Dr. America finalist Kara Wada, MD, uses pageant platform to bring attention to invisible illnesses

Dr America finalist Kara Wada MD uses pageant platform to bring attention to invisible illnessesIn October 2023, Kara Wada, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, was named second runner-up in the annual Dr. America pageant.

This yearlong virtual competition, which promotes the idea that smart is beautiful, is open to women who hold a terminal degree in their area of study. Participants represent a wide range of careers — including medical doctors, lawyers, scientists and professors — and are judged on attributes such as their communication skills and professional achievements.

Dr. Wada, who’s also a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery in The Ohio State University College of Medicine and associate program director of Ohio State’s Allergy and Immunology Fellowship Program, is no stranger to pageants and the benefits they offer.

“I participated in the Miss Illinois pageant when I was in my 20s because it helped me earn scholarship money for my education,” she says. “But that experience also helped me grow personally and professionally. For example, I learned important speaking and interviewing techniques that prepared me for the interview process when applying for medical school and residency training. And I use those same skills today when communicating with my patients.”

Similar to other state and national pageants, Dr. America shines a light on the importance of community service and mentorship activities. Competitors must also choose an issue or topic that’s important to them, and highlight the work they’ve done to support or draw attention to that cause.

“I’m working to bring visibility to invisible illnesses, like autoimmune disease and mental health disorders,” Dr. Wada says. “People who have these conditions often look fine on the outside, but they don’t feel fine. And many report that when seeking care, they’re often brushed off or not taken seriously, which leads to delayed or ineffective treatment.”

Dr. Wada says participating in the Dr. America competition also provides meaningful opportunities to collaborate with other professional women.

She and Dr. America 2022, a California pediatrician, recently co-authored an article for KevinMD.com that highlights pageantry as an unconventional catalyst for career advancement in academic medicine. Another contestant — a Montreal immunologist and winner of the international Dr. World pageant — spoke at the 2023 Demystifying Inflammation Summit, a three-day patient and physician education event organized by Dr. Wada.

“I enjoy breaking up common misconceptions about pageants,” Dr. Wada says. “For me, they’re a fun, nontraditional way to build poise and confidence and to elevate issues I’m passionate about. Through Dr. America, I’m now part of an amazing sisterhood with members who support each other and bring good into the world. As they say, a rising tide raises all ships.”

In addition to being named second runner-up for Dr. America 2023, Dr. Wada earned the competition’s career and academic achievement awards.