Beyond the White Coat : In Conversation with ‘Art’odontist Dr. Shilpa Rao

Doctors have a scientific background and are thought to be left-brained while artists who are creative by nature are believed to be right-brained. But why not be both? Where art meets science, meet the wonder woman Dr. Shilpa Rao, an orthodontist by profession. She manages to feed her creative passion for modeling while also practicing medicine.

Dr. Shilpa tells Chennai Insider more about what fuels her passion and her preferred tools as an artist and dentist.

Tell us about your childhood and early influences?

It’s a bit of a lottery when you pick something to go on to study after school but our parents have been a strong influence and they were both probably very forward-thinking, feminists before their time. Our father introduced my sister and myself to English movies and encouraged us to speak in fluent Engish and Tamil. Being brought up in a small village himself, he struggled and was adamant that we are able to support ourselves well enough. My sister and I always drew an element of creativity in the genes – drawing and exploring our artistic side. My principle is that life could be short, I may never get a second chance and that I better seize the moment.

Quoting Dead Poets Society, Medicine is a noble pursuit and necessary to sustain life. But art is what we stay alive for.

How did you get the opportunity to model?

I got noticed through my sister’s senior and was asked for a professional photoshoot. I was also noticed on Facebook since I had an open profile. Photographers approached me to build their portfolio.  Baby steps like that transformed slowly and I built my network and collaborations.

Once I got married, I thought there would a drastic downtrend in the number of followers. Ironically, it increased exponentially especially in the number of women following. I think women like to appreciate and they look-up to other women who are able to balance multiple roles.

On influencer marketing content curation for social media..

Why do people follow us? To get honest and authentic recommendations.  I would promote not because a brand was paying for me, but because I was genuinely excited about the product. One of the earliest brands I promoted was Daniel Wellington watches.

I am genuine – I share without any filters – quite literally. I do not endorse something I do not personally believe in however much I am offered to be paid for it. For example, I do not endorse Over the Counter skin products for the face because I use dermatologically recommended products for the skin.

With regard to regular content, I like to capture moments with my daughter. The audience seems to enjoy that too. I think being realistic and relatable is the key to being well-known.

On balancing work as a full-time dentist, mother and a model..

I’m a woman, we’re multitaskers, we juggle everything, don’t we? I’ve always been a juggler.

I believe that women should always put their career first. You never ask a man how he manages his personal and professional life.

We all juggle, we all have two sides and maybe it makes us better artists.

Thoughts for the younger generation.. 

Be curious! Learn as much as you can about the topics that interest you. It is okay to be all over the place and gain broad exposure to a variety of areas.

If you say that you’re a dentist as well as a practicing artist, the assumption is that you’re a dentist first and that being an artist is your hobby, that you’re a Sunday afternoon painter and that it’s just something you do to fill in the gaps.  These attitudes are outdated and the next generation will not see themselves defined by a choice that they once made but will pivot toward different exciting and engaging careers along with their working lives.


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