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Interview with Bijan Teja
Co-author of The Medical School Application Guides (MSAG)
Why did you choose to study medicine?
Great question. Ever since I was young I wanted to be a doctor. At the age of six when my mother told me my friend’s aunt had a neurological condition requiring the care of a doctor, I quickly changed my career of choice from bus driver to brain surgeon. I thought about other careers along the way, but a lot of things brought me back to medicine, most of all the way medicine brings together hard science and the art of working with people, in a way that makes every day a challenge in which the harder you work and the more you care, the better you perform. For example, on the hard science side, the physicians I think are most effective are the ones who know the details, cold. They know what 12 things can be causing someone’s heart rhythm to falter, what medications the person is taking that could be causing their upset stomach, and what the latest studies show on a new medication. Their patients get significantly better care as a result.
At the same time, I have seen the way that doctors who have mastered the art of relating to people and motivating them can make an enormous difference in people’s lives. For example, we once had a patient who was so afraid of having a nasogastric tube placed that he was willing to undergo surgery as an alternative. The rapport that one member of the team had with the patient, as well as his medical training in negotiation/conflict resolution led the patient to accept the tube, when no one else could give them that bravery. Every day is a new challenge for us on the wards, and I love the idea of going to work knowing the harder I work and the better my rapport with patients, the more impact I can have.
Have you found your career path?
Yes, I have. It is the one career path I was convinced I would not go along - surgery. When I started my clinical year in medical school I was so convinced I did not want to do surgery that I even tried to push the rotation back until after my MBA and year in Tajikistan. But my rotation on the cancer surgery service completely changed this perception. I learned that surgeon’s are much more than technicians who work with their hands after other physicians have made the diagnoses - surgeons need to have just as much medical knowledge as anyone else in the hospital, and apply it everyday in the complex decision process of whether or not to do surgery, along what timeline, through which route, and with what pre and post-surgical treatments.
In addition, when I started watching surgeries I actually found them quite long. It was only when I started to learn the complexities of a good surgery that I began to appreciate it as an art. It reminds me a little of baseball, in the sense that watching baseball with no knowledge about the strategy and intricacies of the game can be very uninteresting, but when you begin to understand how much thought goes into every pitch, every hit, the choice of team members, etc. it gets very fascinating - enough so that thousands of people blog and talk about it every day! So I found what I think is a very interesting career.
Why did you choose to do an MD/MBA?
When I started medical school, I had absolutely no interest in business. I thought to myself, “I will practice medicine, and let the business people deal with the business side of health care.” But this changed very quickly. During my first term a friend recommended a joint elective between the medical and business schools called “Medical Care and the Corporation.” I joke around now with our MD/MBA program Chairman that I listed this course as my second choice elective that term, and only ended up taking it because of my late signup! The course ended up being among my favorite courses that year, and played a big role in convincing me to apply for the MD/MBA.
I quickly realized how much opportunity there is for improvement in medicine through business principles. For example, one can be a very good doctor and test for HIV every time a patient comes to the clinic with a history of high risk behavior - or, if one is running the hospital, they can implement a change in the computer system whereby the HIV test automatically gets checked each time another relevant test is done. The latter could catch 20 or 30 cases a year that would have otherwise gone undiagnosed, Furthermore, some of the hospitals who have built a culture and systems around limiting errors have achieved very great benefits in terms of patient outcomes, including our own Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. I am excited about what the MBA background can help me do in terms of healthcare management in my career.
How did the MSAGs come about?
Another great question. This idea came about five years ago when I was applying to medical school, and felt frustrated that a lot of the information I was looking for took hours to dig up - I started with an initial 15 page booklet I hoped to distribute to friends and members of my community for free. Dibah is the reason this initiative grew to a series of books with over 500 pages of content today.
I met Dibah on a ski trip, and after getting to know her a little, I ended up telling her about the guide I was working on bringing together useful information and the advice of friends and admissions advisors who themselves got into top schools in the US and Canada like Harvard and the University of Toronto.
Dibah and I began working on it closely together, and we must have put in at least 500 hours between the two of us during the first year when we wrote the first 100 pages of content. After realizing that we would not be able to finance it and distribute it widely with the current model of giving it away for free, Dibah developed a business plan to get the book to as many students as possible. Over the next two years we put in at least another 1000 hours each year together, bringing the books and the company to this stage.
The guidebooks continue to evolve with the feedback we receive and the new policies that are out, as well as some of the new programs that are created.
Why are you in Tajikistan now?
My family and friends have been working in Afghanistan and Tajikistan for many years through organizations like the Aga Khan Development Network. My long term goal is to work in a developing country, and I think the MD/MBA, as well as the background in cancer surgery will help me. The year I am spending working with the Aga Khan Development Network is giving me a good start so that when I am ready to come back, I can hit the ground running.
What one most important piece of advice would you give to a medical school applicant?
My advice is to take the preparation for medical school interviews seriously, because I have met applicants who did not prepare the first time they received interview invitations, were rejected, prepared well the next year and gained admission. In fact, re-applicants are 7% more likely in Canada to gain admission than first time applicants, and I believe this is in large part because of how much better students prepare the second time for their interviews if they were rejected the first time.
Some students believe you can be more “yourself” by not preparing, but I disagree with this. It is very hard to discuss things about yourself like your three greatest weaknesses, an example of when you failed and what you learned from it, etc., if you have not thought about these beforehand. I strongly encourage applicants to take the soul searching preparation part of the interview seriously, spend good time on it, and practice with friends, medical students or admissions advisors to make sure they are clearly conveying who they are, what experiences they have had, and how they have prepared them for a career in medicine. There is no need to memorize your exact answers, of course, but if you sound natural and your interviewers realize you have prepared, they can know that they can expect this level of preparation from you as a medical student.
I would give similar advice for the personal statement. Write, rewrite and rewrite. This is your best chance to show the admissions committee early in the application who you are, and that you have worked hard to learn about what a career in medicine entails and are ready for the next steps.
Find out what unique content seperates the MSAG UK Graduate Entry Medicine 2012-2013 from other medical school admissions guidebooks: Advantages of the MSAG Graduate Entry Medicine.
Find out what unique content seperates the MSAG UK for Undergraduate Applicants 2012-2013 from other medical school admissions guidebooks:: Advantages of the MSAG for Undergraduate applicants.
Find out why the MSAG Worldwide 2012-2013 is the most complete medical school application guidebook on the marlet: Advantages of the MSAG Worldwide Edition.
Find out about the philosophy and principles behind the creation of the guidebooks at about the MSAGs
You can view and download the full tables of contents of the guidebooks at :