Arya Shah, MS4

Mayo Clinic School of Medicine
From Cerritos, CA
USC, B.S. Neuroscience
Age 25

What experiences throughout your life contributed the most to you wanting to go to medical school and pursue a career in medicine?

Los Angeles as a city was probably responsible for my decision to pursue a career in medicine, as it’s a city fraught with inequities. Most glaring was what I saw working on Skid Row at a needle exchange clinic. We had patients who were homeless but we also had patients from affluent neighborhoods of Orange County. Folks would bring in hundreds of used needles in the hopes of minimizing the negative effects of their addictions on themselves and on other people. Some may have called them non-compliant patients but to the people who ran the clinic, they were individuals doing their best. I would hear stories from clients about doctors who refused to treat them, or health care providers who yelled at them. I had one homeless man tell me that his doctor jumped backwards when he found out he was an injection drug user with an abscess. This shocked me, as I know drug use is a universal issue that so many people deal with on a daily basis; I couldn’t fathom a physician being so terrified, disgusted, and unprofessional in the face of something that I see as a sign of human suffering. I wouldn’t say that my decision to pursue medicine was based on my time at the clinic. I’ve wanted to do medicine for as long as I can remember, but my time in the clinic really showed me why: health issues, addictions and all, are some of the most graphic examples of human suffering. Even if I can’t cure you, or even if I can’t make you stop using heroin, at least I can work with someone to show them that I value their efforts to shoot up once a day instead of twice.

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

A typical day in medical school depends on the year: Year 1: 8-12 class on most days, with some 8am-5pm days when we have standardized patients, extra class for anatomy, etc. Mostly a lecture based year with some standardized clinical encounters. Year 2: 8-5 lectures with one or two weeks a morning dedicated to hospital-based doctoring small groups. This was when we had systems-based lectures, as well as when we started learning how to take a basic H&P. Year 3: Clerkships, in which days vary based on the service and the schedule that you are following. Certain days may be longer when you have to study for shelf exams or for Step 2. Year 4: Totally variable, as schedules work around residency interview season. Elective and core rotation requirements vary by school.

How do your classes and lectures compare to those at your undergraduate institution? 

I would say structure of classes is similar, in that there is a mixture of large group lectures and small group discussion. The one difference is that students are treated like adult learners with enough autonomy to make decisions about how they learn best. Lectures are taped, a word document syllabus is often provided, and attendance isn’t always mandatory. Additionally, lectures frequently provided the basic information, but synthesizing it and finding ways to use the information to answer complicated questions (as opposed to just memorizing rote) is something that’s a little bit different in medical school.

How has your approach to learning and/or studying changed since you were an undergrad?

To be honest, it hasn’t really. I was always a person who liked to study the material on my own at first, and then discuss it with other people to solidify the concepts. I also learn well by teaching to others. That was something that helped me in undergrad and continued to be useful for me in medical school.

Looking back on when you were applying to medical schools and deciding which school was the best fit, what do you think are the most important things to learn about a medical school when you are deciding which school is right for you?

When you do interviews, I’d recommend telling someone your dream job. Whether that’s to be an internist in aerospace medicine, a child a family psychiatrist that uses art and narrative, or a surgeon that does in utero fetal surgery, tell them and see how they respond. The school that is the best fit for you will have people that are excited about your passions and willing to connect you with people who will support you, no matter how far-fetched the idea.

What do you consider to be unique about your medical school that has been valuable to you thus far?

The small size has been great. I feel like I’m in a community in which I know, not only all of my classmates, but also all of my faculty, administrators, mentors, and preceptors by name.

What organizations or activities are you involved in outside of your regular classwork?

Medical Humanities – USMLE Tutoring – Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Interest Group – Research in chronic pain, neuropathy, community psychiatry – Creative Writing – Nicotine Dependence Center – Yoga, Embroidery, Medical School Dodge ball Team (Public Enemas)

How has mentorship played a role in your medical school experience thus far? How has your medical school provided you guidance for your specific circumstances or interests?

I think my decision to pursue psychiatry was solidified by my mentors. It wasn’t because they convinced me to chose it. It was that I was so taken by their personalities, by their conversation styles, and how they were so different as people and yet all so effective at connecting with the individuals they worked with. Also, most importantly, I felt like I connected with them as people in terms of interests outside of medicine as well as in terms of perspectives on health care practice.

In retrospect, which classes in undergrad do you think were the most useful coming into medical school?

Probably my Spanish classes (I minored in Spanish) were the most useful, simply because of how universally important it is as a language for communicating with so many patients.

How much does your unique background (meaning your major, or your work experience prior to medical school, or unique individual circumstances) play into you being successful as a medical student?

In all honesty, not at all. I’d say my experiences as an undergrad shaped some of my values and probably contributed to my decision to pursue a career in psychiatry. However, medical school is a whole new ball game, no matter how prepared you think you are.

What have you been most surprised to find out or realize about life in medical school since you started?

Food, exercise, sleep, and hobbies are just as important to acing an exam as are studying and going to class. It’s been so great to learn that if I have to take a day off to go for a hike, or skip class to sleep in, it’s okay. A few hours or days of studying lost may actually be exactly what your mind and body need to help you ace that exam.

What is one way your outlook on medicine or understanding of medicine has changed in your time at medical school?

I’ve realized that the medicine I’m being taught to practice now is not the medicine that we will be practicing 10 years from now. I’ve learned how important it is to recognize problems in the system that are going to have to be resolved. I also know how important it is to keep up with research and literature, as half of what we learn in medical school will undoubtedly proven wrong sometime soon!

How would you describe the sense of community within your medical school class?

I come from a very small medical school, where each class is usually somewhere between 40 and 50 students. No two people are even remotely alike, and yet I feel that I’m close to every single one of my classmates. It’s a tight knit community in a small town that revolves around it’s large academic medical center. This makes it a really unique environment to go to medical school. I have 50 people that I learn with. I’m totally different from all of them, but I’ve become close to them. It just goes to show that in life we’ll never only be working with people that we know or get along with. In the end, we have to find ways to jive with whoever ends up on our team, and that was something that happened naturally among our medical school class.

If a young undergraduate interested in applying to medical school came to you seeking advice about ‘which major is best,’ what would you tell them?

Do what you love. Sincerity comes across when it comes to applying for medical school. Major in something you are passionate about, and I’m sure you can still find ways to make sure to fit in your required pre-medical courses.

What do you wish you had known as an undergraduate and/or as a student in the medical application process?

Take more time to pursue my interests in the humanities. I think that undergraduate education forces us to pursue all the things that we think that we are “supposed” to do to get into medical school. However, what I’ve learned is that medical schools are looking for genuine human beings, with lives, interests, and passions outside of research and hard sciences.

What is one thing you would do differently if you could go back to your undergraduate years or the time between undergrad and medical school? 

Like I said above, dedicate time to writing, painting and literature. It’s important to nurture your passions outside of medicine, both for your sanity now and to sustain a lifelong career that can otherwise be extremely draining.

Leave a Reply