on money, pick the specialty you have a passion for. Second, have a voice. As you go through your training, you lose opportunity cost from a life standpoint. While it’s easy to say I’m done with training, now it’s time for all those pieces of my life I put on hold, if you forget about the advocacy side of things you’re going to be in a situation years down the road where you’re practicing in a setting that is foreign and doesn’t allow you to provide the effective care which you believe you should.

While providing care is most important, we also need to be the voice for medicine as a whole. Don’t forget about the other portions. If you can’t participate, putting money into our political action committee makes a difference because we’re up against large corporations who aren’t aligned with what our patients need or what we need as providers. Finally, don’t be saddened by the situation of medicine right now. The more we work toward bettering it, the faster we’ll get there. This is a pendulum and it needs to come back to the middle. The only way to do that is to band together.

6. What do you enjoy doing outside of medicine?

I have two amazing children who are 3 and 6 and an amazing wife who is also a physician, and we love to do anything and everything that is outside. You’ll find us a lot of times up in the mountains skiing, camping, hiking. Now it’s running kids to sports events and social events as well. It’s a fun time. Enjoying time with your family and friends and being present is the most important thing. We only live once so you have to find a way to be present every day.


The Colorado Medical Society's monthly member spotlight series offers CMS members the opportunity to share their passions and wisdom from medicine and life in general, and allows the medical society to highlight members from around the state. All CMS members are eligible to be featured; contact enews_editor@cms.org to self-nominate or to nominate one of your colleagues. It takes as little as 20 minutes of your time!


Categories: Communications, ASAP