Volunteer Dr. Anna Raji provides care and comfort to veterans amid COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Anna Raji always knew she wanted to work with veterans again. Anna, clinical director, endocrinology and metabolism, completed rotations at Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities as a resident and fellow, and found the experience to be very rewarding.

“I think I benefit more, but the patients are really grateful,” she says. “Instead of letting me thank them for their service, they thank me for volunteering and taking the time to teach them about their disease and empower them with knowledge.”

Through MSD’s volunteer program, Anna was able to return to working with veterans in 2016 and has volunteered in VA facilities since then. Today, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, her services are needed more than ever. Every week, Anna continues to see patients at her usual outpatient VA clinic in New Jersey, but she is also taking on inpatient work at another VA facility to support a doctor who is unable to come on site. Anna meets patients in telehealth sessions as well.

“Even though COVID patients are important and there is a crisis going on, chronic care patients – people with diabetes, heart disease and so many other comorbidities – are left in the dark,” she explains. “They can’t visit the clinic. They have so many questions, and they’re so fearful and petrified to even come to the clinic.”

Telemedicine has greatly improved the situation for many of Anna’s patients who are managing comorbidities. Anna says that initially, telehealth was not available for her VA patients.

“They felt like they were by themselves, and they were afraid,” she says. “But it certainly made a big difference in terms of them feeling more confident. Initially they thought they were going to be ignored, but now they know they’ll get their medications, and they know someone is talking to them about their issues.”

Anna says telehealth has been key in educating her patients about their conditions.

“I miss face-to-face interactions, but telehealth is useful,” she says. “You can educate them and let them ask questions and talk to their families. I have spoken to so many people’s wives who have many questions on what they can do during this time. And we can use these sessions to provide services like a medication change to better manage their blood sugar.”

Anna worries for her patients whose elective surgeries have been postponed. She says one of her patients is waiting for knee surgery, and she knows that he is in pain every day. But Anna is hopeful that these procedures will be rescheduled soon, and her patients are comforted by the fact that someone is listening to their concerns and providing care, even if it is through telehealth.

“These veterans have given everything for our country,” she says. “This is something I can do. I’m paying tribute – a little bit – giving back to what they’ve gone through.”