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P & SS T U D E N T S

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

By Kristen Watson

DetourWish you could have taken a break from medical school and studied business at Harvard or Columbia, or high finance at a midtown Manhattan investment firm, or perhaps even taken time to do that research you always dreamed about? Well, today several P&S students are doing just that.

In what seems to be an emerging trend, students take leaves of absence to have a breather from medicine, expand the scope of their careers, and come back to their studies with a new perspective. According to the P&S registrar’s office, 23 students are on leaves this academic year to pursue research or other interests.

Dr. Linda Lewis, associate dean of student affairs and clinical professor of neurology, says a leave is a personal decision to enhance personal growth. Her office’s purpose is not simply to approve leaves, but also to support the decisions students make.

Dr. Lewis also explains that the huge financial burden that medical students face usually keeps them enrolled in some sort of academic program while on leave, so they don’t have to start paying back student loans.

After two years at P&S, Nikhilesh Korgaonkar realized the important part that business will play in the future of medicine. Currently attending Harvard School of Business in pursuit of an M.B.A., Mr. Korgaonkar feels this degree will position him well to practice medicine and give him a solid background to affect the direction of health policy. When he returns to P&S in the fall of 2000, he will be a member of the Class of 2002.

Other students choose to satisfy dual business and medicine interests closer to home through Columbia’s joint M.D./M.B.A. program offered by P&S and the Columbia Graduate School of Business.

William P. Harris is on a leave of absence to participate in a fellowship in pathology at the University of Minnesota. The fellowship will teach him skills he feels he would not be exposed to in the traditional medical program. It also gives him the opportunity to spend time with his girlfriend, a medical student at Minnesota. Doing two-month rotations in a series of fields, including transfusion medicine, molecular diagnostics, special hematology, and anatomical pathology, he is getting exposure to both the clinical and research aspects of each field, as well as enjoying his year off.

On their leaves, Rachael Frandina’00 and Richard Rhiew’00 started conducting neuro-oncology research in the Bartoli Brain Tumor Research Laboratory at P&S last July. Ms. Frandina and Mr. Rhiew surgically inserted a brain tumor into a rat and are now testing techniques to treat it, including immunology, gene therapy, and chemotherapy. But the rat experiment is only one portion of the study. Ms. Frandina and Mr. Rhiew also will have the chance to examine human tumor specimens for DNA mutations. The experience Ms. Frandina and Mr. Rhiew are gaining on their one-year leaves is intended to give them background research experience before applying for neurosurgery residencies.

Been There, Done That

Aarif Khakoo’99 took two years off between his second and third year at P&S to participate in a Howard Hughes fellowship in basic immunology research.

Mr. Khakoo feels the fellowship enhanced his work in a number of ways: He learned what it’s like to work at the bench full time, he learned to approach projects in a more logical fashion, and he acquired various skills, all of which he believes will make him stand out above the competition when applying for residencies.

When Mr. Khakoo returned to P&S to pick up where he left off, he quickly realized he didn’t want to be a career researcher because he likes working with patients too much. However, he soon became frustrated with changes brought about by managed care. This prompted him to pursue an M.B.A. through the joint M.D./M.B.A. at Columbia. Despite his goal to be a clinician, not a health care administrator, Mr. Khakoo believes “everybody should know a little business.”

Mr. Khakoo will receive both M.D. and M.B.A. degrees in May 1999 and start a residency in internal medicine. Ultimately he would like to work with cardiac transplant patients, where he feels his skills in immunology would be best applied.

Gaurav Aggarwal’00 is participating in an analyst program at Wasserstein & Perella Co., an investment bank in midtown Manhattan. Mr. Aggarwal studied management and finance as an undergrad and wanted to make sure business was out of his system before he continued his medical studies. “I came to P&S straight out of college and didn’t have the perspective from the working world that other students might have had,” says Mr. Aggarwal.

Although he enjoys analyzing new investment opportunities for his company, Mr. Aggarwal is certain that he will continue his studies at P&S next year and may eventually pursue a career in the financial and management end of health care.

Other P&S students are studying art in Italy, creative writing in Arizona, and law at Stanford; participating in research programs across the country; and enjoying new additions to their families while on maternity leave. Those are just a few of the options P&S students pursue on leaves.

As glamorous as the leaves sound, most students agree on the one down side of taking a leave of absence: knowing they will not graduate with the class they started medical school with.


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