This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with medical school applicants and students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top medical schools and the med school application process. And now, introducing Vaidehi Mujumdar…
Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What’s your favorite non-school book?
Vaidehi: I’m currently living in New York City, but I was born in India, moved to Southern California at age three and then moved to Northern Virginia, where I spent most of my childhood. I graduated from Dartmouth College in 2013 with a double major in Biology and Anthropology modified with Ethics.
I love/hate this question because I have a long list of books and quotes I keep in a notebook to share with people. Just to list some titles I really love: Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things; The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver; The Red Tent by Anita Diamant; Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC by husband and wife virus hunters Joseph B. McCormick and Susan Fisher-Hoch; The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman; and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Recently, I have loved reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Atul Gawande’s newest book, Being Mortal.
Accepted: Congratulations on your multiple acceptances to med school! Where will you be attending this Fall?
Vaidehi: I am actually still deciding between a few schools and it’s actually a lot harder than I thought it would be to make a decision. I think going to re-visit weekends and getting a better sense of the community, location, and fit will be really important for me. I am grateful that I have until April to figure it out and some part of me knows that it will end up being one of those decisions that starts with a large pro/con list but then ends up being made based on “feeling” – where I feel I can be successful and happy to pursue interdisciplinary interests in medicine.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your experience at the HealthCare Chaplaincy Network (HCCN)? What do you do there? How will this experience play into your future as a physician?
Vaidehi: Dartmouth has a Post-Graduate Fellowship Program for students interested in working in the non-profit sector. My fellowship was at an organization called HealthCare Chaplaincy Network, an organization that provides compassionate spiritual care to healthcare organizations and individuals through research, education, and clinical services. Spiritual care is interesting in that it is not religion or specific to a denomination. We all need spiritual care as patients and as healthcare providers to make meaning of lived experiences.
One of my main responsibilities at HCCN was to co-managing two hospital pilot programs based in Harlem and Queens. These programs utilized chaplains in providing spiritual care interventions to reduce unnecessary hospital readmissions for Medicare patients 65+. There was a lot of great quantitative and ethnographic data gathered from this study and I know the model we used can be built upon in the future. I really believe that integrating chaplains in the healthcare team can help improve patient outcomes. Having seen the difference chaplain and spiritual care has on patient satisfaction and health outcomes, I know I will be mindful as a physician in utilizing spiritual care as a possible tool a health care organization can provide for a patient.
Accepted: Why did you decide to take this time off after graduating college? Do you think you made the right decision?
Vaidehi: I grappled a lot in college if I was going to take time off and actually decided to do it so that I could double major, go abroad to do my anthropology thesis research, and actually also devote time to write a thesis. I absolutely believe I made the right decision. Initially, my plans to take a gap year(s) was very practical and had to do with timing in my undergraduate studies, taking the MCAT, and wanting to do all of those things well.
However, at the end of my first gap year, I realized how important it was for personal growth and just being able to have the time to explore myself, my passion for writing and journalism, and working full-time in one of the craziest city’s I have ever lived in. I really believe having this time will make me a better student in medical school.
I found on the interview trail that the people who were a couple years out of undergraduate were usually the ones who had a story to tell and an enthusiasm for getting back into school. I also feel like managing work-life balance and priorities is extremely important and it’s not something that I really considered so much in undergrad. If I could back and tell my younger self circa my sophomore year of college when I was struggling with how I could fit in everything I wanted to do academically and personally, I would definitely say, “Stop stressing about fitting it all in a set number of years just because that’s what you expected the plan to be.” Plans change. Flexibility and adaptability are important, and taking the time during gap years to enrich yourself is invaluable.
Through my 2 gap years, I have had the opportunity to pursue journalism and writing in New York City as well as health advocacy work and I feel like I have a better grasp of what I want to do in the medical field as a physician.
Vaidehi: My interest in the medical humanities I believe really started my junior/senior year of college when I wrote a thesis in socio-cultural anthropology and ramped up a lot during my gaps years when I started freelance writing for several platforms focused on self-care, trauma, women’s health in minority communities, and exploring narrative medicine.
I believe the medical humanities and spiritual care provide us with a holistic look at both individual and population levels that can help in creating effective solutions. For example, I am interested in conducting research on chronic endocrine and reproductive diseases in women. Narrative medicine as a subset of the medical humanities allows me to gather illness stories told by women about their lived experiences with these chronic problems. To me, medicine is about stories and through my experiences working in this realm, I have also realized how powerful stories are to healing.
On the other hand, spiritual care research, through the use of mindfulness based stress reduction, can help me provide data on if these techniques are useful in improving overall well-being and health. Along with allopathic medical training and an interest and understanding of medical humanities and spiritual care, I believe I am better equipped to be a physician who practices patient-centered care.
Accepted: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the med school admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?
Vaidehi: The most challenging part of this process is keeping a positive attitude through what is a long process. At first, the process seems like a bunch of steps that if you do correctly, you’ll be fine. So you do the pre-reqs, the MCAT prep, the application writing, filling out secondaries, the interviewing, and then you wait. And for someone who works on patience everyday, waiting was my biggest challenge and you can drive yourself bonkers if you keep focusing on dates, interviews, and who’s doing what.
At some point you just have to let go and say you put everything you could out there in the best way you could and now the rest is not in your hands. Giving up that control will surprise you and it will definitely help with the waiting process.
The other challenging aspect of the process for me was coming up with a school list. Now almost done with the process, I have to say it is really important to come up with a list that is thoughtful and broad. I picked a range of schools based on statistics, but also focused on fit depending on their strengths/weakness. I believe it made a big difference in when and how many interviews I received.
Accepted: Do you have any additional tips for our med school applicants?
Vaidehi: Apply early. Everyone says this, but you have no idea how much of difference it makes when you’ve interviewed early in the cycle and have acceptances in the Fall. It sets you up for a less stressful cycle and the ability to relax as much as you can while waiting to hear back from other places.
Have multiple people read your personal statement and even some of the secondary essays that you may reuse for schools. It’s really important to get different viewpoints, while also remembering that at the end of the day it’s your story. I went through many drafts of my statement and through the revising process I was able to see how others reading my ideas were understanding and reacting to them. That’s important because admissions committees are made up of different people and therefore you want to create a personal narrative, while making it accessible and clear for anyone to read. Anyone reading your essay(s) without reading anything else in your application should know who you are, what experiences have brought you to choosing medicine, and why you are a good fit for this profession. I can’t stress how important I feel the personal narrative and the writing you do for your AMCAS and secondaries is in setting you apart from all the other qualified applicants.
I know people say this a lot, but be yourself at interviews. Be professional, but don’t try to fit yourself into what you think the interviewer wants or what you think the school is looking for. Wield your differences, because we all have them, as positives and use them to connect with your interviewer. The school has already read your AMCAS and believes that you have portrayed yourself effectively in your written communication to them. The interview is all about making an authentic human connection, which is not only important for medical school but in that long journey of pursuing medicine.
Early on in the cycle, I went to an interview where I took what I later thought was a pretty controversial stance on a topic I had experience with through work and research. After the interview, I mentally kicked myself, thinking I had ruined my chances. I was later not only accepted to that school, but my interviewer wrote me a note saying, “We need more people like you in medicine to talk about the issues we shy away from.” That was one of the biggest affirmation I got from a physician and in a process that often fills you with doubt. I know that particular interview experience helped me act more confidently and stay as true to myself as I could for future interviews
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You can follow Vaidehi’s adventure by checking out her blog, http://vaidehimujumdar.weebly.com/ and/or following her on Twitter (@VeeMuj). Thank you Vaidehi for sharing your story with us!
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