The First-Year Sinai MSTP’s Guide to NYC

By David Gonzalez and Tucker Matthews (MD1)

Tucker Matthews, University of Wisconsin-Madison:

New York is absolutely incredible for live music and Warsaw is a concert venue in Brooklyn that feels like a community center. I got to see this Brooklyn-based hippie-dance-punk band there, and it was incredible. Milano’s is just hands down my favorite bar in the city. It’s this super tiny hallway-shaped bar down on Houston, there are polaroids of patrons from the ‘90s on the wall, and it just has the greatest feel to it, in a way that you can only really get in NYC.

Christian Stevens, Harvey Mudd College:

New York is about balancing history with pragmatism. Of course I’d love to have a beer at the spot where Abraham Lincoln and America’s first spy, Nathan Hale, would meet in secret to discuss the evacuation of the British from Manhattan. But chances are, that bar is expensive and not real. But there are places, like St. Marks Place, where the history may not sound quite so grand but it feels more important. Ada Calhoun referred to St. Marks Place by saying: “the street is not for people who have chosen their lives … [it] is for the wanderer, the undecided, the lonely, and the promiscuous.” And finally, when you’re winding down your night, right before you head over to take the long and lonely 4, 5, 6 up to 96th street, you can stop by 2 Bros. There you’ll find the best $1 pizza in America, hands down.

Camille van Neste, Stanford University:

In the beginning of the year, New York hit international headlines for an unusual reason: the giant corpse flower at the Bronx Botanical garden was about to bloom. Shoulder to shoulder with an immense crowd, I observed botanical history. Even when the corpse flower is blooming, the botanical gardens and adjacent zoo provide a welcome, green respite from the smelly concrete jungle of Manhattan.

Varun Arvind, Rutgers University-New Brunswick:

One of the first weekends I went to Lombardi’s, a great slice of history and food. Equally fun was just walking around the city going into old bookstores and interesting places. NYC is great because you can just be walking around and serendipitously find a cool new store, restaurant, mural, place, or interesting people.

David Gonzalez, Brown University:

The public library on 42nd street next to Bryant Park is immense and a beautiful space to study in with some really impressive reading rooms that have just been renovated. On days when I don’t have mandatory class, I like to grab a coffee and head down there for the day to study. Its a great way to get away from the UES and explore a bit of NY while staying on top of your classes. During Structures a bunch of first years went to an improv show centered around Raiders of the Lost Ark. Audience members could propose a shift to a scene from a different movie three times during the show, and the actors had to find a way to incorporate it into the current storyline they were acting out, as well as incorporate lines written by audience members that were given to them on a piece of paper before the start of the show. Tickets for shows like this will run you a whopping $10 and are a great spontaneous thing to do in the evening.

Joel Kim, University of Rochester:

Central Park is literally a five minute walk from the student residence, Aron Hall. What is especially worth appreciation is the beautiful reservoir that is located very close by. As someone who enjoys jogging, it is a great way to destress and appreciate a nice view of nature in the midst of a crowded, bustling city.

Sahil Agrawal, Harvard University:

One lazy summer afternoon, I found myself enjoying oysters and craft cocktails on a historic sailboat anchored on the Hudson River — ‘Grand Banks.’ The gentle waves nudged the boat along and the setting sun cast a brilliant red-orange hue on the horizon, highlighting the skyline of the lower east side; in the distant, I could even make out the Statue of Liberty.

Louise Malle, University of Pennsylvania:

Dancing to disco music at a Chinese restaurant that doubles as a hipster nightclub in a desolate street in the Financial districtChina Chalet on Broadway and Morris Street. Spending a sunny afternoon in Chelsea looking at all the art we’ll never be able to afford and admiring NY street style.

Amara Plaza-Jennings, Princeton University:

I normally hate waiting in lines, but when videos started popping up of Dō, a place that makes (safe!) raw cookie dough that they serve like ice cream, I thought maybe it would be worth it. I waited in line with classmates for over an hour and it was freezing cold. I don’t know if I’ll be waiting in trendy food lines again anytime soon, but it was a very New York experience that I am glad I got to have.

Christie Nguyen, Stanford University:

Dominique Ansel Bakery, home to the cookie shot (also the cronut), a life-changing cup shaped cookie filled with tahitian vanilla milk. In classic new york style, it’s only sold at 3pm everyday and there’s usually a short line.

Fred Kwon, University of Pennsylvania:

The first time I visited New York, I wanted to appreciate the New York City landscape. I was recommended the cost efficient observatory deck at Rockefeller Center, from which you can see skyscrapers and appreciate how rectangular Central Park is. While I was in the area, I checked out the bizarre and fascinating Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA) and dropped by Nintendo NYC to take a photo with my favorite plumber brothers.

ISMMS Alumni Interview: Vivek Rudrapatna, MD PhD ’14

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!

Congratulations to our 2017 MSTP matching seniors!


Words to live by?

Megan: “For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson

Mitra: The person on the operating room table is someone in your own family.

Biggest change/challenge you experienced over your MDPhD?

Noa: Constantly feeling like I wasn’t sure what was expected of me and how to compare myself to others around me (both in research and back in the clinical years). This was 99% in my head so be smarter than me and try to avoid making yourself miserable if you can!

Rachel: I definitely felt left behind – especially these past few years – as my classmates from the beginning of med school or college breezed through residency while I still had so much training to do. But it’s important to enjoy each step of the process and not just focus on the end.

What was the coolest thing you learned in your PhD?

David: That the general approaches I was using in the tiny, specialized segment of academia I was occupying were actually useful for studying almost anything in the realm of fact. The Practical Analysis of Your Personal Genome and Q.E.D. classes were really great (extra-curricular?) experiences too.

What did you come in thinking of specializing in and how did it evolve?

Tim: I started thinking I would be interested in internal medicine, which ended up continuing throughout the 8 years. I had done cardiology research prior to starting at Sinai, so was interested in cardiology but hadn’t fully committed to it yet. However, my PhD was cardiology (I learned to make artificial hearts in a dish!) and I fell in love with cardiovascular physiology, so my initial interests ended up carrying all the way through!

Harish: I initially wanted to do Peds, but as I spent time on the wards, I realized how limited my clinical experiences were, which was in stark comparison to how diverse my scientific experiences had been. I learned that I liked outpatient flow, working with cancer patients, and incorporating an anatomical approach to disease, which led me to radiation oncology. Plus, rad onc is a field with so many MD/PhDs who are receptive to doing good science.

Mixing Entrepreneurship and Medicine: A Coffee Chat with Ted Pak, MP3

By Andy McKenzie (MP3)

ANDY: You and your team at East Harlem Software developed the CareTeam App, which your website describes as “a web application that gives clinicians instant access at the bedside to contacts, guidelines, and protocols customized for their practice environment.” How did you come up with this idea?

Ted Pak, MP3

TED: The CareTeam App was actually born as the EHHapp, which started out as a static website that Ammar Siddiqui (MD class of 2016, current Columbia anesthesia intern) developed to coordinate referrals for EHHOP, the student-run free clinic at Mount Sinai. Since Ammar was working with a constantly rotating cast of first year med students to run access-to-care services every Saturday, it was a lot easier to get them up to speed and productively advising patients when they had a mobile website in their hands with high-yield information from previous members of the team. Therefore, he made the first version of the EHHapp to save valuable time, so everyone could better focus on patients’ needs. Of course, since info on referrals changes rapidly— services at Mount Sinai and nearby hospitals shift around all the time—the next challenge was to make the information editable by all team members. Otherwise, the website would go stale and lose its value within months. To do this, Kevin Hu and Mark Finkelstein (two current medical students at Sinai) and I figured out how to integrate the mobile-friendly front end of the website with a custom content management system that uses the Ruby and git software environments.

We used the Wikipedia model for the UI: every page has an Edit button. You login with a Mount Sinai email address and edit the pages in Markdown, a really simple formatting system that looks like plaintext email. When you save the changes, they can either go public right away if you’re an admin of the app, and if you’re not, they’re forwarded to one of the admins for approval. Because of the way git can track changes, admins can receive multiple edits for the same page and choose to merge them (or not) individually, so the pages always stay up to date with well-curated information.

Using this strategy allowed us to quickly scale the number of people that could contribute to the EHHapp. Within the first year of the launch of the editable app in September 2013, it grew to nearly 200 pages of content, with over 1,600 separate edits. Today, the app has logged 4,943 edits. It’s now an indispensable guide for all EHHOP members—kept alive entirely by user-contributed changes.

Eventually, the attendings that volunteer at EHHOP on Saturdays caught wind of our app (and some began using it too). They wanted to try it in their own practice environments, e.g., to support medicine house-staff on inpatient floors or at Internal Medicine Associates, the larger outpatient clinic that hosts EHHOP. When we heard this, and that these departments could be willing to pay for it, we knew we had a potential product. That’s when we decided to form a Delaware C corporation, convert the software into a software-as-a-service platform, and start providing it on a contract basis.

ANDY: What advice would you give to incoming MD/PhD students who are interested in starting a business?

TED: First, find a team, and then build your minimum viable product so you can get it in the hands of anybody, anywhere, that wants to use it. Start early—it’s a lot easier to carve out time for a potential business idea when you’re a first or second year compared to the grad phase, when your thesis advisor will expect you to continually grow your productivity rather than funnel time into non thesis-related projects. It also helps to have the idea half-baked before you find your thesis advisor, so you can bring it up with them and see how they react to that being a part of your life.

Secondly, if there is any chance developing the idea involved Mount Sinai resources—you should read the Intellectual Property policy early and carefully to see how that’s defined—you’ll want to disclose it to the institution. This is perhaps the most difficult part of getting off the ground, since if Mount Sinai decides that it contributed resources and therefore has ownership, you’ll have to license the IP from Mount Sinai. In our case, this required hiring a lawyer and spending months working through tricky legalese in contracts before we could close our first sale.

ANDY: Let’s dream big. What do you think would be most helpful to make biomedical entrepreneurship a more common career path for physician-scientists?

TED: If I could change anything? It would be remarkable if thesis research (for a PhD) could be more tightly coupled with training in starting and running a business. An incubator-type model might work. However, this isn’t to say there aren’t current opportunities for such training that already fit well into the PhD phase. For instance, at ISMMS, our students have done internships at Verily, IBM, and McKinsey.

ANDY: Thank you for the fascinating interview, Ted!