Episode 39: It’s A Team Effort (Part 2/2)

The Pritzker Podcast crew is expanding! Here, we’re introducing Judy Chen and Ajay Sampat, current third-year Pritzker students, and David Voce, a student currently taking a year off to do research, who will all be joining the hosting team and helping to give listeners an idea of what Pritzker is all about.

If you have questions for us, please send them to pritzkerquestions@gmail.com. Or, call (773) 336-2POD and leave us a message.

[Music: “The Area” used with permission from Eliot Lipp. “Shiggidy” used with permission from Greg Spero and GMG.]

Episode 39 Transcript

BF: Hello, everybody, this is Ben Ferguson from the Pritzker Podcast. We recently did an episode with two first-years to introduce them to the Pritzker podcast team. And now I have with me three other students that are going to be helping me with the podcast as well. We’ve got two third-year students who are in their clinical years and seeing patients every single day and saving lives. And we’ve also got a research student who’s done two years of medical school and is taking some time off to do research. So, I’m going to have them introduce themselves at this point. So, Judy, do you want to start?

JC: Sure, so hi, I’m Judy. I’m a third-year medical student currently on my medicine rotation. I’ve completed pediatrics and ob-gyn. I’m from LA. I went to USC for undergrad.

BF: Cool. Ajay?

AS: Hi, guys. My name is Ajay. I’m also a third-year student on my medicine rotation. I just finished up three months of surgery, and now I’m on hematology/oncology in medicine. And I’m also from LA coincidentally, and I went to UC Berkeley for undergrad.

BF: And David.

DV: Hey, guys. I’m David, and I’m the guy that’s now doing research. So, I was originally with Ajay and Judy but I’m now taking time off to go ahead and pursue my research a little more. I’m working on neurosurgeon’s lab looking at some very basic science-y stuff, playing with some brain tumors. So, some pretty fun stuff. I’m originally also from LA.

BF: Gosh.

AS: The entire school is not from Los Angeles!

BF: Fortunately,

DV: But it does prove that you can get through winters in Chicago even if you’re from a warmer climate. And I went to UCLA. So, I went to the better of the two schools comparatively.

BF: Ah, looks like we got some rivalry going on here. So, just in general, how do you guys like Pritzker so far? And Judy, feel free to jump in on any of these questions if you want.

AS: I’ll start. I’ve had an excellent time here in my first two years and even this year. I mean, third year–it can be busy, it can be tiring, but I think, even then, I’ve had a good time. The administration here really helps students navigate this year, which is important because there’s so many other stressors in your clinical years. But I feel the school itself has done an excellent job in helping us navigate that. So, I had a great time here so far. I’ve been able to do a lot of interesting and cool things that we’ll probably get to later in the podcast. But so far, no complaints on my end.

JC: Yeah, I would just want to echo a little of what Ajay said. I agree that the first two years have been great. I feel like they were pretty good preparation for third year, although, in my mind, nothing can truly prepare you for third year until you’re actually there every day and getting to do and see the things that you’ve read about in textbooks. Which is actually, I think, the coolest part of medical school. And just being able to really get to know your patients really well, I think, has been really much more exciting than I had ever imagined it would be. Another thing I really like, so far, has been the mentorship–how much the residents and the upperclassmen students kind of helped you along and nudge you and be like “Hey, you should be doing this” when you feel completely lost. So, I feel like third year has been going really well and the first two years were great preparation for it.

DV: Just like Ajay and Judy said, I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I think I came into med school thinking that this was going to be the end of my life. And that really has not been the case. The first two years–especially the first year and a half–really actually aren’t that intense. You have a lot of time; I was working in the lab 20 hours a week. I was working in the free clinics. You know, doing a lot of other outside-of-the-classroom things. And just enjoying being in the city of Chicago. And so that was a really pleasant surprise that I really enjoyed. You do have time to have a life outside of med school.

And I would say like Judy said with mentorship, what I really appreciate is the support that the school gives you. Just in terms of whatever you’re interested in, even if it’s not something very traditional, they want to be able to support you through that. If you’re interested in getting another degree in a random field, even if it’s not in the sciences–if you want a degree in econ, you can go off and pursue that. They’re just not going to throw you out there. But they’re going to put you up with the MDs that have gone on and gotten econ degrees. You know, people in different departments–whatever you’re interested in. I was more interested in going the traditional route of doing a research fellowship. And throughout the time, I didn’t know when it would be the right time to take off or whatnot. I constantly was talking with my society advisor, with different people in the neurosurgery department. And everyone was just very helpful in helping me really come to the conclusion that, yeah, I really wanted to take time off. It was a big decision for me to take time off because one of the other thing that’s great about Pritzker is that it is a close-knit family and I had to leave my class, which Ajay and Judy were a part of. That was really the biggest kind of drawback that I saw. But my mentors really helped me see that taking a year off would really be beneficial.

AS: You know, it’s funny you guys mention mentorship because I was actually in a grand rounds meeting yesterday. And I overheard just two doctors talking, and one of the doctors told the other doctor that, “Oh, I have a student who’s interested in this project.” You know, and these are just two physicians, just two attending faculty, just talking about it. And the first doctor was like, “Well, maybe, they can come in and talk to you?” And the second doctor was like, “Of course!” And so, this is something that, you know, you can see, even attending physicians, faculty going out of their way to help students out find the projects they want to work on.

BF: Cool. So, all you guys are from LA. Maybe, all of you can kind of speak to the transition that you’ve made from living in LA to now coming to Chicago. What’s that been like?

AS: You know, when I first told my friends and family that I was going to com here, I heard horror stories. Like, you’re going to die out in the frozen tundra of Chicago. To be honest, I was a little scared from hearing these things. I never lived outside of California. But to be honest, it really is not that bad. Like, you’ll need an extra layer sometimes if you’re from a warmer climate. But that’s not to say that you’re not going to survive here. It’s perfectly fine. And I think the summers actually make up for it quite a bit. The summers here are amazing. You know, there’s a festival every weekend or a concert every weekend or something to enjoy every weekend. And especially your first summer here, you have the time to actually take advantage of that. So, if you’re worried about the weather, of course it’s going to be cold. But it’s not undoable, by any means.

BF: So, snow forecast in the first week of November is not enough to deter you. Is that what you’re saying?

AS: I don’t think so. I was actually kind of excited. I’ve never been in a place that had snow before. So, my first week here, I was excited and taking pictures of the snow. It was kind of a fun experience.

BF: Nice.

DV: Yeah, kind of like Ajay said, also being from LA, a lot of California people want to go back to California but I have no desire to go back to California after living here in Chicago. Chicago is just a great city, a huge city where anything that you want to do is here, from sports to music to, like Ajay was saying, summer free festivals, free music events. If you’re an outdoors person, Chicago is way more outdoorsy than California ever was for me. Going to UCLA, I lived in Santa Monica, about five miles from the LA beaches. And I’ve been to he beach here in Chicago probably 200, 300 times more than I ever did in LA just because it’s so much more accessible. And I know people think “Beach here in Chicago…”–we actually do have beaches and the lake is like an ocean.

BF: Beaches plural!

DV: Exactly, beaches plural. A lot of people describe it as being a cleaner New York. It’s New York without the smells and without the trash. So, I’ve really enjoyed it. And really enjoyed just living in a place where there’s never nothing going on. You can always find something to do, every single week.

JC: Yeah, I guess, for me, when I was picking a place to go to med school, I actually purposely did not want to go somewhere in California. That kind of came from the mindset that I’ve always been in California and when you’ve always been in one place, you kind of get stuck in the mindset of that place. And I really wanted to meet other types of people, other ways of thinking. And especially with med school, because it is already a community that you’re going to come into. You’re not just kind of floundering out there. I though that it would be a great opportunity to come to a different place. And Chicago really surprised me with the different, like Ajay and David already said, the different opportunities there are, just even to see the culture and see different types of, you know, things you wouldn’t necessarily see in other places.

I also really wanted a big city. And I feel like Chicago often feels more metropolitan than LA. And I just really enjoy exploring a new place. So I would say that was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made was to move somewhere different and come somewhere like Chicago where you see a lot of–

AS: I personally do want to go back to California. I mean, honestly, med school it’s a four- or five-year timeline. You know, it’s a set period of time where you can go somewhere else, enjoy it, explore it, learn and then move back to wherever you want to. It’s not like a job where you’re stuck out there, even if you don’t want to. So, it’s kind of one of the last times of your life when you can actually do that, pick up and move somewhere without major responsibility of work or other personal responsibilities and have the chance to explore a certain part of the country.

BF: You guys all live in Hyde Park, right?

AS: Correct.

BF: Have you had much of a chance to explore the other parts of the city?

DV: Yeah, especially your first two years, I would say at least once to two times a week you will go downtown. We’re about five minutes by car south of downtown. If you have a car, you can just drive downtown. We have a parking lot right in the middle of downtown for University of Chicago students or you can hop on the bus and be there in about 10, 15 minutes. So, I know Ajay, Judy, and I have cheap opera tickets, music tickets that you can find for students. Just after a test, our entire class would go out to a bar on the north side of town as a group. So, I mean there’s constantly emails going out saying that we’re going as a group to this museum, we’re going as a group to get dinner. Tomorrow night, we’re celebrating Ajay’s birthday in a restaurant someplace in downtown.

AS: Logan Square.

DV: In Logan Square, which is a little north of downtown. And I mean, they’re all in their third year, and unlike me they have crazy schedules, crazy sleep schedules. But I think, there’s a group of 15 or 20 of us that are going out to celebrate his birthday. So, even in third year, you have time to go out and really enjoy the city.

BF: So, can you guys talk a bit about some of the things you did as undergrads before coming to medical school? And maybe even after [undergrad], if you took time off–if you still remember. Or if you did anything at all.

JC: Yeah, I guess for me, the biggest thing that I did in undergrad that actually really helped me decide I really wanted to do medicine: At USC, one of my friends and I started an organization called CHIP–Community Help Improvement Projects. Basically, it’s just a club that was very much geared toward helping people, students at USC get involved in the community in a pre-health kind of way. So, a lot of times, we would go to schools and teach about nutrition, we would hold health fairs. This year, I think, is the third year they’re going to have a health fair where we have all these dental school students and medical students. People just come from the community to learn about health in a fun way and we try to give out prizes and stuff like that. So, I felt like, for me, it was the first time I really got the opportunity to help patients in the sense that I was teaching about health. And that kind of personal interaction, I think, was what really got me thinking about going to medical school. Before that, I was actually a theater major. And so, in the middle of all of this is when I decided I wanted to go to med school. So, I would say that a lot of what you do in undergrad eventually helps you with what you want to do as a career. That definitely was one of the big changing moments for me.

BF: How about you guys?

DV: I would say a big part of my undergrad experience was in a research lab, in an immunology lab, where in the beginning, I was thinking of going more the PhD route, basic science, kind of geeky pipetting type of stuff. But then, what really changed my mind about that, even though I really obviously loved research and now ended up taking time off to do more research, was my time at Cedars-Sinai, which is a hospital in Los Angeles. They have a shadowing program there that puts you with, in three-month rotations, a different anesthesiologist or surgeon. And you just go once a week and you shadow them for about four or five hours. And they’re really excited to have you there, to teach you, to give you mentorship. And that was when I really decided that this is something that I really want to be doing with my life, that I don’t just want to be at the bench all day, even though I do love research, that I wanted to actually have the patient interaction, to actually see science at the bedside. So that was really my enlightening experience of undergrad that really solidified that desire for me to pursue a career in medicine.

And I’d also say that it’s important to have those experiences. You know, when you do go to interview at places, I think a lot of interviewers–I know when I’ve interview a lot of people–you want to hear that people have had experience and exposure to medicine–to real medicine–by shadowing doctors, and getting a long term exposure to the field or to medicine in general, so that you really know what you’re getting yourself into and can really vouch and say that you have first-hand experience and know what the life of a doctor truly looks like. And then also in undergrad, I was also involved in fun things. And I would say that that’s just as important. I played in an Indonesian gamelan which is basically an Indonesian orchestra. Something that we actually went on a small tour and went around some parts of California playing in an ensemble of like 30 or 40 people. I guess the point of just saying that is–

BF: Who didn’t do that though?

DV: I know, exactly. I was an ugal player just like so many people… But, I guess my point of saying that is just to make sure that you’re also having fun, doing what you love too.

AS: I guess I’d like to piggyback on that. I think out of the three of us, I’m the only one that took a year off between undergrad and med school. I don’t know where you guys might be in your stages of the application process. But I’m actually a big proponent of that, just because I think for one, it allowed me to recharge my batteries after four years of undergrad and just to get ready for med school. But also, I feel like I was able to do a lot of really cool things that I wasn’t able to do in college. I did some research. I did some teaching. I did an internship, a public health internship in DC. I did some traveling, went to Asia for a few weeks and a few other places. So, I think that’s actually–like David was saying, doing fun things–don’t be afraid to do that. If you’re even considering it, if you even have other thoughts of things that you might want to try before doing med school, I would definitely say definitely explore that, definitely do that. I think Pritzker is one of the schools that really values those life experiences. I mean, our classmates have done incredible things from doing research for several years at the NIH to having other careers. Like we have a dentist in our class; that was his career before he came here. There’s just a wide range of experiences. And I think Pritzker really values you having life experiences along with the academic experiences.

DV: And I would also say that, well, yeah, it’s good to experience things before Pritzker; it’s not like the fun stops once you’re at Pritzker.

AS: Sure.

DV: Me and Judy and three other classmates, we went to Italy for two weeks in the middle of our first year. We spent a lot of time there, had the time of our lives there. Judy then came back and ended up–where did you go, Judy? Tanzania?

JC: Yeah, I went to Tanzania. Pritzker has this really amazing fellowship that’s called the Keith Edison Fellowship where you can just basically apply, and if you have a good idea of what you want to do in that country, they’ll give you funds, basically, to help you travel and pay for the things that you need. And then, when you come back, all you have to do really is a presentation of about what you did, how you did it so that future people who are interested in applying for the fellowship kind of have an idea of what other people did. So, it was actually me and two of our other classmates who are currently third-years went to Tanzania for three weeks. And it was really awesome because got to see their healthcare system, we volunteered at one of their hospitals. We actually became really good friends with one of their medical students and learned all about their medical school curriculum and how it’s different from ours. One of my friends started an orphanage for AIDS orphans in Tanzania. So, went to go visit her orphanage and see how her orphanage has been helping the community there. So, it was a really eye-opening experience just learning about the culture and seeing how their healthcare is different from ours, I think, was very exciting for me.

AS: And Judy and I were also able to go to Israel our first year with another group of students. It was about 25 students, all Pritzker students, who all went to Israel as well. It wasn’t through a Pritzker thing, but Pritzker supported it. We went there and explored the medical system in Israel. And so that’s just another example of the international travels that students here are able to do.

BF: All right, cool guys. So, just to wrap things up, do you guys have any parting wisdom or advice for people who might be thinking about applying to Pritzker or ultimately attending?

AS: I would say do what you’re doing now and talk to the students. I mean, before if possible–it’s not always possible to do that, you know, through these different avenues–but especially where you interview, I feel definitely talk to students and definitely take notice of how the school and administration treats you on interview day because I feel, at least for Pritzker, that’s very reflective of how they’re going to treat you when you’re a student. So, just keep constant communication with the students and the administration and trust your gut.

JC: I would probably want to echo a little bit of what Ajay just said. Basically, I think in the end, you can–at least, what I did was every time I interviewed somewhere, I would make all these pro-con lists of “this is what I liked, this is what I didn’t like”. And in the end, I didn’t look at any of the pro-con lists. I just asked myself, “What school do I see myself fitting in the most?” and “Which school do I feel the students are most like me?” And in the end, Pritzker was, by far, hands down the school that fit those qualifications. I think it made the decision and coming here really exciting for me. So, I would feel the same as Ajay just said, to follow your gut. Go with what feels right, and at the end of your interviewing, you’ll know which school you like best and which one is the best one for you.

DV: Yeah, I’d say, if you’re still in the pre-med stage, not yet applying or about to apply, just make sure of that you’re doing what you love. If you’re doing research, make sure that you’re doing something that you really are enthusiastic about because when it come down to apply, the people in admissions can really tell if you’ve just done things to jump through hoops or if you’ve really done things that you have really found meaningful and that it’s really something that you’re passionate about. So, I’d say make sure that if you’re doing activities or whatever, make sure that you’re doing it because you, first of all, really, really want to do that and you’re just not jumping through hoops. And if you are applying and are interviewing here, just make sure you know why you want to come to Pritzker, why you want to start a career in medicine. And when you’re here, talk to students, get a feeling for the school. And like everyone said, just go with your gut because I think that’s what we all did and we’ve all been really, really happy with our decision to be here at Pritzker.

BF: Cool. So, I guess we’ll wrap it up there. Thanks very much guys. Thanks, Judy and Ajay and David, for coming on the podcast. I really look forward to working with you guys. So, to all the listeners out there, stay tuned. Hopefully, these guys can bring you that much more content on the podcast. They’ll be doing some hopefully random interviews here and there as contributors to the podcast. So, stay on the lookout for that. So, take care.