Sheetal Khedkar Rao, MD
Chief Health Officer
In her primary care practice Dr. Sheetal Khedkar Rao regularly counseled patients about diet, exercise, medication and other individual health factors. However, when recurring downpours caused her home to flood three times, she started seeing climate change as a social determinant of health. She became active in her medical group’s sustainability committee, joined Healthcare Without Harm, presented at CleanMed and started CHCO2, an organization to promote environmental education in her town. For Dr. Rao, each of these endeavors further illustrated how closely the health of our climate is intertwined with the health of our communities.
In April of 2021, Dr. Rao began working directly with childhood friend and Nordson Green Earth Foundation (NGEF)’s founder Christine Diploma to set the group’s mission, build the organization and grow the team to what it is today. As Chief Health Officer, she stresses the importance of tree canopy as a direct contributor to health equity. Recently, Dr. Rao, and two additional NGEF team members (Ms. Dannhausen-Brun and Dr. Meeta Jain Patel) were selected to participate in the inaugural class of the Climate Health Organizing Fellows (CHOF) program, offered jointly through the Cambridge Health Alliance’s Center for Health Equity Education and Advocacy and Harvard Medical School. The CHOF program will help NGEF team members create structural change in our communities by teaching durable community organizing skills. Dr. Rao was additionally awarded the University of Colorado School of Medicine Health and Climate Fellowship for 2022-23. This program will offer her the opportunity to work with both a Federal agency and an Non-Governmental Organization to address the impact of climate change on health.
Dr. Rao studied Internal Medicine at Georgetown University in Washington D.C and completed her residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago, staying on as a Clinical Instructor for two years before transitioning into private practice. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Rao currently sits on her local elementary Board of Education (BOE) and has served as Chair of the Academic committee and Board Secretary during her tenure. As one of two physicians on the BOE, she helped guide school reopening efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic for a district of over 4,000 students and staff. She combats medical misinformation as a member of the Illinois Medical Professionals Action Collaborative Team (IMPACT) and has published perspective pieces for IMPACT and KevinMD. Dr. Rao has been quoted in the New York Times and The Atlantic on the topic of moral injury in healthcare. She is an avid reader and runner and is lead singer for a cover band called The Jungleez. Dr. Rao resides in the Western suburbs of Chicago with her husband and two sons.