The intersection of medicine and filmmaking

Like many third-year medical students, Lakshmi Karuparthy, D.O.’22, has a plan for her future. The steps in that plan make her unlike most other medical students, however.

“In five years, I’ll be reaching the end of my residency. In 10 years, I’ll want to have produced my first major-length documentary,” she says in a YouTube video she created last November. “In 15 years, I want to launch a documentary production company that advocates for the lives of my patients beyond the exam room.”

Lakshmi Karuparthy wants to use filmmaking to advocate for patients “beyond the exam room.”

The daughter of two physicians, Karuparthy has long felt a “natural pull” toward a medical career, but she also often recruited friends to shoot short skits. In high school, she produced a parody on the medical series “House” for an anatomy and physiology project. Her teacher’s positive feedback helped her understand the “power of film as a medium to educate.” She attended Northwestern University with a major in radio, television and film and a minor in global health while also pursuing a pre-medicine track.

“It was hard to schedule. My classes were in completely different parts of campus,” she says. “But I made it work. I want to be at the intersection of medicine and filmmaking in my career. Having those film classes motivated me and gave me a break from science classes.”

She explored that intersection with an assignment for a video production class. She initially hoped to produce a video on the Flint, MI, water crisis; when that didn’t work out logistically, her professor, documentary filmmaker Ines Sommer, suggested she do her project on lead poisoning in Chicago.

Her documentary, “Painted Poison,” tells the story of a single mother whose six-year-old son was diagnosed with severe lead poisoning. The family moved five times, but each unit in which they lived contained lead, exacerbating his cognitive disabilities. 

“There are a lot of issues with landlords who don’t want to put money into fixing the problem. Plus it’s not specified in the leases, and members of the public don’t know to ask about it,” Karuparthy says. “It was so sad. The mother was doing everything she could to help her son.”

Karuparthy intends to help her future patients and thousands more by sharing information about health topics. She produced a video in December about the importance of getting the influenza vaccine to reduce the chance of contracting the flu and COVID-19. It featured Sheri Rocco, M.D., a pediatrician at Aurora Pediatrics in Pleasant Prairie, WI, and one of Karuparthy’s preceptors.

“She was really great at educating patients – breaking down complicated medical information so people can understand it,” says Karuparthy, who shares that goal for her dual career in medicine and filmmaking. 

“I’m glad I found what I’m passionate about,” she adds. “I don’t know exactly my path, but I’ll keep piecing it together year by year.”

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