Head On

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by Sandra Benavides Weichel May 2014 Also on Digital Edition

As chief medical officer of the Jerome Golden Center, Dr. Suresh Rajpara is ready to take on any challenge that comes his way.

When Suresh Rajpara left his coastal city of Porbandar in India with his wife and 8-month-old daughter to move to the chilly state of New Jersey, he knew it wouldn’t be easy.

He had to say farewell to his family, to his medical career and to a beautiful town that was once home to Mahatma Gandhi himself. He left that life behind because he was pursuing the one thing he knew could only be found in the United States: the American dream.

“I had heard of the land of opportunity and I wanted to give it a shot,” Rajpara says.

After he finished medical school in 1979, Rajpara waited to obtain his visa. He had three years to change his mind, but neither the fear of the unknown nor the fear of the struggle deterred him.

But that’s Rajpara – he loves a challenge. Even as a young boy, he welcomed it.

Growing up in India, he was an inquisitive child. On all accounts he should have followed in his family’s footsteps to become a successful jeweler, but his interests were piqued elsewhere. Intrigued with the family doctor who would make home visits, Rajpara became fascinated with the process of diagnosis and treatment. He knew then that challenges would always await him.

So in 1982, he uprooted his family and for two years worked odd-end jobs to provide for them. His holidays, nights and weekends were spent either working or studying for his medical exams to become a licensed doctor in the Unites States.

“At the end of two years I was really wondering if it was worth it. … But I said, ‘Let’s tough it out; this will only makes us stronger,’” Rajpara says.

He was right to believe in himself. In 1984 he was accepted into Columbia University in New York for a four-year residency program. According to Rajpara, he had recognized a need for mental health professionals during his time there, and since he found the field to be a particularly challenging branch of medicine, he chose to pursue it.

Today Rajpara, 58, is the chief medical officer of the Jerome Golden Center in West Palm Beach, a private non-profit behavioral health center that provides mental health, primary care and substance abuse treatment.

Having joined the center as the medical officer in 1995, Rajpara oversees the day-to-day operations. The center is a 44-bed inpatient licensed psychiatric hospital that provides an array of psychiatric, medical and clinical services to its patients including outpatient treatments, case management, partial hospitalization programs and psychotherapy.

The center treats patients with severe and persistent illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder; patients who have “comorbid” conditions like substance abuse disorders; and patients who have primary care problems like obesity or diabetes.

The center is a Baker Act receiving facility, meaning it treats individuals who need an emergency mental health examination. It’s also heavily involved in housing and it partners with Florida Atlantic University and Nova Southeastern University for teaching opportunities. It also has a sister facility in Belle Glade.

“The main goal is to treat the root of the problem, so we can reintegrate these people back into society as productive members,” Rajpara says.

It’s been more than 30 years since he made the intrepid choice to move to the U.S., and it has since paid off. He has achieved personal success with a marriage that has lasted nearly 35 years and two children who have pursued their own medical passions: His daughter, Vidya, is a dermatologist in Palm Beach Gardens and his son, Raj, is one year away from becoming a radiation oncologist.

And even though Rajpara still faces challenges on a daily basis, he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I go home knowing I’ve done something productive; something not only good for the center, but good for the community,” he says.