Physician Profile:Meet PCRM’s Chief Medical Officer: Ulka Agarwal, M.D.
Ulka Agarwal, M.D., first became interested in animal protection after watching a film on animal exploitation in her high school biology class.
“That day, my eyes were forever opened to the cruelty of the farm industry, and I became a vegetarian,” says Dr. Agarwal.
Dr. Agarwal, who works on PCRM’s clinical research studies and nutrition initiatives, later learned about the serious ethical problems with producing dairy products and eggs and began following a vegan diet.
“After going vegan, I lost close to 10 pounds,” says Dr. Agarwal. “At first, I did it purely for ethical reasons. But I realized there’s more to it and dug deeper, uncovering the surprising health benefits of plant-based diets.”
Before joining PCRM, Dr. Agarwal was the head psychiatrist at California State University’s Student Health Center. She worked closely with the center’s director of health promotion to provide consultation on nutrition.
Dr. Agarwal is shocked by the absence of nutrition education in medical school curricula.
“To this day, my own physician asks me ‘How are you getting enough protein?,’” says Dr. Agarwal. “There is so much more work to be done. If we can educate our fellow physicians, we can get the message out to those who need it most.”
Dr. Agarwal is also concerned about the use of animals in medical training and research. She remembers reading psychology studies on maternal deprivation that involved monkeys.
“They took the baby monkeys away from their mothers and put them in isolation,” says Dr. Agarwal. “After the baby monkeys had not seen any humans or monkeys for days or weeks, the researchers brought in either a human or a monkey and noted the baby monkey’s response. I couldn’t help but think, ‘How relevant is this to my practice? Will this ever affect how I treat my patients?’”
Also interested in the links between animal abuse and violence toward humans, Dr. Agarwal took a course on developing therapy specifically for those who abuse animals.
“This research can help us gain insight into why some people without empathy harm animals, and how we can rehabilitate them so they can one day show compassion for all living beings,” Dr. Agarwal explains.
Dr. Agarwal received her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from San Jose State University and earned her medical degree from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (Chicago Medical School). She completed residency training in psychiatry at the University of Washington School of Medicine.