Rajshree book

Dr. Rajshree Gaitonde, an Indian American physician who became the first female physician to serve at the Folsom State Prison in Folsom, Calif., writes about her life and experiences in a new book, “8,596 Miles: My Leap of Faith, My Journey,” which will be available Dec. 16 on Amazon. (photo provided)

How did a young woman from a sheltered and privileged life in India travel 8,596 miles to be the first female physician in a notorious, all-male maximum-security prison in California?

In her new book, “8,596 Miles: My Leap of Faith, My Journey,” Indian American doctor Rajshree Gaitonde talks about her journey from being a young physician from Madras (now Chennai), India, to earning the distinction of being the first woman to be offered a physician’s position at the Folsom State Prison in Folsom, Calif.

Gaitonde, a physician specializing in internal medicine, administrative medicine, public health, and correctional health care, was a young woman fresh out of medical school in India when she was plunged into a completely different life in the U.S. with her new husband, a virtual stranger, through an arranged marriage, according to a press release.

In the book, Gaitonde reveals how, despite overwhelming resistance and fear, she took the job in 1982, and how “faith, reliance on divine guidance, and music helped her through the difficult transitions and led her to achieve a successful career at prison.”

“She enjoyed a successful 24-year career by overcoming her own fear and others’ prejudices and resistance to a woman doctor treating an all-male population in a dangerous prison,” adds the press release. (Gaitonde was interviewed at the prison by India-West several years ago.)

While she was associated with the prison, Gaitonde, who wanted to offer more to her patients, went on to earn a law degree and a master’s degree in health services specializing in primary health care.

From an early age, a career in medicine was Gaitonde’s goal. But holistic medicine, including the healing power of music, was her passion as well. It continues to be an important part of her life that she shares through educational presentations and seminars.

In the book, Gaitonde also highlights how the ancient healing traditions and the classical music of India played an instrumental part in her life and success. 

 “8,596 Miles: My Leap of Faith, My Journey” will be available Dec. 16 on Amazon. The retail price is $12.95.

Gaitonde will be donating proceeds of the sales to charities and organizations helping to educate underprivileged girls in rural India.

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