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Laura Tatpati

In this Q&A, Dr. Laura Tatpati, associate dean for undergraduate medical education at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, reflects on her experiences as a first-generation student and the lessons she’s learned.

Dr. Laura Tatpati stands at a podium

As a first-generation college graduate, Laura Tatpati, M.D., associate dean for undergraduate medical education at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, had to learn to navigate experiences her parents never had. Originally from Stanton, Nebraska, Dr. Tatpati earned her undergraduate and medical degrees from Creighton University before starting residency at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita. She has spent her entire career at KU, apart from a three-year fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

In this Q&A, she reflects on her experiences as a first-generation student and the lessons she’s learned.

What does being a first-generation college graduate mean to you? 

I know the fact that my brother and I are college graduates with professional degrees is not only a source of pride, but in many ways a relief for my parents and especially for my maternal grandparents who did not even graduate from high school. They were able to guide us from an early age on how to ensure we would be able to achieve our goals even though they hadn't done those things themselves.

Candid photo of Laura Tatpati smilingWhat was the biggest challenge you faced as a first-gen student? And your proudest accomplishment? 

Successfully navigating the pre-med world in a college and city where I knew nobody on day one is probably my biggest accomplishment. Once in college, as a first-gen student, it was the first time I had to navigate experiences that were not fully familiar at the granular level to my parents. Additionally, in medicine, there are many challenges that are simply not familiar to people outside of medical fields, so it was important to broaden my support network to people who have been through it and understand those new pressures at the same level.

Who inspired you to continue pursuing higher education? 

My parents instilled in us from a young age that we should go to college and seek out professional careers. My parents' early married life involved an Army job for my dad with both of them having additional jobs just to support our family. I really don't remember a time that it wasn't made clear that we should endeavor to work hard in school and to try to choose a stable career path and I know that the consistent messaging for that was key to my success.

Four people are seated at a round table during a large event. Dr. Laura Tatpati is second from the right.What role has mentorship played in your academic journey?

Having great mentors has been key to my journey. In residency, I had innumerable mentors who made a difference, but the two key mentors eventually became my future practice partners. Their love of the profession and commitment to their own families, their patients and those they work with and train has been a constant inspiration for me. It is something I have tried to pay forward in my own career mentoring others.

What drew you to KU Medical Center?

I have always had a heart for teaching, so even when applying for medical school I knew that I would plan to stay somewhere in the academic medicine world. As a resident in OBGYN at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, I was completely in awe of the commitment of our faculty members to medical student and resident training. As a small-town Nebraska native, I have a special place in my heart for KU Medical Center’s mission of ensuring that rural Kansans receive high-quality medical care as close to home as possible.

Three women faculty members smile in front of a glittery backdrop while wearing props including bunny earsWhy is highlighting first-generation voices important? 

My husband, who is from a family of physicians, will tell you that having this background gave him an almost innate confidence in his journey. Hearing from people with voices or backgrounds that resemble yours can help first-gen students find a similar confidence and build a support network that can be a lifeline when inevitable challenges arise.

What advice would you give to your younger self, or to a first-gen student just starting their journey? 

There really are a lot of people willing to help you achieve your goals, but you need to take advantage of everything that is offered and seek out all the opportunities that you can. I would also say that while I was privileged to be able to take a direct path to my goals, it is important to have perspective and realize that facing twists and turns in the road doesn't mean that you can't end up in the same place or a better place than you had planned.

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