Dani Sova

How Dani balances rabbinic studies, parenthood, and medical school.

Dani Sova
Undergraduate: Lander College
Medical school: Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 2014

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I imagined myself as a physician from the time I was a little boy.

My mother is a doctor and her obvious emotional and intellectual fulfillment in her profession was always apparent to me and clearly factored into my choice of career.

Who or what inspired you?

While I was in high school I worked in a camp devoted to children and teens with cancer. While there, I was assigned to work exclusively with an adolescent who had been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

We became very close and the experience affected me profoundly in recognizing that neither life nor good health could be taken for granted.

The devotion and compassion of the camp's medical staff, the entire experience, reinforced the notion that a career in medicine could uphold my personal standards of being a moral and caring human and financially supporting my future family.

What makes your story unique?

After high school I spent two years in Israel devoted exclusively to Talmudic studies. This period in my life allowed me to explore Judaism’s ethical underpinnings and its many laws and customs.

It also forced me to become more mature since I was living in a different country thousands of miles away from my parents. Certainly, living in Israel meant that the threat of terror attacks was all too real.

The fragility and sanctity of life were continuously reinforced for me both by the proximity of mortality and the respect for life embedded in my religious studies.

When I returned to the United States and started college, I pursued pre-med studies while simultaneously pursing rabbinic studies, two demanding and time-consuming areas. My days started at 7 a.m. with classes ending at 10 p.m.

This dual curriculum became particularly disconcerting when I saw my peers exclusively and very competitively engaged in their pre-med courses. I often felt that I was at a distinct disadvantage in comparison to those students who were "all pre-med all the time."

What detours did you take in your medical school journey?

Following college, I enrolled full-time in a post-graduate rabbinic studies program because I strongly believed that these studies would reinforce an appreciation and understanding of morality and ethically sound behavior.

In short, I viewed this program as an essential part of my preparation for the study of medicine because rabbinic studies are more than the the laws of the Sabbath and keeping kosher.

They involve an intense examination of interpersonal relationships, behavioral integrity, compassion, and honesty. Many, many laws are devoted to illness and the sanctity and primacy of human life.

During this period, I also got married and my wife and I had our first child.

What is it like to go to medical school and be a parent?

I started medical school when my son was two years old, and we had our second child one month after school began! Life continues to be challenging and sometimes stressful.

We now have two very active little boys. My wife teaches full-time while finishing graduate school.

I am intensely focused on my medical school studies—albeit on occasion with one child grabbing my leg while trying to spoonfeed another!

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?

I've come to view these challenges as a reminder of what life is actually all about and the myriad priorities all of us face.

But coming home after a particularly stressful day at school takes me out of the textbooks and into the "real life" of piggyback rides and Dr. Seuss.

Do your religious beliefs ever conflict with your medical studies? What about taking the MCAT exam, your anatomy lab, and treating female patients?

As a Sabbath observer I could not take the MCAT exam on a Saturday, but other test-taking days were readily available.

I did not feel at all conflicted in my anatomy course as an observant Jew because Judaism holds the study of medicine in extraordinarily high regard—note how revered the illustrious physician Maimonides was and still is!

It is viewed as essential that the physician, or medical student, utilize all means available to maximize his knowledge and skill sets to become the best and most informed doctor he can. Dissection of human cadavers is even discussed in the Talmud!

Judaism does not discriminate between genders insofar as treating both male and female patients whether the physician is a man or a woman. Therefore there was no conflict in my actually being obliged to learn how to examine both men and women.

In short, I have not personally encountered any significant religious conflicts.

What advice would you give to medical students interested in pursuing a career track similar to yours?

I would have to say that living life on simultaneous tracks while in medical school is not only possible but, for me, at least, it is optimal!

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