MD Students on Being Leaders and Leading Change
From an early age, fourth-year medical student Shivangi Goel knew she wanted to pursue a medical career, in large part because of the biennial visits she made to India with her parents, who immigrated to New Jersey in the early 1990s.
As an only child, Goel is extremely close to her parents, and also, thanks to the frequent trips to New Delhi, to aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents who live there. “There was no doctor in my family,” she says, “so I wanted to be the person who could fill that need.”
Her resolve was strengthened by her own experiences with the medical profession. “When I was younger I was sick a lot,” she says. “I grew up going to doctors’ offices, getting blood tests, going to specialists. I saw the power health care providers can have on a family, how they are able to provide peace of mind and help people feel better not just physically but mentally.”
By her junior year of high school, Goel was getting practical experience in the field by working as an emergency medical technician in Paramus, New Jersey. “It was a little out of my depth,” she admits, citing calls for drug overdoses, alcohol intoxication, gun violence, and multi-car highway accidents. “I delivered a baby by myself when I was 16. But when someone’s having an emergency you need to show up calm, confident, and ready to help. It helped me become more sure of myself and to see how I could be valuable to society.”
As an undergraduate at MIT, Goel explored neuroscience, economics, biological and mechanical engineering, and computer science, switching majors “about five times because I loved everything so much.” She finally settled on a dual degree in biology and political science, with a focus on health care economics. “I’m interested in the intersection of health care, policy, and technology,” she says. “That led me to Harvard. At HMS people want to make systemic changes in how health care is delivered and accessed.” Her desire to work on “initiatives for students and the larger community” led her to run for, and become, class co-president. Her ultimate goal, “to focus on health care access through technology,” led her to the MD-MBA program.
Goel looks forward to combining her clinical and engineering background with her MBA to develop medical technology, either through leading research projects for the government or running her own company.
“I don’t just want to work with one person at a time,” she says. “I want to help change the face of how medicine is delivered to make care better and more accessible for all patients.”
Nicholos (Nicky) Joseph
Third-year student Nicky Joseph wasn’t always sold on medicine. “It’s not that I don’t like science,” says Joseph, who is also president of his HMS class. “I’ve just always loved math more.”
When he was a kid, Joseph’s dad taught him various “math tricks,” and his parents eventually enrolled him in an extracurricular math-enrichment program where he rose to the tenth-grade level by age 8. Joseph discovered contest math in sixth grade and got so involved with it that in high school he served as president of the school’s Math Honor Society. Later, with his college roommate, he co-founded a contest program in Houston city schools called Power in Numbers.
Still, even after an undergrad organic chemistry course at Rice University showed him “the intersection of math and science,” he wasn’t sure where his passions would lead him. He didn’t put two and two together, so to speak, to arrive at the idea of med school until he’d volunteered in the pediatric cancer wards of Texas Children’s Hospital and did a service trip to a Ronald McDonald House in Atlanta.
“I saw resilience in children that I hadn’t seen in anyone else,” he says. “I was marked by the experience and felt that serving pediatric patients would be fulfilling and also allow me to make an impact in the world.”
It wasn’t Joseph’s first experience helping children. His parents, immigrants from India, both “worked two jobs pretty much their whole lives to support me and my siblings,” he says. “I’m so appreciative of that, but it meant in some ways I was forced to grow up early to help take care of my siblings.”
Joseph discovered he had a natural proclivity toward working with children, especially those in their early years. The experience, he says, “made me want to understand the effect of the parent-child relationship on development, and to become involved in pediatric care.”
So his path forward is clear, right? Not necessarily. “I don’t want to give up the care of adults,” he says. “I’m also drawn to emergency medicine.” A summer job at the U.S. Agency for International Development during college showed him the value of policy work in action on a global scale; he hopes to start pursuing an MD-MPP next year. “We as a society don’t just have to make medical interventions,” he says. “We also need to change policy.”
He’s not sure whether his interest in policy will lead him toward research, international development, or hospital administration, but he knows it will be part of his future. “Getting involved in policy and decision-making will allow me to have an effect on an even larger number of people,” he says.
Can’t argue with that math.
Ever since middle school, Derek Soled has been determined to do as much as he can, as well as he can, not to satisfy his ambitions so much as to create a good vibe for himself and those around him.
“I get pure joy from it,” he says. “I find I’m happiest and feel like my best self when I’m surrounded by the people I care about who are doing good things and achieving. And in order to make people around me their best selves, I have to be the best I possibly can be, too.”
Soled, a fourth-year student and class co-president, says he was “naturally very driven,” and that his upbringing reinforced that tendency. “My mom and dad didn’t pressure me but they always prioritized education and found meaning in life from being around other people.” Twice a year Soled’s parents took him and his two younger sisters on short-term cultural immersion trips to developing countries around the world, and it was while playing soccer with kids in Tunisia and visiting schools in Ecuador that he developed his interest in medicine.
“I met people with disabilities or ailments that would not have held them back in the U.S.,” he says. “I began to see health as a great equalizer.”
As a Yale undergrad Soled double-majored in sociology and biology because, he says, “social and biological influences together determine health outcomes and disease trajectories.” He was also captain of the fencing team, chair of the journal The Politic, and vice president of the debate society, among other activities.
At Harvard, Soled is again pursuing a joint degree, this time in business and medicine. He continues to fence and has picked up his beloved trumpet again, doing occasional gigs around Boston. In his first year he co-founded, with three classmates, Medicine in Motion, a nonprofit that brings health care professionals together through physical activity. It now has chapters in fourteen states and five countries. He wanted to become a leader of his HMS class, he says, because “I’m surrounded by such impressive and amazing people here, I wanted to get to know them better.”
He hopes that combining his MD-MBA with the masters he earned in medical anthropology at Oxford will allow him to “help create stronger health systems through policy, public health delivery, and innovation.” Why? To help people become the “best versions of themselves,” of course. “It all comes down to leveling the playing field so that poor health is never a ball and chain for people trying to realize their goals,” he says.
As for realizing his own goals, “I’ve always felt that if I didn’t achieve something it was due to a lack of effort rather than a lack of understanding or innate ability,” he says. “So, therefore, everything is in reach.”
Elizabeth Gehrman is a Boston-based writer.
Images: Kelly Davidson