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First-Year Student Profile: Priscilla Varghese

Hometown: Malverne (Long Island), NY 

Where did you complete your undergraduate education? What did you study?

I completed my B.S. in Biochemistry at Stony Brook University. GO SEAWOLVES. 

What inspired you to study medicine?

While I have always had a natural inclination towards the life sciences, many of my life experiences are what pushed me towards pursuing medicine as a career. A key influence in this decision was the time I spent shadowing Dr. Hurst, a trauma surgeon that volunteered his time at a local community clinic in Cleveland, OH. Watching Dr. Hurst, I witnessed the difference a doctor could make by simply treating ALL patients with the utmost compassion and dignity. Of all the qualities Dr. Hurst possessed, the one that struck me the most was the conscious effort he took to care for his patients holistically. From Medicare allowances to Section 8 housing, he invested time in familiarizing himself with issues affecting the demographic he was treating. During each visit, he relied on both his medical knowledge and emotional intelligence to help patients navigate through complicated diagnoses. In these ways, Dr. Hurst had a remarkable way of making sure each patient felt valued, cared for, and heard. Learning from Dr. Hurst, I was able to identify with the humanitarian role of physicians. Ultimately, it was this aspect of physicianship that confirmed for me that medicine was something that I wanted to pursue. 

Describe what it is like to attend medical school during a pandemic.

Medical school has always been a rigorous process, and the additional layer of complexity that the COVID-19 pandemic has added to this journey is truly unquantifiable. Like for most students, starting medical school during the pandemic meant adjusting to an almost completely virtual curriculum. Tackling a demanding course load in such a way brought obvious challenges like limited access to faculty and restricted hands-on learning. This new format also meant that many iconic aspects of being a first year medical student were no longer available to us. Rites of passages like celebrating with loved ones at a white coat ceremony, completing our first cadaver dissections, and bonding with our fellow students, are all areas where we have been forced to hit pause. Understandably, though, the physical and mental demands of medical school still continue with full force and students, myself included, find themselves continuously adapting to what seems like an ever changing new normal.  All of this, in combination with the ever looming threat of a horrible virus is extremely overwhelming to say the least. 

That being said, attending medical school during such a time is also an almost audible proclamation of the resilience of the healthcare community. Even in the midst of what is now a seven month long global pandemic, professors and facilitators, many being practicing physicians, are quick to help patients and students alike. Fellow MS1’s and upperclassmen are more than willing to reinforce a collaborative approach as we all face the challenges of medical school. In addition, faculty are dedicated to creating an environment conducive to academic success. In retrospect, although the pandemic has made navigating medical school all the more difficult, it has also given me and other current medical students a unique perspective on the power and dependability of the healthcare community that will have a lasting impact throughout our careers.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced the way you intend to practice medicine?

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly amplified the already well established relationship between socioeconomic class and lack of access to healthcare and negative health outcomes. Living through this pandemic and seeing the effects of social determinants on health first hand has had a huge impact on helping me identify the proactive role I want to fulfill in my community as a future physician. I hope to utilize my time at Downstate to continue to learn and practice serving as an advocate for the diverse patient population I hope to care for one day. In addition, I hope to use my career as a means to be part of the solution in regards to this health disparity and my first steps include learning more about it by applying to be part of the Health Equity Advocacy Leadership Pathway at Downstate.

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