Dr. Saloni Kumar: Combined BS/MD Graduate, Internist, Future Chief Resident

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graduation

Dr. Kumar with her proud parents at graduation

Name: Saloni Kumar​, MD

Hometown: San Jose, California​

College: Virginia Commonwealth University​

Medical School: Medical College of Virginia (Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine)​

Specialty: Internal Medicine​

Residency Training Program: Santa Clara Valley Medical Center​

What was your main motivation in becoming a doctor? When did you decide on this path?

My main motivation in becoming a doctor goes back to when I was in high school. At that time, I kept a very open mind about what my future career would be – doctor, dentist, teacher, or engineer. Growing up in the Silicon Valley and with a father who was an engineer, the natural career path seemed to be engineering. I took advanced math and science classes to further explore this interest but felt that with both math and physics, I had reached a standstill. This was not the case with my AP Biology class. There was so much about the complexity of the human body and the different organ systems that even outside of my classes, I wanted to learn more. I applied to a medical research program at Stanford for the summer and began volunteering at hospitals and saw how much the medical field had to offer both intellectually and on a humanistic level. I loved the idea of having the opportunity to develop a skill set that would allow me to take care of people and continue to study the intricacies of the human body. It was with this motivation and inspiration that my path to medicine began.

What was the guaranteed BS/MD program experience like? Would you recommend it to others? How has it influenced or shaped your path in medicine?

When I look back at my career path, I can honestly say that doing the guaranteed BS/MD program was the best decision I could have made. The way the program worked was that there was a set of requirements that we had to meet prior to graduation, and as long as we met those, we were exempt from the MCAT and had a guaranteed seat in medical school. The requirements included things such as taking advanced science classes, completing community service hours in a hospital environment, working on medical research, and of course, meeting the grade point average set by the program. My own experience was that I completed a Biology major but also dedicated time to completing minors in both Business and Chemistry. I used some of my summers to continue the research that I had been doing in high school and to complete my hospital volunteer hours. However, because of the guaranteed program, I was able to take the summers that most people spent studying for the MCAT and applying to medical school, to pursue some of my other passions. I spent the last two summers of college (and the first summer of medical school) teaching English at a local summer school program in San Jose. I had a class of forty 6th and 7th graders and taught them about grammar, creative writing, and vocabulary. I later realized that a big part of medicine is having the ability to be a good teacher and I was really able to hone in on those skills during this summer ​experience. This also had a big influence on my career because it helped shape my decision to want to work at an academic center and be a teaching attending in the future.

Dr. Kumar with her class of students. Doing the combined undergrad/medical school program allowed her to explore non-medical activities during her summers.

Dr. Kumar with her class of students. Doing the combined undergrad/medical school program allowed her to explore non-medical activities during her summers.

I would highly recommend the guaranteed BS/MD programs to others. It was because of this program that I was able to immerse myself in more time-consuming extracurricular activities in college, spend my summers teaching, and take unique classes (like modern dance and hip hop) that might have otherwise be replaced by more advanced science courses. I was also able to do all of this without having to take time off or deal with the stress of taking the MCAT and applying to medical school. Also, because you are spending eight years in the same city, with the same group of people, you establish a group of friends who becomes a second family. You will spend (at that point) one-third of your life with them – every single up and down, laugh and tear, and life milestone, and that has a value in itself that is irreplaceable. To this day, despite the fact that we are all at different residency programs around the country, these are still some of my best friends.

Did you take any time off? If so, what did you do? No.

Presenting at the ACP Conference

Presenting at the ACP Conference

What activities did you do in college and medical school?

In college, my most intensive and memorable extracurricular activity was my dance team. During our first year of college, my two best friends and I started a Bollywood fusion dance team and we traveled all along the east coast performing and competing at different shows. A huge chunk of my time was spent with late nights of choreographing, creating music mixes, designing costumes, planning trips for the shows, and dance practice. The amount of time and energy that goes into a dance team is like a job in itself and I don’t think I would have been able to dedicate that type of time commitment if it hadn’t been for the guaranteed BS/MD program. I also played intramural volleyball and tutored/mentored at a program in the dedicated to teaching high school students from underprivileged socio-economic backgrounds.

​In medical school, I was vice president of my medical school class. I organized various class events including a “Puppy Day,” where we had a local animal shelter bring puppies for everyone to play with to help with stress-relief while studying for Step 1, interdisciplinary social events between the medical school, dental school, and nursing school, and the end-of-the-year graduation banquet for all the fourth year medical students and their families. One of my most memorable moments was when we represented the field of medicine at a talk done by Michelle Obama and had the opportunity to sit up on stage with her and meet her afterwards. Being in class office was my creative outlet from the stress of being in medical school and it allowed me to stay in touch with my artistic side.

Leading a wards team as a second year medicine resident.

Leading a wards team as a second year medicine resident.

What is the best advice you can give to a college premed student? What about to a medical student?

For the college and pre-medical students – do not let your pursuit to become a doctor hinder you from building upon your other talents and interests. It is very important to maintain a balance because college is the best time of your life and if you look back on it, you don’t want your only memory to be that of spending long days in the library. You will never get that time back so make sure you don’t lose yourself and your happiness while working toward your career goal, whatever that may be.

For medical students – this is a stressful four years and just remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s very easy to forget that you are a talented and intelligent person to have made it this far, especially when you’re constantly around the highest achieving people in the country. You have to keep reminding yourself that you are amazing and are going to do great things.

Is there anything you would have done differently in your path to medicine?

Looking back, the biggest thing that I would change would be to not have done a Biology major. I had a great opportunity through the BS/MD program to take the time to do something different and I wish that I had chosen something completely different like dance or English.

Letting off some steam with Indian dancing

Letting off some steam with Indian dancing

How do you motivate yourself in this sometimes difficult field and prevent burnout?

It’s very easy to feel burned out – both in medical school and residency. The most helpful way to prevent it is to always plan something fun for your days off. One of my co-residents once told me that in residency, we frequently compromise sleep for work, and that it was important to remember to do the same for fun – especially when those fun days help you keep your sanity. I went to Orlando and Seattle on two of my golden weekends and I drove up to Reno another weekend to watch Russell Peters perform. I visited the zoo, went on hikes, visited museums, baked cupcakes, choreographed a dance, and did whatever I could to make sure that my weekends were memorable.

When I get demotivated about work, I try to put myself in the position of the family member of the patient that I’m taking care of and try to remind myself what a significant role I am playing in that person’s life by being a doctor and taking care of their loved one.  I also try to approach hard days as days that are making me a better doctor. One of my fellows once told me that if I was going to be working all day and all night, I might as well be busy, otherwise what was the point of me being there and losing sleep? The more you see, the better you get, and that’s what you need when you’re getting ready to be practicing along as an attending.

Do you have any tips on maintaining work-life balance?

Always plan something fun (and non-medical) for your days off! It’s also very important to take time each day and use that to do something for yourself – whether it’s painting your nails, working out, trying a new dinner recipe, or even watching a TV show – do something relaxing that helps you not think about the hospital for a little bit.

What do you do in your spare time? Any hobbies?

​Most of my free time is spent with family and friends but I also love hiking, traveling, exploring all the attractions in the Bay Area, baking, and reading (non-medical books, that is!).

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