By Cindy Tian (MP2)
Vivek grew up in Basking Ridge, New Jersey and graduated from Harvard University in 2006 with a degree in Biophysics. After completing his MD/PhD from Mount Sinai in 2014, he went on to an Internal Medicine fast-track at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Currently, Vivek is in the first year of a UCSF Research Track (T32) Fellowship where he plans to pursue research interests in machine learning applications to gastroenterology/nutrition. He lives in San Francisco and in his spare time enjoys Carnatic (Indian Classical) violin music and traveling with his wife.
CINDY: How did you feel the MD/PhD path shaped your view of medicine and science?
VIVEK: Having a scientific background has definitely enriched my appreciation and understanding of medicine — in my mind the skillset required to plan experiments is the very same skillset required to reason through complex medical problems. It helps one to more critically appraise the literature, identify the important (and not-so-important) questions in the field, and think outside of the box in a way physicians aren’t always naturally good at. Of course a career in medicine helps one identify important questions and appreciate how research at all levels may contribute to the future of practice.
CINDY: How did you choose Internal Medicine?
VIVEK: I think IM is one of the most natural fits for a physician-scientist because it is a highly cognitive specialty that embraces most of the science that we do. Whether in genetics, MCB, immunology, microbiology, developmental biology, or cancer biology — our benchwork is definitely hitting the bedside (I’ve seen so many examples in just the last two years out of med school). Medicine is a highly versatile training pathway with so many fellowship offerings and is relatively short (2-3 years).
CINDY: Advice for students at different stages of training?
VIVEK: 1) No matter the stage of training you’re in, focus your efforts on getting the most out of the experience you can — those are the skills and insights you’ll carry with you forever.
2) Your residency options depends heavily on your medical school ranking, which depends heavily on your medical school performance (e.g. Step 1, MS3) and relatively little on your graduate school performance. Residencies want to pick doctors who will take good care of their patients — research prowess is icing on the cake but not a replacement for medical competence. However, when applying for fellowships (and/ or the last step of your career before eventually getting the job you want) your PhD will suddenly become more valuable in the eyes of academic programs seeking to find people with track records most likely to succeed at an academic career.
3) It’s long and it can be trying and difficult at times. Be adaptable and learn different things from different people (and try to learn from everyone). Stay humble. Don’t lose hope! All tough times will eventually pass. You are smart and you can do it!