Podcast: Dr. Arundhati Ghosh: Medicine as a Career Path

Dr. Arundhati Ghosh currently works at the Cambridge Health Alliance, Department of Surgery, Harvard Medical School, and is the surgery curriculum director for the Harvard Medical School Cambridge Integrated Clerkship. She does innovative work in curriculum development and teaching methods. Her most recent publication is ‘Structuring Medical Education for Workforce Transformation: Continuity, Symbiosis, and Longitudinal Integrated Clerkships’. Follow Dr. Arundhati Gosh on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/arundhati-ghosh-7454126/

To get in touch with Dr. Gosh, email her at arundhati@medicineadvisory.org

Access free resources and learn more about Sheila and her team at Signet Education at signeteducation.com or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sheilaakbar/

 

TRANSCRIPT

Dr. Arundhati Gosh: 

I’ll tell you, it was hard to get in, you know that it was very hard to get in, it’s hard to get out. And it gets really hard when you get out. And I remember we all looked at each other. And I’m like, that’s not a very encouraging thing to say. But it is not an easy path by no means.

Sheila Akbar: 

Hey, everyone, today on the podcast, I’m excited to host a Signet client. And now friend of mine, Dr. Arundhati Gosh. She is a force. She is so humble. She is a surgeon. She is on the faculty at Harvard Med School, she reviews applications for med school, she is the curriculum director for surgery at Harvard Med School, she also mentor students, both in her capacity as a faculty member. And outside of that, just out of the goodness of her heart, she find so much joy in mentoring. And as I’ve worked with her family, she and I have gotten to know each other quite well. And I’ve always been so impressed with these little, little stories that she throws out every once in a while. And I wanted to have her on, so that our listeners could hear that there are many roads into medicine. And there are some great reasons to become a pre med. And there are some good reasons to not become a pre med as well. And the value of having that perspective that there are always going to be bumps in the road. And that a team of mentors is really, really helpful in helping anyone navigate those bumps. So take a listen. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed talking with her today. On that the thank you so much for joining us, I always enjoy our brief conversations, I’m really excited to be able to talk to you more in depth about your story and what you do and what our students and families can learn from you.

Dr. Arundhati Gosh: 

Well, Sheila, thank you very much. I’m really excited to speak to you today.

Sheila Akbar: 

Great. So let’s let’s start with the beginning. Tell us about where you grew up, and how you decided to go into medicine?

Dr. Arundhati Gosh: 

Well, as you can probably tell from my accent, I’m from India, I was born in India, I grew up there in terms of my journey in medicine, I decided I knew I wanted to become a doctor fairly early on. So I think I was in middle school. And I have a very clear sort of recollection of that, that when I visited my own pediatrician when I met the doctors, you know, the fact that they could lay a hand on your belly and figure out what was wrong with you. I just found that magical. And I definitely want it to have that power. So for me, the decision to you know, when did I decide to go into medicine was pretty early people join that trajectory into medicine and make that decision at different points in their lives, and can be very varied. But for me, it was very early when I was probably in middle school, I knew I wanted to be a doctor.

Sheila Akbar: 

I love that. I love that story. So in India, the education system is obviously different from the system in the US. And so there’s a big test that you’ll have to take and depending on your results, you will be allowed to go into certain fields.

Unknown: 

Yep, that’s right. So actually, the US is probably a bit of an outlier Indian system like the British system. And in most parts of the world, actually, you enter med school after high school. So there’s a big high stakes exam at the end of your 12th grade. There are several exams fought by different institutions in the country in India, depending upon which institution you’re trying to get into. But it’s called a Joint Entrance Examination for engineering and medicine. And hundreds of 1000s of kids take that test. It’s a written test. And based on the score based on how you rank you get to pick which challenge university you will be joining. So took the very high stakes nerve racking exam. And I still remember how absolutely overjoyed I was when I saw my name on the list of successful candidates. And I was admitted to the Calcutta Medical College, which is supposed to be the number one medical college within the West in West Bengal, which is in the eastern part of the country. Yeah, so I did all my surgical training in the UK. And then I’ll catch you know, cut to the chase and say I have to redo all of my training here in the US, because that’s just what was required. So I did my surgical training again here at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard. And off to my chief resident here I joined as faculty at the Cambridge Health Alliance and I I am a general and gastrointestinal surgeon with a special interest in endocrine surgery. So thyroid and parathyroid surgeries. So that’s my clinical role. And luckily for me, I have been involved with education right from the start. So I am also the co director of the curriculum director for surgery for the Harvard medical students who do their rotation at Cambridge Health Alliance. So that’s a very big part of my what I do and what occupies my mind.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah. So you’re designing curriculum, you’re also teaching students? Yes.

Unknown: 

Correct. So the curriculum at our site, so Harvard Med School, has four hospitals that are available to Harvard Med students for their clinical learning and clinical rotations, as is one of the sites. And three other big sites are MGH, Brigham and women and Beth Israel. So some 20 years ago, almost now, the then dean of HMS designed curricula wanted to reform and the idea was to try out a very new type of curriculum where the students would have a longitudinal sort of involvement with the patients with the teachers, mentors, and with the curriculum. So a complete redesign was done of the curriculum. And it was piloted at our site. And I helped design the surgery component of that curriculum. And I’ve remained as the curriculum director, so I manage the curriculum, but I’m also an active preceptor and teacher within the curriculum. Yeah.

Sheila Akbar: 

And as if that’s not enough, you are also a researcher?

Dr. Arundhati Gosh: 

Well, I won’t say I’m, I wouldn’t call myself a researcher. It’s mostly educational research, which I have the benefit of having all kinds of awesome people around me. So yeah.

Sheila Akbar: 

Okay. So I guess the thing that I want to emphasize is that you have seen the system from a lot of different angles. Obviously, you’ve been a student, you are a practitioner, you’re a surgeon, you are an educator, you’re designing curriculum, and you’re also teaching people and then, however much you want to minimize the research, you also do some research. So I mean, that establishes you, I think, as an expert, and I’m really excited to hear more of the twists and turns in your story. But one of the things I thought we could start with is your thoughts on what makes a successful medical student like, who should really be pursuing medicine, given the way, you know, education is structured and the requirements of the of the work?

Unknown: 

Yeah. So before I answer that question, I think I will preface that by saying that most of us, most of us outside of medicine actually do not have an idea of what the profession entails. So I think there is no set number of things that are a must that a student must have. Okay, if I was to say, I mean, if I was to put the thing that’s number one, would be the student’s own personal drive, desire and ambition to become a physician, to become someone who will, wants to understand medicine, figure out what’s wrong with people, and fix the problem. Take care of patients. That is an internal drive and desire. I don’t think you can. And most certainly, you should not try to be a physician. If someone else wants you to be one, I don’t think it’s possible. It’s a really difficult career. So I think I would put number one, as a sort of need or parameter that will determine whether you can make it in this journey is your own burning desire, to be a doctor, to be able to take care of people to be able to work hard, you have to be willing to work really, really hard. This is not an easy, easy road by any means. I always tell my students I mean, if you think you’re coming into a profession where people are going to, you know, students, especially these days with all the awards and this and that the focus is on the student up until the point that they enter med school, especially when they enter clinical medicine. You know, they are the center of the universe. But once you enter a hospital, once you enter clinical medicine, you are not the center of the universe, the patient is you really don’t matter the patient matters. And that is a major paradigm shift and it’s an important thing to understand that everything you do is geared towards the need of the patient you in your needs and your family’s need comes behind that it really is a demand of the job. I don’t know if it will change over time, but that desire to put other people’s that you will do what is necessary, whether no matter how hard you have to work, how much you have to study that you really want to do this, I think that is the number one driver of success.

Sheila Akbar: 

I’m so glad you brought that up. I mean, I know you know my story a little bit, and maybe some of the listeners do as well. They haven’t told it in great detail. But I went to Harvard as a pre med, my father is a doctor, and my brother is now a doctor as well. And it was just sort of expected of me. And I do like helping people, which is why I do this. And I love doing this. And I loved science. And so I thought, Okay, this is a great fit. And it doesn’t matter so much that it was my dad’s idea. Because I also liked this idea. But as I got closer to, you know, my application year, I was, you know, listening to other voices in my head that were telling me no, actually, this is not what you want to do. And I’m really glad that I was able to make that decision that it was very hard to disappoint my family in that way. But one of the things that I see nowadays, and I this might be a little bit of a departure from what we were talking about, is a lot of students being interested in medicine because of course, who doesn’t like helping people, that’s a nice thing to be able to do, right? But they are really interested in medicine, because it seems like this is a very clear path, you do this, then you do that, then you do this, then doctor, right. Whereas most other fields, with the exception of a few, there is no real clear entry path, right? There isn’t step one, step two, step three, the way it’s really clearly laid out in medicine. And I’ve had multiple students just in the last year, tell me I’m really attracted to medicine, because I don’t have to think someone else is going to tell me what to do. Of course, they’re going to have to think about you know what to do with their patients and in their classes. That’s not the thinking that they’re trying to avoid. But the thinking is the decision about what comes next on the pathway. And I think it’d be interesting to hear your perspective on that, because you’ve taken additional steps that not every doctor needs to take. And that I think motivation of yours to help people figure out what’s wrong and solve the problem has probably led you in a lot of different directions. So talk to us about that a

Dr. Arundhati Gosh: 

little bit. I think you’ve raised made a very important point. I couldn’t agree with you more Sheila, that is very, very true. And the point that you made, you know, has I realized it just recently, actually, I mean, I’ve been in the field myself for a very long time. So it’s not something I think about or why others are coming into medicine. But you’re absolutely right. This is one of the few professional tracks, it’s a professional track. And it’s a track that is well laid out the broad structures are very well laid out. So you’re absolutely right, that for the person looking at it, once you’re in it, that’s it, you don’t have to do the thinking that track is laid out. And people from a range of different backgrounds and experiences and trainings are coming into it because of that reason, because the track is laid out. And because the med schools have opened up a lot more. It’s not just people who you know, science students, be students from all manners of backgrounds, you know, realize that, okay, this is a track that I can follow. You are absolutely right, Sheila. But the problem with that is that the track is laid out, but not understanding the demands of the career, not understanding what you’re going in for could lead to enormous frustration, and unhappiness, and bitterness and whatnot. So the traverse laid out for sure, but that doesn’t mean the track is for you.

Sheila Akbar: 

And it doesn’t mean it’s an easy track, right? Oh, gosh,

Unknown: 

no, it isn’t that easy. You know what, until you something very funny. So when I joined Medical College, I remember distinctly the first day we’re sitting in the lecture theatre and the principal walks in, and he, you know, we’re all excited. We are in the premier medical school in the state. And he walks in, and he says, so I know you guys are all excited. But I’ll tell you, it was hard to get in, you know that it was very hard to get in. It’s hard to get out. And it gets really hard when you get out. And I remember we all looked at each other. And that’s not a very encouraging thing to say. But it is not an easy path by no means. So for students who are successful, you have to be very organized. You have to have very good planning skills, looking ahead, to be able to multitask, set priorities, timeliness. So being an organized person, is big help. Because as a physician, that’s actually a big demand of a physician’s time. Doing 10 different things at the same time, prioritizing so Being organized is a very valuable skill. The other big one is communication. You have to be a good communicator, or certainly it’s a huge help if you’re a good communicator, people skills, you have to be able to get along with people work in a team. That’s a big one. And of course, you know, cognitive skills, learning analytic skills.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, that’s, that’s really helpful. I’m glad we went back to that. I think one thing that I also see among students is a focus on, let’s say, science and math to the exclusion of what people might consider soft skills, things that you learn in the humanities, how to communicate, how to read people, how to compromise. But especially in a high stakes, high stress, career, like surgery, or any other type of medicine, I think those soft skills can be extremely valuable. And I’m curious if you can speak to students who may want to go into medicine, but maybe they studied English, or they studied foreign languages as their college major, even though they completed their pre med requirements alongside of that.

Dr. Arundhati Gosh: 

That’s not very uncommon, Sheila, these days, it’s not very uncommon. I think you can come to a career in medicine from a range of different backgrounds. But I do think it is important to have solid analytic skills. So if you’ve majored in the humanities, I think as someone who’s looking at an application as someone assessing potential candidates, I would like to see that you have done very well in your analytic science subjects, because that is very important in medicine. So it is by no means a problem or an issue if you have majored in the humanities, but I think you need to have solid analytic skills.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, I think that makes sense. Yeah. Okay. So we talked about what makes a good medical student, is there anything different that you would say, makes a good doctor or a good researcher.

Dr. Arundhati Gosh: 

So, you know, I don’t anybody who has, it’s past a certain age and has dealt with the issue, you know, had children dealt with had a family has a family, you know, how hard life is, life means challenges. It’s a series of challenges, and the negotiating medical school and you become a practicing clinician. And around the same time, you have all of the challenges of life in general hit you. Just like in any other profession, being a successful professional, is not just about being successful in your school, but having a lot of other abilities that help you navigate the challenges of life. You have to you need a village to support you, you need family, you need to have friends and family around you. You need to be able to take care of yourself, you need to have hobbies, you need to have a life outside of medicine, you need to be able to handle stress and failure, you have to learn how to handle failure. So there are all manners of challenges that you have to handle outside of the world of medicine while you’re a practicing clinician. And just like in any other profession, you need all those skills to allow you to navigate life and be a successful doctor.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s so great that you mentioned that because that’s actually my next question. I know that you do mentor students, and I’m curious what you see the role of mentorship being in this career path, this educational journey, when students are thinking about going to med school when they’re in med school, when they’re applying to residency as they move through, you know, their postgraduate training, what’s the role of mentorship?

Dr. Arundhati Gosh: 

Mentorship is extremely valuable. I look back on my own life and trajectory and basically it was just bumbling along without any help or advice or knowledge. There was no internet, no nothing. So just kind of just stumbling upon, you know, just figuring it out. And I wouldn’t recommend that. To others. It’s, I think it’s very, very, very helpful to have a mentor or mentors. Mentorship isn’t just a one person like a one block thing. You need to have supporters, people around you a coterie of people perhaps who will advise and support you on the various aspects of your developing career and developing life. So it may not be just one person and usually I would say it’s probably good to have more than one person Second, I find an immense amount of joy in mentoring. And I’ve thought about it a lot, you know, why does it give me so much joy. And I think I find my professional life to be extremely fulfilling, I do a good job, I love what I do, I find a lot of fulfillment in it. And I love to help other young people achieve that fulfillment in their life. I mean, it’s just very, very, very, very nice. Every single day of my life. It’s very cliche, but I save lives. And that is a very enriching and fulfilling experience. And I love to help students experience that enrich fulfillment. And if you get that sense of fulfillment, and in your profession, as a doctor, it means that you’re doing a good job as a doctor. And that means that there are a whole lot of people who are benefiting from you being there. So I would love to help others in that journey, and thereby help a whole lot of other people. I just love it.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s so amazing. I mean, that’s you’ve described in a nutshell why I love doing what I do, because it has this network effect, right? And it’s so powerful. So can you give us some examples of the kinds of mentorship that you do? Like, what, what stages? Are you mentoring people? And then we’ll talk about how do people find you? How do you choose your mentees?

Dr. Arundhati Gosh: 

Well, mentorship is a big part of, of what I do, officially within my capacity as the curriculum director, but unofficially, outside of my job outside of Harvard, or Cambridge at the lines, I kind of have been doing this for a very long time. It started sort of very casually, so over to I forget when, but started with one of my friends son, who was considering a career in medicine. And I had him in time with me. So since then, I’ve had many students who are in high school, and perhaps more who are in undergrad in pre med. And also post grads had thought about medicine late in their lives. So high schoolers, undergrads, post grads, and more recently, some med students who are already med students, but I need guidance and mentoring about what they want to do next. So they’ve come to me for help for all the different aspects, you know, from admission to medical school, whether they’re suited for it, how do they know whether they’re suited for a career in medicine, to navigate help navigating the medical application process? To, you know, deciding whether should I go for an MD or MD PhD? Should I do research? And for the med students, you know, what specialty do I choose? Should I choose neurosurgery versus this? So the full spectrum, really, the mentoring involves a full spectrum from high school, all through graduates of med school, and in fact, even beyond that, and so, I’ve mentored people in all stages of their career.

Sheila Akbar: 

And that’s just so fantastic. I just imagine how much they must benefit from your, your deep experience in all of these fields and your perspective on these things. So I mean, lucky them, but it sounds like you benefit just as much from from working with them.

Dr. Arundhati Gosh: 

Absolutely. I love it. I love being remote for the younger young people, I love being around young people, it keeps me motivated, and keeps me up to date. And I’ll tell you one of the things the reasons I like mentoring is, you know, in my own journey, you know, there were times when I did not do well as a resident or you know, because of challenges, life challenges that have faced me, and those various points. So, you know, there are times when you may not do well, but that does not mean that you will not do well, eventually, or that you cannot overcome that particular hardship. So I love to help students negotiate these bumps in their, their, their inevitable bumps in their lives. And I love to help them negotiate these months because they will come. And I know from my experience, that it was very hard to face that hardship. I knew how good I was. And here I was underperforming. And that was very hard, internally to face the fact that I was underperforming. But I knew I that I was underperforming because of X, Y, Z live challenge. And that was a temporary thing and I’d overcome it. So I love to help students negotiate their bumps.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, that’s a great and key perspective. Well, I think that’s a good place to wrap things up. And if people want to learn more about you or seek out your mentorship, where can they find you?

Unknown: 

Okay, so the mentorship I do outside of my official capacity for my hospital and for Harvard. I tried to keep that quite contained. And I’m very selective about it, because my primary role is to take care of patients. I’m selective about it. But arundhati@medicineadvisory.org is my email.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s great. And I’ll make sure that’s in the show notes so people can find it. Okay. Okay, great. All right. Well, thank you for your time. I know you’re busy. You got to get back to patients and students and all sorts of things. But thank you. Thank you so much for spending time with us.

Dr. Arundhati Gosh: 

Thank you, Sheila. That was awesome.

Sheila Akbar: 

Oh, there you have it, folks. I hope this was helpful to anyone who is considering a path in medicine, because I think she shared some real gems about what that process looks like and what you need to be thinking about. As you move through it or decide to go into it. Check the show notes for her contact information and come back for more great conversations on don’t force it. Thanks, everybody.

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