Dr. Kansagra, Author and Twitter Star Shares His Journey and Advice

Session 54


In today's episode, Ryan talks with Dr. Sujay Kansagra, an attending pediatric neurologist at Duke Medical Center. He is the author of the top reviewed Everything I Learned in Medical School: Besides All the Book Stuff, a memoir about his medical school experiences at Duke as well as the author of Why Medicine?: And 500 Other Questions for the Medical School and Residency Interviews. His third book is in the works which will be a comprehensive medical school advice manual for anyone in high school, college, or even in medical school. Sujay has mastered the use of Twitter under his Twitter handle @medschooladvice.

Today, they talk about his medical school experience, the power of collaboration, the importance of journalism, and his insights into the hierarchy in medicine.

Here are the highlights of the conversation with Sujay:

The keys to success in medical school and life in general:

  • Moving one step at a time
  • Persistence
  • Motivation

Sujay's undergrad experience:

  • Getting interested in the Biology and Psychology track to major in
  • Choose a premed you're going to enjoy and do well

Resources he tapped into during his premed years:

  • Premed advising set up his academic pathway to place the core in place
  • Relying on peers and his sister's experience being two years ahead of her
  • Premed advisors being distant from the process and even through the process but they're knowledgeable in terms of the specifics of their school's core classes

The benefits of peer advising:

  • Knowing who you are and your personality
  • Knowing where you might be a good fit
  • Being your avenue to explore medicine such as the extracurricalars you're going to do

Major challenges Sujay faced:

  • The first semester as a shocker
  • Starting off with a not so strong GPA

Choosing which medical schools to apply to:

  • Getting the feel of the institution and the students in the medical school you're visiting to
  • Choosing a place that you can thrive and not just survive
  • Getting the feel that it's “right”

Going through the medical school interview process:

  • Being a rigorous process
  • The interview is the time that you need to shine
  • Going through the academic-type and and ethical-type of interview
  • They're getting a better sense of who you are

Sujay's experience at Duke Medical School:

  • Based on honors/pass/fail system – he found it less stressful than the undergrad setup
  • More intense workload
  • More hours

The biggest thing that surprised him during his early years in medical school:

Everybody was smart! (You may not stand out too much)

The importance of having a “teamwork” attitude over a competitive attitude:

  • You have to work as a team
  • Don't focus on the other racers, focus on yourself.

The surprising things about his clinical years:

  • Time demands and being in a completely new language
  • Consuming clinical work especially in surgery rotation
  • Essentially breathing and living medicine
  • How everyone knows everything can be intimidating (Don't worry, you'll soon learn them too!)

Being okay with not knowing anything:

  • Being comfortable with saying you don't know while also being able to answer some of the questions
  • Your attending physicians don't expect you to know everything but just trying to figure out some holes in your knowledge so they can teach you.

About Sujay's book, Everything I Learned in Medical School: Besides All the Book Stuff:

  • Initially writing it as his journal
  • Realizing that people could learn from his interesting stories about medicine and life in general
  • Initially intended for the general audience but now has a big following among premeds

The power of journaling:

Journal everything you're seeing because this can help you when it comes to writing your personal statements and your extracurriculars in your applications

The hierarchy in medicine and Sujay's insights:

  • Hierarchy keeps things n order but it should not be use to abuse those who are in the low level of the hierarchy.
  • Keep things as even as possible.
  • Make sure everybody's voice is heard and that everybody is a part of the team.
  • Remember how it felt to be a medical student.
  • Be respectful and mindful of those below your level as well as the ancillary staff (nurses, etc.)

Some pieces of advice for premed students:

Enjoy every step of the road to becoming a physician. Make sure to take time to enjoy life because it's never going to get easier. There is no end to this road. As a physician, you're a lifelong learner.

It's okay if medicine is not for you. Don't consider it as a failure but simply a change of course. That is completely okay.

Links and Other Resources:

Dr. Sujay Kansagra's Books:

Everything I Learned in Medical School: Besides All the Book Stuff

Why Medicine?: And 500 Other Questions for the Medical School and Residency Interviews

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  • Robbie Eldoueik

    Hi Dr. Grey,
    my name is Robbie Eldoueik and i am going into my junior year as a pre medical student. i recently transferred to the University of Michigan as an undergrad from a local community college. being a physician is something i always knew i wanted to do, but always thought would be out of my reach. the study of science and the applications it has in healing others has always been fascinating to me and seems to be one of the most rewarding careers one can choose. after completing high school with below average grades i enrolled

    • Robbie,

      Thanks for the comments. Email me your address and I’ll get you a copy of each of Dr. K’s books!

      • Robbie

        Thank you Very Much!

  • Moe

    This is just the topic we needed to hear! Thank you.

  • Harsh

    Hi Dr. Grey,

    I just started my undergraduate studies as a freshmen at NSU, Tahlequah, OK. My journey until now has led me through many experiences which reflect my personality as a Pre-Med student of getting things right and doing what is in front of me rather than thinking ahead. I figured out, like many fellow students, that i wanted to become a physician in high school and had been interested in the sciences throughout my high school. I will be the first person in my family to become a doctor and i want to become a doctor not because of the degree and the name, but for the authority it gives me to do good in people’s lives. I believe that I can make a difference by providing education and advice to people around me and possibly aspiring other physicians to do the same. Since Not everyone can afford healthcare, personal experience, physicians will have to devote their time and make an effort to reach out to people and help them.
    By listening to your podcast I’ve been inspired to try my best and learn from others. My first semester ends soon, and like every one, i want to finish it strong so that next semester i can become stronger and progress forward. I think every college advisors should let the pre-med students know about this podcast and inspiring people like Dr. K who have made understanding medical school and life, easy, at least for me.

    One more thing i learned, is keeping a journal which is a fantastic ideas.

    Thank you!

  • Jaime Davis

    I am currently a 5th year undergrad at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fl. I started my undergrad at the University of Central Florida majoring in aerospace engineering and after three years of that I realized that I hated the profession and that its not what I wanted to do, and as such my grades suffered. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, and even in high school I had no idea. I came out knowing that I’d make a lot of money in engineering, I can do math with my eyes closed, so I chose engineering. Med school never even entered my mind until just a couple years ago. After that I took a break, did part time at a community college trying to “find myself” and volunteered at a local hospital where I found my passion for medicine. I decided to get into it through nursing and was accepted to nursing school. I worked, and still am working, as a tech in the ICU and ER while attending school and through that work and the classes I had I very quickly learned two things: nursing was not what I thought it was, and 2) I want to be a physician. I honestly wish I could put into words why I want to be a physician. It’s just a feeling that I have finally found my calling. I love being in the hospital, I love working side-by-side with the doctors and nurses, and I love caring for patients. Being in the position where someone entrusts you with their care at a time where they are at their most vulnerable is an experience that cannot be explained. I could ramble on about my love of my job and the experiences I’ve had but I’ve done that a lot in the Academy 😉

    Currently I know that I want to work with critically ill and injured patients, and am not sure if I want to do that through medicine as an emergency physician or surgically as a trauma surgeon. All I know is that I am loving life as a premed, loving every minute of the experiences I’ve had on that path, and cannot wait for whats to come!

    This podcast for me has been priceless. Until recently I have had no guidance in what is needed to get into med school and this podcast has been an amazing source of information. Many knowledge pearls in each episode, and always someone being interviewed showing that no matter what path you take, med school is possible. Thanks and keep it going!

  • Jen Coias

    Hello Dr. Grey!

    This was yet another great podcast! I love how much I learn from your show. It really seems like each week I come away with new ideas and information about the premed process, medical school and beyond.

    I am a 31 year old currently attending University of Texas at San Antonio as a post baccalaureate student. I discovered my desire to become a doctor a little later in life, during my pregnancy with my first child. Before then I secretly wanted to be a doctor but it was something that I thought was completely out of reach for a person like me. I had grown up very poor and my mother, an immigrant and non-native English speaker, unknowingly instilled upon me this idea that doctors were people of some special level of intelligence and position (a common theme for the Latina women of my generation). It wasn’t until I became a mother in my mid-twenties that I started to break down and challenge the voices in my head that had convinced me that medicine wasn’t for people a background like mine. The primary catalysts for these changes occurred for several reasons. First, I found myself completely in love with the perinatal period of a woman’s life and what this journey means to the women who choose to become mothers. I had not felt so connected and passionate about something since my days as a professional classical ballet dancer! I found myself reading and researching anything and everything I could get my hands on that was related to obstetrics and becoming passionate about helping other women have safe and satisfying birth experiences. The second turning point happened after I had my first son when I gained a new level of maturity and confidence. Being a mother to this new little life and learning how to follow my instincts and overcoming those challenges and doubts that every new mother experiences really gave me the confidence to know that I could do it, I could become a doctor. Lastly, fast forward to about 3.5 years later after I had my first son, I tragically lost my second son at 36 weeks to an umbilical cord accident. The experience was obviously devastating but seeing that side of birth and experiencing the loss of a child gave me even more of an appreciation for the role of child-bearing in the life of a women. It was in this deeper understanding that I realized that childbearing, to a woman, means so much more than just a healthy baby. After five years of living abroad and a collection awakening life experiences, I was finally able to start my journey in August of 2012, when my family and I returned to the US. I started by taking a basic chemistry class and some intermediate algebra (it had been so long) and 4 semesters later I am acing organic chemistry and loving it! Who knew that this little ballerina from such humble beginnings has a brain for organic chemistry?!?! Though it took me longer than most but I’ve finally found out what I want to be when I grow up. The things I’m learning about myself in this journey continue to surprise and delight. I plan to apply to medical school this coming August, after I take the MCAT. Obviously would like to become and obstetrician but I also would love to become a mentor and educator in the field. I’m looking at ways in which I can do a distinction in education which could allow me to return to the classroom down the road in my career.

    Many thanks again for continuing to inspire me each week. Love the show!
    (aka latinalonestar)

    • Jen – Awesome post – email me your address and I’ll get you a copy of each of Dr. K’s books!

  • Jessica Daley

    Another wonderful podcast! I really love all that Dr. Kansagra had to say. And thank you for telling us to enjoy our lives while we are in this process and not to just bury our noses in books. That is a balance that I personally have been trying to find and it is encouraging for us type-As to be told to have a little fun sometimes 🙂

    I’m a non-traditional pre-med student in a post-bacc program at UCLA. I am from New York and I have been living in LA for 6 years. I originally attended NYU and received a BFA with a double major in Drama and Psychology. I was an actor (mostly stage with some independent film credits) for several years. I am fascinated by the human brain and why people do what they do. Acting became an artistic exploration of human behavior. I loved tearing apart scripts, figuring out why a character does what they do, says what they say. What clues could I find that might hint at nuances that could be added to my performance? However, as a professional actor, I found myself extremely bored, driving around from audition to audition, lacking any sort of intellectual stimulation. And sitting on set for hours while they adjusted lighting and changed cameras was tedious (for me at least. That is not to say that the profession is boring. I was just bored and unhappy. It was not the right profession for me). I struggled with “giving up” acting, because “I am not a quitter” and “I’m not afraid of hard work” and “I’m not a sell-out” and all the other things that actors are told to keep motivating them to move forward. It took a lot of courage (and a few years) for me to finally acknowledge that I wanted to do something else. While struggling with my decision to move on from acting, I studied to become a yoga instructor (as a possible future career and also to relieve my boredom). My “aha” moment came while volunteering at a facility for underprivileged and underserved children and young adults. I was teaching a yoga class there and realized that I wanted to help people live healthier lives. I always have. And I’ve always been interested in medicine (my favorite show as a child was “Rescue 911”). I have a strong interest in the human brain. I spent years pursuing the artistic exploration of the human psyche; now I am switching my focus to the scientific exploration of the human brain (and body). I am about half-way done with my prereqs and I love it! I love being back in school. I love my science classes. I love learning. And I am thrilled for the path ahead of me.

    Thanks for another wonderful podcast!

    Happy Holidays!

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