Medical journalist Dr. Mona Khanna gives back through her humanitarian work. ARTICLE BY LINDSEY ARCHER, SENIOR GRAPHIC DESIGN AND MARKETING MANAGER; VIDEO INTERVIEW BY KRISTENARCHER, SENIOR MULTIMEDIA MANAGER DR. Mona Khanna's story begins with her parents. Originally from India, Mona's father received a scholarship to the University of Illinois and immediately became enamored with the United States. He also recognized the educational opportunities his son and three daughters would have in the U.S. Mona's family immigrated to Chicago when she was just a baby. Early on, she learned the value of service from watching her parents. As one of the first families in their area to immigrate from India, Mona recalls how her family welcomed other immigrants into their home and offered them assistance. "We had such an extended family of Indian immigrants in the Chicago area," she says. "People would come in from India, and my parents would reach out a helping hand and say, 'How can we help you assimilate into America? What can we do?' " Mona, a Lambda-Northwestern alumna, is now a triple boardcertified physician, Emmy Awardwinning journalist, humanitarian and disaster volunteer. In her role as a medical journalist, she has appeared on Fox & Friends, The Dr. Oz Show, The Early Show, Good Morning America, CBS Television and CNN, and she currently writes a weekly column for the Desert Sun, her local newspaper in Palm Springs, California. Mona's parents had a deep passion for their children to do well, and she credits them for steering her in the direction of medicine. She can also trace her desire to be on television back to her father. Mona remembers how they would watch the news together – local news at 5 p.m., network news at 5:30 p.m. and local news again at 6 p.m. "I realized how important it was to know what was going on in the world. But also, how effective that vehicle – television – was in talking to people and teaching them and telling them about everything that was happening." Staying close to home, Mona entered Northwestern University as a traditional biology major with the plan to become a doctor. She soon began to miss the creative and literary interests she had developed growing up, having always written from an early age. On top of her premed curriculum, she began taking classes from the Medill School of Journalism. "The past history of watching the news with my father resurfaced, and I wanted to know everything that was going on in the world," she says. As her literary interest grew, she petitioned the Medill School of Journalism to allow her to combine her two degrees. Though practically unheard of at the time, Medill granted her the transfer, which set the foundation for her future career in medical journalism. In 2007, she became the first and only physician inducted into the Medill School of Journalism Hall of Achievement. During her first two years at Northwestern, Mona also became fascinated with the Greek system. "The idea of being in a sorority was part of the whole idea of belonging . . . we seek to belong," she says. Near the end of Mona's sophomore year, Kappa Delta set out to reorganize its Lambda Chapter at Northwestern. After doing her research on Kappa Delta, she joined the sorority in spring 1985 and was excited to be a member of the group who re-built Lambda Chapter. In Kappa Delta, she found that sense of belonging. She remembers coming home from difficult classes, day after day, thankful she had sisters there to boost her confidence and keep her going. "You were coming home to this house," Mona recalls. "You really felt like you were coming to a place that you had been a part of creating, surrounded by all of your sisters . . . The most valuable part of being a Kappa Delta at Northwestern was being a part of the sisterhood. Belonging to a sisterhood that gives you that confidence. That gives you that affirmation when you accomplish something or achieve something. That they basically say, 'Way to go, Mo.' " Upon joining Kappa Delta, Mona became involved as the alumnae relations chairman. "We all had the opportunity to escalate to leadership positions very quickly. I think that's the beauty of being part of an establishing chapter," Mona says. "As alumnae chairman, . . . that was very valuable for me as a young woman to learn how to interact with older, very accomplished and successful women who had moved from the early successes to being significant in their professions." Mona's Kappa Delta story didn't end with graduation from Northwestern. Immediately following medical school at the University of Illinois, Mona decided to get her master's in public health at Johns Hopkins and turned to Kappa Delta for financial assistance. She applied for a Kappa Delta Foundation graduate scholarship and received the Minnie Mae Prescott Graduate Scholarship. She says she's grateful for those who chose to take a chance on her. "I had just graduated from medical school. I still had loans, and I hadn't started working and earning money, yet. The people who made the decision, I think, had a lot of foresight in saying, 'Well, even though we know she's on her way, let's help push her along a little bit.' " It wasn't until 1999 that Mona's real passion for humanitarian work began. The ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe had led to the United States taking in refugees from Kosovo. When Mona heard doctors were needed to perform public health screenings for the refugees, she jumped at the chance to volunteer and became part of the disaster medical assistance team deployed to Fort Dix in New Jersey. "That was my first taste of actually volunteering as a disaster medical relief responder," Mona says. "Once I got my first taste of it, I never stopped." The next year, she treated first responders of the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crash. Following the 9/11 attacks in New York, she worked the medical tents at Ground Zero and became the first physician to report directly from a disaster site, writing news reports for the San Bernardino Sun newspaper while providing care for those directly injured in the attack. She deployed again for Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Superstorm Sandy, and was part of the medical standby team when Pope Francis visited Philadelphia. "What I like about humanitarian work is it gives me the opportunity to use my particular skillsets – not only medical, because there are a lot of doctors – but also the ability to function in austere environments, to function in environments that are unexpected, to function as a member of a team. Teamwork is very important when you go on deployments." Most recently, in October 2017, Mona provided disaster relief as part of a team deployed by the Department of Health and Human Services to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. As is often the case in the aftermath of a natural disaster, many of the local medical services had been disrupted. While her team treated those with injuries sustained during the hurricane, such as stitches and partial amputations, they also saw everything from coughs and colds to complications from diabetes when patients couldn't get to their regular medical clinics. The most rewarding part of her work is the gratitude she sees in others. "This last deployment in Puerto Rico, I think everybody, after we were done treating them and caring for them, when they were leaving the tent, said, 'God bless you. Thank you so much for coming. We appreciate everything you do.' They would hug us, they would clutch our hands, and they were just so grateful that we were there. It brought tears to your eyes . . . That was just the best reward." Along the way, Mona picked up international humanitarian work, completing more deployments abroad than in the United States, through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including International Medical Corps, Project Hope, Gospel for Asia and the Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team (AMURT). She has deployed internationally nearly 20 times, including trips to help victims of the Nepal and Haiti earthquakes and the nuclear disaster in Japan. She served three months as head of occupational medicine in Liberia during that country's Ebola outbreak. Going forward, most of her work will be with NGOs in the international realm. "I have loved being a disaster worker, a humanitarian worker, over the past, almost 20 years," Mona says. With most of her humanitarian work being done in developing countries, Mona comes back from each experience more grateful for the life she has in America. "The way I think you appreciate it is when you see what other people don't have . . . When you go out, whether it's after a disaster or just because I have a couple of weeks and I want to go do some humanitarian work in a different country, you see that this is how the rest of the world is living . . . So, one of the reasons I do what I do, it makes me perennially grateful for what I have." While Mona's resume includes more than 50 journalism and humanitarian awards, one honor stands out from the others. Kappa Delta recognized her humanitarian efforts in 2007 with the Order of the Pearl, an award honoring outstanding contributions to society at the national, state or local level outside of Kappa Delta service. Mona accepted her award at Kappa Delta's 57th Biennial National Convention in Palm Springs, California. "At Northwestern, I had seen a chapter formed at the beginning. But, really that was the only interaction I had with Kappa Deltas," Mona recalls. "At convention, I was blown away by the camaraderie . . . and this unique bond that we have. It was an honor to be there and to meet the national officers and sisters from all over the country." While Mona has experienced both highs and lows throughout her career, she says, "The highs always make the lows worth it." One of those top highs happened in 2016 when she received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, an award founded by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO) and presented annually to a select group of accomplished American citizens who share their knowledge, talents, courage, compassion and generosity with those less fortunate. This prestigious award is annually memorialized in the Congressional Record. "It symbolizes the contribution to America of immigrants. Now, we're all immigrants, in a sense," Mona says. "I'm a first-generation immigrant. And I attribute this medal to my parents and their hard work and their sacrifice . . . So, this really isn't my award. It's my parents' award." Follow Mona at Facebook.com/AskDrMona and @AskDrMona on Twitter.
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