How One Leap of Faith Led to Valuable Lessons : Medical Shadowing

I surprised myself that day. I did something that was so out of character, yet something that brought me closer to my dreams. Funny it worked out that way because I didn’t know how that one action, so completely out-of-the-box for me, would shift my outlook and strengthen my goals. A neurosurgeon came to speak to my high school’s pre-medical society my sophomore year. At this point in my life, I was 100% set on the path of medicine. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always just known that this was what I wanted to pursue, despite not having any family members in medicine or having been exposed to anything medical-related at a young age. So, attending these biweekly speaker events that my pre-medical society put on was not anything out of character for me.

I remember attending that event like it was any other event that the society had put on in the past. I came in and took a seat towards the front, but not all the way there. I leaned my backpack against the desk leg and took out a notebook to write down some notes. The speaker, Dr. Ramakrishna, was a neurosurgeon at Weill Cornell, and something that he did differently, something that other speakers hadn’t before, was to show us an actual video of a surgery he had performed. And of course this could be taken one of two ways by students; there was always the risk that someone would be squeamy, but I found this to be a breath of fresh air. I really appreciated the fact that he was so invested in teaching us that he’d go and actually show us what he did every day. I guess this was the first thing that encouraged me to act out of character that day, second to the fact that this was a South Asian neurosurgeon and that detail made me feel a type of kinship with him. 

The determining factor of my actions that day was the fact that he opened up a door of opportunity for the attendees at the end. I had been to almost every one of these speaker events by this point and most just left their emails with encouragement to send more questions or inquiries that remained unanswered. But, Dr. Ramakrishna left us his email telling us to reach out because he would love to have students shadow him. This really piqued my interest because despite knowing that I wanted to pursue medicine, I hadn’t had the opportunity to shadow any doctor at that point in my life.

Truthfully, I didn’t have a good idea of what shadowing meant at that point, but I decided to take him up on his offer and send him an email the following day. This was surprising to me because I always had an internal fear of cold emailing professionals and reaching out to people like that. Truth be told, this was one of the first times I got the courage to take that extra step, and despite being surprised, I was also extremely proud of myself because this would be the first of many times I’d send a cold email in the future. 

Overcoming that internal fear of mine ended up paying off in a really big way because Dr. Ramakrishna responded to my email the next day. Hundreds of kids had attended the lecture, and he probably ended up getting tons of emails so despite catching me off guard, the fact that he responded in a timely manner probably served as encouragement for the next time I had to send a cold email. His response led to a month long process of filling out paperwork, getting immunizations, going in for an ID picture at the hospital, and even buying my own white coat. The white coat really did it for me because it made everything feel official even though I wasn’t really a doctor. But, the coat made me feel like I was part of the team. The first day of shadowing consisted of a day in the operating room. I went in, put on maroon scrubs and a surgical suit, and walked into the OR. I stood next to an actual medical student as we watched Dr. Ramakrishna and his team spend five hours prepping and completing a tumor removal procedure. As the hours ticked by, we found ourselves shifting accordingly around the room to get better views of the operation. I went home that day feeling so grateful and having learned so much just from one day of shadowing. I was able to see the dynamic inside an operating room and the dynamic between a surgeon and his entire medical team. I was able to be in the shoes of an actual doctor, learn about new types of tumors, and see how technology and medicine intersected in a beautiful way. 

The next day of shadowing was a clinical day where I actually got to don my white coat and meet Dr. Ramakrishna’s nurses and medical assistants. I got to see him interact with patients that day, see nervous and anxious faces turn into ones of relief and hope because they learned the operation had gone well. But, I also saw these nervous and anxious faces remain that way because they learned that an operation was needed to fix the issue of a tumor. It was humbling to see the entire spectrum of emotions play out in patients’ eyes and how Dr. Ramakrishna was the reason for these changes in emotions. This was why medicine called to me: I craved these patient interactions and having the ability to give someone more life to live. 

At the end of my four weeks of shadowing, there was not a doubt in my mind that I wanted to pursue medicine. These four weeks had really solidified my decision to pursue the field, especially the neurosurgery field. Dr. Ramakrishna became a mentor for me, and he encouraged me to keep contact with him after the four weeks. This shadowing experience showed me the power of one email. I wouldn’t have had this transformative experience had I not had the courage to send that email and reach out. So, if you are struggling to find opportunities or reach out to professionals, I encourage you to take that leap of faith because you never know what will come of it. 

Good luck. 

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