Name: Danish Zaidi
Undergraduate: Georgetown University, 2013
Medical school: Wake Forest School of Medicine, 2020
What led to your interest in medicine?
After graduating from Georgetown, I went to Harvard Divinity School (HDS), expecting to lay the groundwork for a PhD and become a professor of religious studies. In my second year at HDS, I did an internship as a chaplain at Boston Children’s Hospital. It sparked a chain reaction that led all the way to medical school. I saw something deeply moving in people making profound medical decisions, and I was particularly fascinated by how values – both secular and religious – could lead to astonishingly different conclusions. A professor encouraged me to apply for the inaugural Master of Bioethics cohort at Harvard Medical School. There, as I studied theory and landmark cases in clinical and research ethics, I realized then that I had to be “on the field” – and that impacting patient care was most enjoyable for me at the bedside.
Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?
Few discouraged me and many encouraged me – but almost all echoed the same word of caution: “don’t let medical school change you.” Looking back, that was good advice. Sometimes, medical training can lean too much toward standardization. Aspects of people’s identity – intellectual interests, personality traits, hobbies – can sometimes be deprioritized in an effort to check boxes and meet clinical competencies. There is obviously a need for both individuality and standardized practice; and finding the balance between both is understandably hard. I was fortunate to be at a school that supported my interests in bioethics and surrounded me with model faculty, residents, and peers who struck that balance between personality and professionalism.
Please describe your participation in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency
My most significant involvement during medical school was serving on the Board of Directors of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH). It was an experience unique from my work with other organized medical organizations in that ASBH is an incredibly interdisciplinary collective – similar in many ways to hospitals – composed of social workers, lawyers, chaplains, nurses, ethics consultants, and doctors. To have been elected to serve as the youngest member on the ASBH Board was both an incredible honor and an outstanding opportunity. I was able to work with others to promote my interests in bioethics. During my time on the Board, ASBH initiated the nation’s first (and only) certification exam for healthcare ethics consultation; and the network I developed through ASBH helped me contribute to broader policy discussions like DACA and health disparities.
What makes your story unique?
A lot of folks ask me why a person who studied theology and bioethics would want to pursue a career in medicine. Even so, I wouldn’t call my journey to medical school “unique” – a better word is probably “inspired.” Many of the great physicians in history had similar interests in the physical and metaphysical: Maimonides was both rabbi and physician, Osler considered a career in ministry before medicine, and physicians of Greece like Hippocrates and Galen contributed to medicine as well as philosophy. In that sense, I suppose I did follow a cookie-cutter path. But it is one that makes sense: in marveling at the sophistication of the human mind and body, or in making meaning of illness and death, one cannot help but consider questions that have no empirical answers.
What surprised you the most about medical school?
How much time you spend in front of a computer. Jokes aside, EMR is incredibly helpful, but I didn’t quite realize the scope of administrative work that medical providers do day-to-day. In my experience, it makes the time you have with patients even more enjoyable.
Why did you choose your specialty? (Or, what specialties are your current top choices?)
For me, internal medicine strikes an amazing balance between intellectual rigor and emotional fulfillment. As broad of a field as it is, internal medicine is less overwhelming and terrifying than it is humbling and exhilarating. Each day you are guaranteed to learn something new and expand your breadth of medical knowledge. At the same time, the continuity of care – maybe a few days, maybe a month – develops relationships with patients that are a genuine privilege for providers. On a related note, I enjoyed how internal medicine departments are so big. It gives you a chance to meet a whole bunch of amazing and funny people, which makes the hard work of medicine a lot easier to do.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career track similar to yours?
Genuinely get to know the people you work with – from the residents to the patients (and obviously your classmates). It makes the work more fun.