Our guest today, Dr. Nadia Afridi earned her bachelors and MD in Canada and then did a residency in plastic surgery at Dalhousie University. She also earned her Executive MBA from Columbia in 2017.
Can you tell us about your background? Where you grew up? What do you like to do for fun? [1:09]
I was born and raised in Canada, the only child of physicians who immigrated to Canada in the 1970s, so I have been surrounded by medicine my whole life. As a result, I knew a lot about medicine and decided to pursue it and did most of my training in Canada. Once I did my residency I wanted to do my fellowship training with a doctor I admired, so I moved to Nashville, TN and worked for a year there, and then did another fellowship with a non-profit, traveling all over the world doing cleft lip, cleft palate, and burn reconstruction surgery for children. That was a hard year emotionally, but so satisfying to be able to help so tangibly.
You did your undergrad and medical education including a residency in plastic surgery in Canada. You then did you one year of sub-specialty training in the U.S., focusing on reconstructive and aesthetic breast surgery. You are now a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and associate fellow of the American College of Surgeons. Was it hard professionally to move to the U.S. from Canada? [2:56]
Compared to what many people who immigrated to the United States go through it was relatively easy. Almost all of my education was already recognized when I came south of the border. So it wasn’t like my MD wasn’t recognized. I didn’t have to redo any training, but anytime you make a major move to a new place without an established network it is somewhat challenging, but it was doable. It was more the practical, business aspects as opposed to the regulatory and educational ones.
What was hardest aspect of your medical education? [4:28]
That you spend so much time before you become even remotely employable, which is a bit daunting. A lot of people get exhausted just thinking about the path ahead of you. I just tried to take it step by step, and with staging, there is initially more classroom and then progressing to a clinical environment. Another one of the hardest parts is choosing your specialty and then of course getting into it.
Let’s turn to your experience as an EMBA student. Why did you want to add an MBA to your MD? [5:50]
I had been in practice here awhile in New York and it was going relatively well. In some ways I had reached a professional plateau, and yearned to learn something new and completely different from medicine, so I decided to see if I could meet the standards of admission to Columbia. I knew for sure I would be able to extract an ROI from the MBA degree by streamlining the way I ran my business, but also I thought long term I would be ready to move onto a different phase of my career, and the skills, network, and contacts from the MBA would serve me well at that point.
CBS offers 3 NY-based EMBA options (EMBA-NY Saturday, EMBA-NY: Fri/Sat; and EMBA Americas) Why did you choose what you chose? [7:47]
I chose the Fri/Sat program and probably wouldn’t have done the program if not for that option. Every second weekend you go to school all day Friday and Saturday. What I liked about that schedule was that I knew I would have to compromise other aspects of my life (family and professional), and with the Fri/Sat schedule I would be compromising a little bit of both, but not compromising either completely.
What did you find most difficult in the EMBA application process? [9:48]
Having to take the GMAT, which I just found out is now optional. It really forced my brain to move back into a different mode. The other thing I found was the essays are really challenging, but helpful and enlightening, since they force you to take a personal inventory on what you’ve done and what you want to do. The essays help you analyze your successes, where you’ve gone astray, and where you want to go in the future. It was very empowering.
What did you like best about Columbia’s program? [11:32]
Columbia is an amazing world-class institution, and as a result there are world class professors who truly are inspirational, and make a lot of effort to ensure we are inspired in the process, and the other thing is that a great institution attracts great candidates, so your cohort is exceptional. It really is about who you go to school with.
What can be improved? [14:10]
It would be nice if it was a little more affordable and accessible. All of these excellent institutions come at a premium.
How did you manage a full-time practice, the EMBA program, and being a mom? [14:57]
I chose the Fri/Sat program so I still had every other weekend with my family, and would often find ways to put kids to bed and stay up and take advantage of the quiet time to study. I would also find opportunities in the work day to let’s say pull out stats to prepare for the tests. It was always at the back of my mind to find ways to study. I was a mature student, so I found I was productive and effective with my time. I was also particular about attending all the classes and really being present. Knowing you don’t have time to waste makes you more efficient.
Are you glad you did the EMBA? [17:17]
Absolutely. It was a fantastic experience, and opened my eyes to a lot of things in the world I didn’t know about coming from a medical home and doing a medical education. Learning how the business world works was really enlightening.
What are your plans for the future? [17:54]
I joke and say I am currently working on three startups (my three children!!), but have decided that for now I am focusing on making sure they are doing well and supported through school. Once I feel I have helped them out, we’ll see where things go. I see something entrepreneurial in my future.
Any tips for MBA or med school applicants? [19:17]
For med school applicants, put your nose to the grindstone and make sure you pursue it for the right reasons and that it will truly make you happy. I think some people see medicine and don’t pursue it for the reason for loving the profession, which can make for difficulties and burn out long term. If it is your passion, work really hard.
With the EMBA application, some professional and life maturity is very helpful. Having a little more experience in the work environment can be very valuable when you go to business school since you have more to contribute and can apply what you learn.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [20:50]
The most valuable lesson I had from my MBA. In business school we talked a lot about assets, and one of my professors emphasized the importance of one particular asset, which is time. How you manage your time is critical, since it is very finite, limited, and precious, and so I learned to allocate my time to things I value and cherish. Surprisingly it was the best lesson from business school.
I maximize my return on time by constantly taking inventory in my mind of what is important. Sometimes those things get shuffled around. There are always certain tasks that have to get done, so prioritize, allocate and be attentive. Prioritize constantly. If you find a roadblock, you need to reverse, which is critical. Being able to be flexible with the big picture goal of priorities is the best way to make sure you apply time effectively to things you care about.
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