Name: Bharath Raju, MBBS, MCh
Specialty/Interests: Epilepsy and functional neurosurgery; Neuroanatomical research
Education: MBBS, MCh Neurosurgery
Current Position: Clinical Research Fellow, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
1 | Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town in India known as Mandya. It’s close to Bangalore and resembles a village. There, I could hardly imagine how my life was going to unfold and it’s always nice to reflect on those roots.
Mandya was primarily a farming area and given that our community was very small, we had little exposure to the outside world – we weren’t familiar with the other places, the bigger cities, or the schools and universities that these places contained. Even today, you won’t find an MRI or CT in Mandya, and specialized clinicians – neurosurgeons, cardiologists, etc – will only visit once every 15 days or so.
2 | What was your early life like as a student in India?
I’d like to preface my story by shedding some light on India, where students are thrown into a hypercompetitive academic environment to battle their way out of. Navigating the systems in place, which I’ll get more into, are some of the richest parts of my story.
From an early age, I was doing okay and leading a pleasant life, but I didn’t find myself very motivated – not like the others around me. I didn’t understand all that life could have in store, and by 7th grade, I had accepted this notion that I wasn’t bound to be a great student – an impression that others had cast on me. I was different from the others. I didn’t have much guidance, my town wasn’t a great place for education, and I didn’t have confidence in myself. It was towards the end of 7th grade that it dawned upon me that there is potential that I was yet to unlock.
When I entered 8th grade, I transferred to a different school and came face to face with an early life lesson that has been recurrent at different stages of my career. In the process of changing schools, in changing my surrounding circumstances, I had an opportunity to change myself. I felt that I had this potential inside of me that had gone untapped, and with my new environment – new students who didn’t know me, new teachers, new opportunities – there was nobody to discourage me from pursuing excellence.
I pushed myself and studied harder than I ever had, and I got involved in various activities like debates, quiz competitions. I started accruing rewards and accolades and built this self-driving momentum that left me working hard while giving me a sense of belief in myself for the first time in my life. I started to realize in these years that if there is a goal before your eyes – if there is something you want to accomplish – you can bring that wish to fruition by putting in a concerted effort and approaching that challenge strategically. My teachers used to divide the student body up into four sections, stratifying students based on their academic performance. I had been in the section of students that were performing poorly, and one of my teachers came up to me and said that our section – in fact, no student in her eyes – was capable of joining the most prestigious section. I decided that I wanted to beat that concept and outperform even the highest expectations that teachers held for their best students. That year, I beat everyone in the competition, and for the first time, I was left thinking that I didn’t have to spend my life in Mandya. The community and the influence around me weren’t great. I laid my eyes on a city called Mysore, where there used to be a famous college that accepted only the best students. Though I emerged as a top student at my school, I knew that it would be a challenge to be admitted.
3 | When did you realize you wanted to go to medical school?
Though my parents had a formal education, my town, collectively, wasn’t well educated and I didn’t know any doctors. When I was 10 years old, my mother was diagnosed with Rheumatic Heart Disease. She was facing cardiac failure and went into pulmonary distress – she wasn’t properly breathing and was struggling to lie down. In Mandya, there aren’t many cars, public transport wasn’t available, and we needed a specialized clinician that we couldn’t find in our region. The nature of this situation – the uncertainty, the critical need, and the permeating fear – opened my eyes because I realized that if I could become a doctor, I could alleviate this very stress both for my family members and for the others in my community. I knew that there must have been so many others like my mother who needed surgical and specialist support, but not everyone is able to access such areas and attend such facilities. This realization resonated and I decided at that moment that I wanted to pursue medicine.
4 | What was your early college life like?
Reflecting on the fact that my first life transition in 8th grade had been so empowering, I decided that I wanted to go elsewhere. I wanted to force a second life transition through which I could come out stronger academically and personally. Even while placing amongst the top 10 students of my district, I didn’t get a seat in Mysore. My dad and I had to do a lot, but eventually, we were able to pay to get a seat and I finally entered that school.
However, my first year of college did not go well. I was facing an enormous cultural shock – not only were the people and the teaching methods different, but everyone except me spoke English. The teachers taught in English, the students did their work in English, and don’t get me wrong – I knew that there was no point comparing myself to others – but there was a sense of discomfort that I faced in being the only one who didn’t understand the language. From an academic standpoint, I couldn’t make sense of the information that was put before me! I didn’t perform well during this first year, but I recognized that to be admitted into medical school, I needed to turn things around during my second year, which was analogous to being a premed student. That year, when I sat down to study information, I’d keep a dictionary side by side and reference it each time I couldn’t understand what was being said. This process was rigorous, and I worked relentlessly not just to make sense of the material but to take it in through this new medium – the English language – that I was still familiarizing myself with. To my own surprise, I placed within the top 10 ranking students and outshined even my own expectations.
5 | How is premed life different in India vs in the United States?
To get into medical school, I needed a top score in the PCMB Boards Exam – Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology. These exams are extraordinarily competitive and you’re ranked statewide against all the other students taking the exam. Fortunately, I placed 271 across the entire state and landed a seat in Bangalore Medical College, the state’s most highly ranked college of medicine.
To provide some insight on the systems in place for medical education in India, there are three types of seats reserved for students in Indian medical schools. The first seat is a government seat – to earn this seat, you must score very highly and you won’t have to pay much for the seat. Then, there is semi-government/private seating in which you need to earn admission on merit, but you’ll be charged more for the seat. The third category – management seats – still exist today and have been a major source of trouble for Indian medical education. Management seats are put up for bidding and reserved for those with enough wealth and influence to purchase their way into medicine, regardless of their academic merit. Now let’s say there are two students – one with strong academic performance but scores that aren’t high enough to earn guaranteed admission into the government/semi-government seating options, and another student with absolutely poor grades but a very wealthy background – guess who this seat is going towards? Yup, it will be given to the family that can pay more. Some families will pay millions to purchase their child’s seat in an Indian medical school. That seat remains theirs, whether or not the student has demonstrated the capacity to become a good physician.
In the US, from what I see, there are so many things that matter alongside your academic performance – your extracurriculars, your involvement in your community, the feedback that your teachers have to say about you – but in India, if you are in a particular caste, you have certain reserved seats that just won’t be available to others. This system is rooted in Indian politics, and though it was previously started with good intentions, it has been corrupted. It’s unfair given that with India’s population and the immense competition, students can work fiercely for years on end, perform great, and still not earn a seat. I’m grateful that I was in a position where I was able to get what I wanted, and I found myself safe from this system.
6 | What drew you to neurosurgery?
To be honest, I had a lot of difficulties studying the brain during my first year of medical school. My English was still not strong – I was using the dictionary every day – and the newfound volume of information that I needed to absorb, side by side with a dictionary, was tremendously overwhelming. There was no organized curriculum. I had to read everything that I could – and the books were ginormous. Alongside this, that same year my mother needed major open-heart surgery. This was a huge trouble for us because nobody in my family had ever been in such a position.
When my mother went into surgery, I saw this bold cardiothoracic surgeon walk up to her. He had an excellent surgical success rate and a great reputation, and after my mother underwent the surgery, she had no problems and is even well today. I was incredibly impressed by the surgeon’s level of skill and found myself interested in the idea of wielding a scalpel and getting involved in surgical work. In becoming a surgeon, I could make a tangible difference in someone’s life, especially in such critical circumstances. That said, at this point in time, I found myself interested in becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon. Complementing my appreciation for this surgeon, I knew that if I was to pursue surgery, I wanted to be better. When my mother needed treatment, I felt that I had an endless stream of questions and concerns, and I wanted to be the surgeon who could intervene, take one’s hand, and alleviate all concerns, dedicating as much time necessary to patients and their families to ensure that they have a thorough understanding of their loved one’s condition, the course of treatment, the expectations, etc. When I got into practice, I lived by this and dedicated myself to each of my patient’s families, often spending so much time that I would find myself in trouble!
During that first year, I failed my first anatomy test. This was particularly hard on me because I hadn’t faced failure in a long time. It was a serious wake-up call and I realized that I needed to do something different. After my first year, while everyone else went on vacation, I spent two months studying from dusk to dawn. I didn’t go home, and I started with neuro because I realized that the nervous system was going to be an extremely difficult topic.
In quiet contemplation during the quiet summer months, I felt inspired by the things I was reading. I came to realize how fundamentally important the health of our brain is to everything – from our physical sensations to our metaphysical existence. I remember thinking around this time that I knew that I wanted to be a surgeon – I heard my calling to neurosurgery. However, there was not much encouragement at all. In the school’s curriculum – and I believe this was the case with many other medical schools at the time – the brain was the most neglected organ. Everybody failed at properly learning what there is to know about the central nervous system. They don’t spend much time teaching this topic, there is a lot to dissect in the context of the brain, but as I devoured more and more material about it, I found myself so inspired to learn more.
There were no neurosurgeons around my medical college, and with no external motivation and absolutely no guidance, the only thing I faced from others was disapproval. There was this common impression that pursuing neurosurgery was equivalent to wasting your life and putting yourself in a position to only face vegetative patients. It was very discouraging but I trusted my blind intuition and this interest and didn’t let myself consider any other options. After four years of medical school, we have a 1-year compulsory internship, and I was in general surgery for two months. Still, there were no neurosurgeons around, but by the grace of good fortune, there was a guest neurosurgical resident visiting. I voiced my interest in the field to him, informed him that I heard so many negative things, and asked him what he had heard. What were the patients like? What is the general patient’s prognosis? Is one’s energy and talent put to good use in neurosurgery?
That day, what he told me gave me the exact opposite impression from what I had heard. He prefaced his insights by reminding me that those who were discouraging me lacked exposure to this profession and thus, weren’t fit to give advice. After clearing all my doubts, he took me with him to see a neurosurgical case. I witnessed a meningioma patient undergo brain surgery, and within moments afterward, she woke up, spoke unharmed, and I left thinking that this was what I wanted to do. I knew the field required hard work, but it would also be more satisfying.
Driven by these new insights, I committed myself to pursue neurosurgery and cleared all my neurosurgical exams. Amongst tens to hundreds of thousands of applicants, I placed 6th in NIMHANS and 14th in AIIMS. This is why I believe that if you want something badly enough, the world conspires to help you achieve whatever you want.
7 | What is the medical field like in India? How is it different from the United States?
In the context of medical education, there is this trailing sense of urgency and no clear direction for students. Parents put pressure on their children, and the students don’t take any break or work in a certain field to fully decide what they really want. In India, the concept of specializing is still evolving. Most neurosurgeons will end up practicing general neurosurgery, taking on any case that comes their way. There are multiple neurosurgeons, and some will have interests in specific areas, but I’ve worked in places where I was the only neurosurgeon. These were very small places – some were rural, some were urban – I worked in such places where you need to be everything. You need to be a spine surgeon, you need to be a neurosurgeon, you need to be able to take on any case that comes your way.
Moreover, in India, if you are in a field of medicine where the complication rates are high – like Neurosurgery – and where the results aren’t always great, your career may be at risk. In India, people want clean results. But this isn’t possible in neurosurgery. Complications occur, and they’re usually because of the disease – not the shortcomings of the surgeon. If someone comes in with a severe injury, you can’t assure the patient that everything will be completely fine. But society functions in such a manner that they want the best of everything – especially if they are paying. Given the nature of neurosurgery, there are a lot of difficulties with its practice in India, and many people prefer specialties without much risk. Radiology is the most sought after field in India – it doesn’t require interaction and is therefore safer (not interventional radiology). Here in the United States, if the patient starts to develop a complication – an embolism, a myocardial infarction, etc – everyone understands that the patient may not be able to survive. In India, surgeons are blamed, and there are many incidents and videos where patients and families are beating doctors because they don’t trust them. Interestingly, when a patient is in need of help, oftentimes nobody will come. But when a patient dies, upwards of 100 people will come – some barely related to the patient – and I have heard of several doctors beaten to death. That said, there is a growing distrust between patients and doctors. Here, the physician-patient relationship is founded on trust – and this trust is a foundational requirement for medicine – but Doctors in India are forced to navigate their way through this missing piece.
On a different note, physicians in India have to practice while keeping account of their patient’s finances. Given that my patients were usually poor, I would use 1 suture in situations where in the US you can use upwards of 10. These patients didn’t have insurance or financial support and I had to remain conscious of their financial standing – if a farmer comes to you for treatment, you can’t just forget everything and make them pay. It’s a constant struggle to meet your own needs while serving the poor, but while it might require sacrifices on your personal end, the work is incredibly fulfilling. That’s the difficulty in developing nations – you serve in a fashion where you need to save money for patients and not place any unexpected burden that they can’t resolve.
8 | What has been your most fulfilling professional experience?
From my observations, there is a problem of miscommunication between doctors in India and their patients. Many doctors often don’t communicate properly with patients. This lack of communication and the image that the media and movies have portrayed over the last few decades have eroded the medical profession in India. Back when I was a kid, I used to see doctors as heroic. Today, doctors in India are often seen as villains.
I understood early on how critical it is to devote your attention to patients and to truly care for them – most of the time, they will accept that you tried your best, but many times, especially if you have not fully communicated with them, you can land yourself in big trouble. I make a deliberate effort to demonstrate that I am trustworthy to my patients, and if I realize that this patient is not trusting, I tell them they should consider going to a different place. These individuals are in a fragile state of mind and they need to hear everything. I always remember what was going on in my mind when my mother needed surgery – I had all these questions and nobody was giving me answers. When I serve patients, I always remind myself of what I wanted from my doctor. This isn’t the case with many doctors in India – the caseload there is overwhelming and there is a constant burden, bringing clinicians to devote only limited time to each patient. I ended up putting myself in trouble many times because I would devote too much time, but this was necessary. Today, I have pictures of all my patients’ images and a great surgical record, and I’m grateful that I kept adding to this collection – I look at it, I feel fulfilled with my work in India, and I’m excited to see all there is ahead.
9 | What did your neurosurgical practice look like?
After scoring 6th in the national exam for neurology/neurosurgery, I landed a spot in the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS), the most prestigious place for a neuroscience education in India. I was also admitted into AIIMS in New Delhi, which was the best for Neuro, after ranking #14 in the All India Exam, but I chose NIMHANS to stay close to my family. After finishing my training in 2012, I had a few different routes that I could pursue.
I had completed 1200 neurosurgeries while in residency, my instructors and teachers had given me many great learning opportunities, and I felt ready to take on whatever cases came my way. I spent those subsequent years at a medical college, a bit of private practice, and eventually, a corporate hospital, where I worked under great senior spinal surgeons who gave me a lot of exposure to spinal work. Eventually, I went back to the medical college to serve as the only surgeon and I enjoyed my time there, staying until 2018. I did lots of cases, but there was a problem: we didn’t have great equipment, and the facility was not willing to spend money on anything. There was not even a neurosurgical microscope or a proper neurosurgical drill, only a small, discarded microscope and a dental drill that I became comfortable working with over time. I utilized what they gave and spent my own money to buy instruments that I’d keep in the operating theater, and almost every year, I was doing around 200 cases – a big number for a medical college like mine – and I took on increasingly complex cases as I became increasingly adept with the limited equipment. What I learned from this period – after being responsible for 100% of the surgical work – is that until you fully do things yourself, you won’t be confident. You might see hundreds of thousands of cases and new techniques, but unless you operate on patients yourself, you won’t feel confident with anything that you’ve seen in your training. Being responsible for everything gave me tremendous confidence and taught me that if I could earn such stellar results with such rigorous cases – even with limited, discarded equipment – I could handle more. I had fully devoted myself to my work and was actively improving my skill set by attending conferences, planning my surgeries, etc. I was invited to spend some time at another hospital near Bangalore where there was no neurosurgical department. I came to this place having learned so much and given the rigorous expectations that the institute and the patients had, I was staying there 24 hours a day, rarely coming home and honestly living inside a room in the hospital. That year, I didn’t have one complication, built a name for myself, and knew that there was more for me to do.
10 | What drew you to serve in Iraq?
In 2016, one of the surgeons in Iraq invited me to attend camps and operate. At the time there was lots of geopolitical tension in the region and because many others had refused to go, I was given the opportunity. I went 20 times in three years and operated on 80 cases, which gave me more confidence because this was not my place. As I mentioned earlier, each time I had changed my surrounding circumstances, I came out a stronger version of myself, and I knew that given this opportunity, it was something I had to do. I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know the people, and the experience was entirely different. Going there with my age and experience, and operating on those in need gave me lots of confidence in my abilities and I found comfort in the fact that I could manage myself in a different part of the world and still do my work. When you work in a familiar area, you get comfortable managing things and start to rest on your laurels – but when you find yourself in a new environment, you don’t know if you can manage such things and you will find yourself on your feet. You’ll learn to tackle different kinds of situations. For me personally, I managed so many cases, and because I had so much independence at the medical college I had spent those earlier years at, I was comfortable operating alone without costing my precision, accuracy, or great results. Today, I am in the United States and am not operating, but these experiences have given me the confidence that even though I have not operated in 1 year, I will be comfortable going back to this work.
11 | When did you decide to come to the US?
My first opportunity to come here was immediately after residency but back then I wasn’t sure of what I wanted. I was aware that there were fellowship opportunities, but I wasn’t married and knew that I had to figure out different aspects of my personal life. Also, after working independently in India and Iraq, I felt that my expertise was incomplete. Serving there, I was great with the skills I had, but I realized that there is more to learn than what I already knew.
While others have been quick to decide what fellowship to pursue, narrowing their expertise and becoming excellent at some specific niche of neurosurgery, I knew that I wanted to expand the breadth of my knowledge.
I wrote to Professors in Canada, each of whom said they couldn’t take me. Some of them felt that I wasn’t properly oriented because I had too many things on my plate. Everyone works with this impression that you should choose a field, and then super specialize in one aspect of it, but I had been looking to broaden my perspective, to expose myself to more neurosurgery. As a neurosurgeon in India, I trained to prepare myself to answer anything that came my way. Growing up in Mandya, I knew that there is limited access to specialized clinicians, and I didn’t want other families to be in a position where their regional neurosurgeon lacked the skills to serve them in a critical period. The senior neurosurgeons that I had been reaching out to in North America didn’t understand my perspective and what we needed to serve here. Some also didn’t believe the things I had done. They found it difficult to believe that I became tactful with discarded, worn-out equipment and was still able to go months on end with an acceptable rate of complications in my operations.
Then, I reached out to Dr. Anil Nanda, Professor, and Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Rutgers University. I expressed my interest to him and he has taken me to serve as a postdoctoral Clinical Research Fellow under him. Alongside Dr. Nanda and another colleague, I have learned so much. And underlying this privilege to conduct research and study neurosurgery in the United States is another gift: I now have access to the internet! Back then – when I was a medical student, there was limited access to the internet. Now I don’t have to dig from book to book to find answers. Back in medical school, things were barely organized and the information I had been taking in was fragmented and it was tough to make connections and understand the human biological narrative from a big picture orientation. Now I can search things up and conceptualize so much more at once – even when I take a moment to look something up about biochemistry or cellular biology, I am absorbing so much more, and I’m able to apply this information to neurosurgery.
12 | What advice would you give to students, especially those interested in neurosurgery?
I have two pieces of advice. Firstly, you need to decide the type of surgeon that you want to be – this is partly dependent on the region that you intend to serve in. Bruce Lee once said “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Aspiring neurosurgeons have to decide whether they want to have a range of expertise – a multifold capacity to intervene in any situation and resolve crises of unexpected nature – or they can pursue mastery and become adept at something. You can be a master of one craft and a leader in a niche of neurosurgery, acting in line with Bruce Lee’s message. I believe that it is important to first know everything – to expose yourself to every aspect of neurosurgery and to delve deep into it before you start considering where you want to narrow your attention. The more you know, the more you are equipped to find creative means of fighting illness. Again, this decision depends on where you intend to serve. I worked in communities hosting millions of people where I was the only neurosurgeon, and it was important that I could wield the scalpel for any situation that I encountered. Someday, I might specialize but right now I want to learn more to figure out what I really want.
Secondly, it is critical to travel and truly expose yourself to the world. In traveling to Iraq and moving around in India, I was deepening my perspective on life and healthcare. By serving in these areas and managing patients with limited supplies, you will learn to solve problems and will gain confidence and a stronger sense of self-assurance. This will carry forward in every domain of your life, and you’ll come to appreciate the beauty of healthcare in the United States, where facilities are equipped with resources of the highest quality and so well organized. I sometimes hear people complain, but with the roots I have, I never find myself complaining. The broken supplies that I once worked with gave me a skill set that I could apply in taxing circumstances, and now that I’m here in a place stockpiled with endless resources, I am able to utilize everything for the better.
13 | What are your future plans entail as a neurosurgeon stationed in the United States?
In the coming years, I want to deeply study the field of functional neurosurgery, epilepsy, etc, but I am still a beginner and have yet to fully figure out what I want to pursue. I also want to continue being engaged in neuroanatomy research – since the beginning, I’ve wanted to understand everything about the brain very clearly. When I was studying medicine, I thought I knew the brain, but when I entered neurosurgery, I realized I didn’t know anything. I’ve now been a neurosurgeon and I realize there is so much more to learn. I believe that when you learn anatomy, you can do anything as a neurosurgeon – it provides me with the base to navigate every aspect and component of the brain. I’m currently in the process of setting up a lab with Dr. Nanda – in the coming future, I’ll do this.
When I came here, I didn’t think of practicing in the US. I just wanted to learn, pursue a fellowship, and go back to India. Presently, however, my wife is in residency and I like being here. Now I am thinking about pursuing residency here. I want to work here and I want to earn money and have experience – I want to learn all that I can that I can’t in India – but ultimately, I want to go back to where I came from. That is what made me come here and I cannot forget why I joined medicine. I have to go back and do something there – that’s my ultimate purpose. For that reason, I am thinking of not doing residency but working here instead. But presently, I should focus on learning things and when the opportunity comes I’ll keep an open mind and analyze what I want to do. I know I want to learn and work for myself for at least 10 years, and ultimately go back and fulfill my calling from the beginning – to serve as a physician in India. I also want to learn everything I can here and go back and teach people. I previously worked in places where I wasn’t paid well, with most of my patients being very poor – only one year I worked around educated people. Aside from being a neurosurgeon, I couldn’t help them back then because I wasn’t in the position to help them, whether it be financially or personally. When I go back, I don’t want to be in that same situation. I want to be in a situation where I can help them – alongside my personal wants and needs, I intend to focus on what the people need. My belief is that that is my life’s purpose – to go back, teach, and serve as a physician and alleviate suffering at the root level to my community in India.
14 | What areas of Clinical Research are you involved in?
Presently, I am doing general clinical research on Neurosurgery. I am not focused on any realm of neurosurgery specifically, but I am writing historical papers, case reports, reviews, and delving into many different areas of the field, broadening my perspective and closing gaps in various domains. I appreciate the breadth of this position because a broad knowledge base feeds innovation – some people choose to go extremely deep into some specific niche of science, but being in this position where I can study various things and spread my attention in different aspects of neurosurgery provides me with the foundation I need to think in an innovative and creative fashion. I am looking to learn about functional neurosurgery and pediatric epilepsy, which is related to the brain and how it functions.
15 | What do you believe to be the most exciting frontier in Neurosurgery?
Many individuals are excited by the advances taking place in endovascular neurosurgical work and tumor research – these lines of work are more advanced, provide a larger income, and are safe and growing rapidly. Personally, I am excited by functional neurosurgery and pediatric epilepsy – this domain isn’t as well paid, but it is stimulating. Functional disorders are at the root of so many things, and I want to position myself there – I want to invent something, innovate, resolve disease, and improve processes. This is an evolving field and contributions are to be made – that’s why I am leaning towards this subject.
16 | How much sleep did you get per night when you were a college student, a medical student, a practicing neurosurgeon, and how much sleep do you prioritize now?
At crucial stages in your career, you have to sacrifice your sleep but it isn’t necessary. When you are taking exams, you shouldn’t be afraid to sacrifice some amount of sleep in preparation, but this isn’t something you should sustain your whole life in pursuit of success. My strength is that when I get good sleep, I can work better. One doesn’t have to wake up early to be successful – if you have good sleep, you work properly. Studying itself is difficult – when you try to do too many things, sacrifice too many things, your chances of failure increase. If you have a habit of sleeping for 8 hours or waking up at a certain point in time, adhere to the habits that work and make the most of your time.
When I studied for my exams, I used to wake up really late but I’d study until 12 AM to 1 AM continuously. If I got bored, I’d take breaks, watch movies, go out – but not too much. It isn’t necessary that you should follow something else – do what is best for you and follow that. Whatever time you are left with, make the most of it.
17 | What three books influenced you the most?
18 | Are there any habits that you think all students should pick up?
The habit that has changed me a lot is reading. Initially, I used to read biographies of men like Mahatma Gandhi. I was taking competitive exams and I realized I was picking up valuable insights that helped me recognize that these individuals weren’t so different from me – anyone can really do anything. The habit of reading books inspires and has helped me a lot – it made me think more positively and left me thinking that anything is possible. If I go back to my childhood, I didn’t have that growth mindset previously.
19 | What is one lesson you wish you learned sooner?
If you have the intuition that there is something calling you – perhaps neurosurgery – embrace that gut feeling, trust it, and dedicate all of your attention to it. Be wary of advice that drags you away from that sense of intuition because once you are committed to a certain goal, relentless hard work and serendipity make a fantastic team and will take you to the destination you seek. When you commit to something, the world conspires to help you achieve that goal.
On a lighter note, in the context of studying, when I used to get bored of the material that was in front of me, I would change the subject or the book in front of me and found myself stimulated and able to sustain focus for longer periods of time.