Learn how real students navigate their way through the medical school admissions process and med school itself with our What is Medical School Really Like? series.
Meet Vignesh, a DO/PhD student interested in both direct patient care and the science that leads to new treatments.
Thank you Vignesh, for sharing your story with us!
Why did you decide to pursue a PhD degree in addition to your medical degree? Why become a physician-scientist?
Vignesh: When I first joined UC San Diego (undergrad institution), I was only interested in becoming a physician. The knowledge and skills physicians hold address the fundamental crux of the human condition. Without our good health, we live more painful and sorrowful lives. I wanted to improve lives and restore happiness for my fellow human beings.
Early on during my undergrad years, I became an EMT to see if I enjoyed the patient care aspect of healthcare. I encountered all walks of life during my job as an EMT. Many patients would talk to me about their struggles, fears, and hopes. Patients, especially those with chronic ailments, would always express their hopes for better treatments or a cure in the future.
This always resonated with me, especially when I began research at UC San Diego. I was fortunate to have two research experiences where both of my mentors truly invested in my growth and learning. I was very involved in the research projects going on in the labs.
My experiences in undergraduate research taught me that I was equally interested in helping people on an individual-to-individual basis, while also going into the lab to solve pieces of the biomedical sciences puzzle. I want to be a part of the generation that finds multiple cures and advanced treatments for diseases that plague the world today.
What attracted you to osteopathic medicine?
Vignesh: Osteopathic training and OMT encompass learning about the integrated framework of the musculoskeletal system. Osteopathic physicians, while learning the intricacies of each bodily system, additionally focus on how the musculoskeletal system (the collection of the body’s nerves, muscles, and bones) works to contribute to the functions and pathogenesis of the human body.
While DO students learn the same medicine as MD students, DO students undergo an additional 300-500 hours of osteopathic training. Included in this training is a form of medicine called Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT). OMT utilizes the body’s natural ability to heal itself and involves bodily manipulations through various massage and movement techniques. The purpose of OMT is to treat any pain, movement abnormalities, or maladies that is typically musculoskeletal in nature. The ability to learn OMM (Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine) and potentially utilize it as a physician enticed me to apply to osteopathic medical schools.
I hope to be an internal medicine doctor, and potentially subspecialize. My goal is to use soft-tissue and other OMM techniques as an adjunct treatment to alleviate pain arising from a variety of conditions. This may help alleviate pain for some time. Additionally, it is usually easy to teach family members depending on the technique. Using OMM in this kind of way can really help improve quality of life.
Were you accepted to medical school during the first cycle you applied?
Vignesh: A few years ago, I applied to tons of medical schools feeling excited about the future. I was so thrilled to be putting my best effort towards a field I sacrificed so much for as a premed student. I was excited to apply to medical schools and pursue my lifelong dream of being a physician. During my first application cycle, I did not receive a single acceptance.
It was a devastating blow, and not a story I enjoy sharing often. It was probably one of the lowest points in my life. I felt worthless. Being my own worst critic, I took the rejections from over 30 medical schools right to the heart. I began questioning my intelligence, my heart, my motivation, my work ethic – everything! I waited anxiously during that application season. January came and went. February came and went. With each passing month, my confidence sank. My anxiety rose. Maybe this wasn’t meant to be. Unfortunately, I found out that it wasn’t meant to be that year.
It took me a while, but I realized that some of the greatest successes happen because of the biggest failures. I had to let this failure fuel me. My new plan was to come back even stronger than before.
I obsessed over this process the second time around because I knew I was meant for this profession. Though I was kicked down, I wasn’t going to let anyone keep me down. Fast forward and here I am – a medical student proud and humbled to be in the small percentage of students in the physician-scientist pathway. That’s one way to make a comeback.
Don’t lose hope this application cycle. Many people receive interviews late into the application season. However, if this application cycle ends up not working out, just know that this is not the end. It is only the beginning to a better version of yourself. When you’re a physician in the future and look back to when you had a rough path to medical school, you’ll be thankful for every bit of growth and wisdom you gained from the process. It’ll make you a better person and physician for your future patients.
Failure does not lead you to the end. Failure leads you to an entirely new beginning.
What attracted you to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine?
Vignesh: When I interviewed at PCOM, I felt immediately at home. The staff and students providing the tour were nice and accommodating. In general, the student body helps one another out. I found that to be a big positive for me. In undergrad, many institutions have a toxic culture among premedical students where everyone wants to compete against each other to make it to the top. This is not something I wanted to go through again in medical school. At PCOM, students generally help one another, share resources, and promote a sense of togetherness.
Additionally, PCOM is one of the few osteopathic institutions with a DO/PhD program. This was also something I considered when choosing the appropriate medical school. PCOM’s DO/PhD program is a robust program since they partner with the University of the Sciences. PCOM and USciences pooling their resources together offers many scientific opportunities and the ability to find incredible mentors who will guide you through the physician-scientist pathway.
What do you think your classmates would be surprised to know about you?
Vignesh: I used to be an avid skier, which is surprising since I’m from Southern California. Usually SoCal folks learn surfing. However, I became fond of trips to the snowy mountains and picked up skiing whenever my family went. It’s been a while since I’ve skied consistently. At my best, I can ski a black diamond slope well and a double black diamond slope slowly.
You share some really tempting recipe ideas on your Instagram page! As a student pursuing two demanding degrees, how do you find time to cook? Are there other hobbies or self-care activities that you prioritize as well?
Vignesh: I love cooking! My Mom is an incredible cook and likes to pursue all sorts of projects. Recently, she has gotten into baking intricate cakes for events like birthdays and graduations. I believe I have a passion for trying out different recipes because of her. I’ve cooked all sorts of foods from different cultures. During my first two years of medical school, I really did not have much time to cook since I was focused on doing well and studying for my board exams. I would cook some recipes on a few weekends, usually after a big exam.
The PhD years of my training will still be a difficult grind, but it will be much different from medical school. I hope to utilize the extra free time to cook more often and learn new recipes. In addition to cooking, I love playing basketball. Due to the necessary closure of parks and gyms from COVID-19, basketball has come to a screeching halt. I hope to hit the courts as soon as restrictions are lifted.
In pre-pandemic times, I understand you spent some time volunteering abroad. What roles did you take on, and how did these experiences shape how you hope to practice in the future?
Vignesh: I fell in love with the pure essence of medicine when I went on a medical mission to Mexico. People in certain regions of Northern Mexico, like Tijuana, suffer from disease and are unable to do much about it. They have more pressing concerns like basic food and shelter necessities. Much like what I’ve seen in India, the people receive poor compensation for their work. As a result, people live with chronic ailments that are untreated for decades. Our services provided free healthcare for hundreds of people. It includes a physical exam, doctor referrals when possible, and medications when necessary. When the work was light as an undergraduate volunteer, I’d play futbol or basketball with the local kids.
Experiences like this solidified my belief that healthcare inequality should not exist. As a physician, I hope to be a part of or create organizations that provide free healthcare to underprivileged communities within the US and around the world. Life-saving care is a human right.
Where do you see yourself professionally in 10 years from now?
Vignesh: I am unsure of what the future holds. However, after going through 7 years of the DO/PhD program, I hope to apply to either a medical residency or a physician-scientist training program (PSTP) residency. PSTP residencies involve having protected research time in addition to medical training. I’m currently interested in pursuing internal medicine, and then specializing in hematology/oncology.
Do you have questions for Vignesh? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Medical School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
You can learn more about Vignesh by following him on Instagram.
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