Dr. Mohit Mahalan started a Family Medicine residency at Summa Barberton Hospital in Barberton, Ohio this summer. Dr. Mahalan graduated in December 2020 but did not Match on his first try. He persisted and eventually matched, and his story of persistence and perseverance is an inspiration.
The UMHS Endeavour spoke to Dr. Mahalan about why he chose UMHS over other Caribbean medical schools, his experience with UMHS professors, clinical rotations, how he eventually obtained a Family Medicine residency, his thoughts on being a doctor today, building trust with patients, and more.
Learned about UMHS from a friend
Dr. Mahalan grew up in Yardley, PA, was raised in the Bucks County area and studied psychology at Temple University.
“I made a friend there who was the ultimate reason as to how I ended up at UMHS. When I started at UMHS, I went through the motions, did basic sciences, did the rotations, and I graduated in December of 2020. Then I matched in this year's cycle, so 2022.”
Dr. Mahalan’s friend helped convince him to attend UMHS while working on his psychology degree.
“She and I both had been doing our pre-med track at Temple University and at the end of undergrad, I wasn't 100% sure where I was headed in terms of my career. I knew that I wanted it to be in healthcare, I knew that it was going to be either a PA [Physician Assistant] school or med school. At the time, I had applied to PA school and I had one interview, but I ended up not getting accepted, and I was kind of following that route a bit more because I thought the shorter training time would be beneficial.”
His college friend was at UMHS during this time and he casually reached out to her to see what the med school was like.
“She told me about UMHS being run by the Ross family—the same one who owned Ross University—and she spoke very highly of them, the school, and her experience there. I think at the time she was doing her first semester, so I had kept in contact with her when she was doing her first semester. She sent me a lot of pictures and videos, and answered any of my questions that I had. This wasn't done through the school; this was something that she was just doing. She had no reason to really market the school, so to speak”
Dr. Mahalan applied to other Caribbean medical school but decided on UMHS for many reasons.
“I decided on UMHS because of the track record of the Ross family and also the smaller class sizes and the individual attention that the students would receive. I stayed away from the other schools because of the enormous class sizes because you would be just a number. The administration at some of these other schools, the faculty weren't always looking out for the best interests of some of the students. At least that's what I found in my research online through different blog posts and things. So really, that was how I made my decision to go to UMHS. I'm pretty sure that had I gone to any school, maybe my end result might have been a little different. I think the faculty and administration at UMHS really does care about the students that they have.”
UMHS faculty members made a difference
Several UMHS faculty members were especially helpful during his journey through med school.
“I had Dr. Abayomi Afolabi. He was one of the first professors I came in contact with when we first started. If I remember correctly, he was the one that actually put my white coat on during the white coat ceremony. He and I just got along. He was one of the anatomy professors in the first semester and he was a very motivating force. I think that first semester was probably the most difficult terms of my time just because it's a big change; you're leaving your family and friends behind, entering a new country, essentially, and learning a new culture and customs so it can be overwhelming. In that regard, he was a mentor in helping me stay on track. If I had some trouble during my studies, he would give some motivation for things, and so that was helpful.
“Dr. Jagadeesh Nagappa and Dr. Alfred Roy. Dr. Nagappa was the physiology professor and Dr. Roy was a pathology professor—both of them, extremely intelligent, that goes without saying for all of them, but the way that they broke topics down into its conceptual elements made learning those subjects very helpful, and also that's what made medicine really interesting for me, those things coming together. Dr. Roy is a very kind person and was also very helpful in making sure that I was motivated properly and really believed in me and I do owe my success to him."
Not Matching on the first attempt
Dr. Mahalan did not Match the first time he applied for a residency, but did not let that discourage him.
“I applied the first time for the 2021 cycle, and actually, I had tried to couples Match with my wife. It's hard to say exactly why I didn't Match, but I do have some ideas. She had more interviews than I did. I believe she had eight and I had three. I think part of the reason why that difference was there was because of the pandemic occurring. I ended up taking my Step 2 CK I think a week after applications had gone out. I had a date earlier and what ended up happening was because of pandemic, the Prometric center that I had originally chosen canceled my test because they weren't open. So, the dates that were left, they were after when the application had already sent out. This, I think on paper, when I sent my applications out, looked like I had an incomplete application. Being IMGs, I had heard from Patrick McCormick in UMHS Academic Affairs that having a complete application really did make a difference. My wife had a complete application. Having that I think filtered me out with a lot of programs.”
Fortunately, Dr. Mahalan obtained a residency this year. How did he do it?
“One of the things I think that was really crucial in matching in Family Medicine was networking and doing activities that were relevant to my specialty that I wanted. I think that played a big part. After I didn't Match, I took some time to process the emotions that were involved. It obviously is a difficult thing to go through. There are a lot of paths that you can follow, at least laid-out paths that you can follow if you happen to go unmatched, so I came up with a plan.”
He decided to find some relevant healthcare experience in the area in which his wife was working.
“I knew where my wife had matched. We were moving to Ohio and I decided, ‘Okay, well, if I'm going to be here, I want to stay with her if I can,’ so I decided to find an observership experience that I did at an FQHC. FQHCs are Federal Qualified Health Centers, which is where most residents will be involved in some way in their training during residency. I also did a volunteer experience at a migrant clinic in Hartville, Ohio. It's a free clinic that's run by one of the family medicine residencies near the area.”
The experience was invaluable.
“It was an interesting experience because I got to see how a free clinic can operate. They were able to send out medications to patients that were migrant workers—so farmworkers that migrate here, give them medications for months on end. Oftentimes, these patients would not have a doctor for months, sometimes longer, depending on where they were coming from, and how available doctors were in their homeland. I got to see a lot of interesting cases through both the FQHC and the migrant clinic experience. Then I think what was really interesting for some interviewers for me during the cycle was my job as a physician consultant. This is kind of where the networking part comes into play, big time.”
Networking paid off.
“I actually found this network of medical students and physicians who aren't necessarily interested in clinical medicine. Some of them are, but a lot of them aren't, and so they created this network called MD+ (formerly known as MD++), which aims to see what other paths are there for MDs that don't want to follow the clinical route.”
Family Medicine residency in Ohio
Dr. Mahalan is looking forward to his residency.
“It's a community hospital in a small town in Barberton, Ohio. It is an unopposed residency. In Family Medicine, what that means is that Family Medicine residents are the only residents at the hospital. You are not competing with any other residency in terms of learning experiences, or procedures. Every service is run by Family Medicine residents.”
His residency has a heavy inpatient portion, with seven months of inpatient work.
“That was interesting to me because one of the things that I think is important in taking care of your patients as a primary care physician is that transition that happens oftentimes in your patient's care. A lot of times you'll have a patient who had some sort of hospital stay or inpatient stay and most things that are then taken care of afterwards are done by you, the PCP, ‘See your primary care physician.’ So, to understand the things that your patient has been dealing with and the system that they've been put through, I think the inpatient experience and having enough of that is important.”
Dr. Mahalan is enthusiastic about new technology being used in his upcoming residency.
“The other thing that I really like about the program is that they have started a point-of-care ultrasound curriculum, or POCUS. And that's a new up-and-coming curriculum that a lot of Family Medicine residency are starting to incorporate because it is assumed that this tool is going to be the future stethoscope, so to speak.”
One of the ultrasounds devices is called the Butterfly.
“They have a probe that you can buy for about $2,000. I think any healthcare professional can buy it. It's a handheld ultrasound probe that plugs into your phone and you can just do it right from the bedside. The image will be on your phone and you can save it and send it out to different hospital systems or yourself or other preceptors and things like that. So, it's a really powerful tool to just have on you at all times. I was really excited to see that as part of the residency.”
He said he was impressed with the hospital when he applied for residency.
“With my program, one of the things that really stuck out to me during the interview process was how friendly and caring the program was. There were two residents in their intern year, one of which had a hospital stay, the other caught COVID during the pandemic. Both of them had to be out for an extended period of time and the program had no problem making sure it didn't affect their time in residency or their curriculum. They weren't held back any extra months or anything like that; they were still on track for everything, and the residents there just couldn't speak highly enough of how the faculty took care of them and how they really cared about them. That was really important to me.”
Family Medicine vs. Internal Medicine
Dr. Mahalan spoke about what a Family Medicine physician does on a daily basis.
“Family medicine is taking care of your entire family, of all ages. You have your neonates, kids, to pregnancy, all throughout pregnancy, any gynecological or female health conditions that may pop up, and then obviously adolescents, adulthood, and all the way up to the senior citizen age. We can take care of everyone and in every setting. The way that it primarily differs with Internal Medicine is that internists generally focus on the inpatient stay of the medical care; not to say that there aren't internists doing outpatient care. However, their training really focuses on hospital medicine, and they do not see children or pregnant women. That is probably the biggest difference between the two.”
Goals for residency
Dr. Mahalan wants to accomplish many things in residency.
“When I originally entered medical school, I was interested in Psychiatry and Emergency Medicine before Family Medicine. As I went through school, I realized that I didn't want to lose all the knowledge that I was learning. I wanted a specialty that allowed me to explore all of my interests. I still have an interest in mental health that comes from my undergrad degree in psychology. Family Medicine offers, I think, the widest scope of practice that you can have in medicine. Because of that, you can incorporate all interests that you have. I'm interested in Sports Medicine, Lifestyle Medicine, and there's something that's up and coming that I’ll call Longevity Medicine. It's not official, but it is something that I'm starting to see some primary care doctors focus their practice on.
“Essentially, Family Medicine opens a lot of doors for you. These doors can help you effectively try to fix the medical system in a way because any primary care specialist or Family Medicine doctor will be the coordinating person in the patient's medical care, coordinating care with different parts of the health system with different specialists. It is really your primary care physician's job to advocate for you within the health system and make sure that you're getting your healthcare needs met the way that you want them to be met.”
Dr. Mahalan said building trust with patients is essential for any doctor, no matter what specialty they choose.
“The patient/doctor relationship to me is really important. When you have a patient's trust, that's when I think you're able to make the biggest impact in their life. I think that’s important now more than ever given the mental health issues that a lot of people seem to be suffering through because of the pandemic. Oftentimes, mental health gets overlooked, and it's not always taken into account how that might be relating to the conditions that the patient's presenting with right now and how a lifestyle might have an impact on that; so, for me, that's something that is really important for me to address.
Thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the public more aware of doctors and what they do.
“I do believe it is a crucial time to be a physician because doctors are supposed to be the leaders of our health and healthcare. In some ways, this has started to change a bit. I think the pandemic has highlighted why we need physicians to once again take charge and be leading in these kinds of tough times.”
However, the pandemic has created a lot of confusion about medicine, especially information available online.
“The clarity in health roles has been a challenge. Go to social media now, you will see all kinds of people giving medical advice where they're not necessarily trained enough to be giving those kinds of opinions on such a wide platform that has such a wide reach. I think some people have started to pick this up in public. They've noticed that, ‘Oh, the person that I've been getting this information from may not actually be a medical doctor, or a physician.’”
What can be done about this?
“I think it's important for physicians to take back the narrative because as it stands, there's been a loss of trust within the public, which I think needs to be rebuilt. And I think one of the ways you do that is you teach people what is occurring with them, give people the opportunity to really learn about their conditions because I think the more informed somebody is the more aware they are of what's going on, not only with their health, but also the system.”
The public often is not aware of what doctors face in a crisis such as COVID-19.
“I think sometimes we as physicians could do a better job explaining how the system works. I think oftentimes the layperson has their own idea of how things work: they just go to a doctor; the doctor is the leader and does everything and takes care of everything. They don't actually realize how much our hands are tied behind our back and how much control we don't actually have. So, I think lifting the veil and talking about that and advocating for our patients is really how we build back that trust. Especially in this time of misinformation, I think empowering the regular person is the way to go forward.”
What have med students in particular learned?
“I think like everyone else, they've seen the public's reaction to how everything's been handled, for better or worse. What I would hope is that med students today understand the world in which they're inheriting in terms of patient care and how our roles as physicians needs to be elevated to teach, to build trust, and rebuild that good faith that's needed to better the healthcare system. Because there's a lot of issues in the system that I don't think can be fixed until a lot of regular folks start understanding what's occurring and making some noise about it.”
Advice for current & prospective students
Regardless of what specialty you choose, med students should always have an open mind.
“Like I said, I thought I was going to either go into Psychiatry or Emergency Medicine and I ended up going to Family Medicine and I'm really happy about that. I think that for me, personally, primary care, if it's strong in this country, a lot of healthcare conditions can just be nipped in the bud—before they spiral out of control and you need to involve specialists. So, keeping an open mind I think is really important.”
Networking is essential for IMGs.
“Most of all the doors that I know that opened for me and even my friends were because we took that extra step and went to conferences and tried to meet as many people as we could and talk to people. I think that is the way that we as IMGs level the playing field, or maybe give us a slight edge over other applicants out there, and so I would say network really hard.”
“The last thing important piece of advice I have would be to take your Step 1 prep seriously. With it being pass/fail now, though it might be enough to just pass the exam—that will put you at a serious disadvantage when it comes time for clinicals and the rest of the board exams. Everything builds on everything else; the better foundation you have, the easier everything else moving forward is.”
Dr. Mohit Mahalan is open to speaking to current and prospective students. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott is Director of Digital Content & Alumni Communications Liaison at UMHS and editor of the UMHS Endeavour blog. When he's not writing about UMHS students, faculty, events, public health, alumni and UMHS research, he writes and edits Broadway theater reviews for a website he publishes in New York City, StageZine.com.