During the Pre-Health Chat: Making the Most of Your Clinical Experience, Shreya Ganguly CAS ’19 shared reflections on her most meaningful clinical experiences. Read below to learn more about her personal experiences and advice for navigating clinical opportunities.
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Tell us about yourself.
My name is Shreya and I grew up in a small town called Metuchen, New Jersey. I have always loved music; in high school, I was involved in theatre, orchestra, choir, and Indian dance. Like many students, I came to Penn with a bit of an inferiority complex. I didn’t know how well I would transition to a large academic environment that was bursting with talent. Fortunately, my mentors in my college houses, classes, and labs inspired me to get involved and challenge myself. I ended up majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Chemistry. I also took some incredible classes in the South Asian Studies, Creative Writing, and Philosophy departments. I was a member of Penn Sirens, an all-female vocal ensemble, as well as a violinist for a Penn Chamber quartet. I also volunteered with the After School Arts at Penn, a program offered by the Platt Performing Arts House that invites undergraduates to teach musical lessons to West Philadelphia middle school students. Finally, I worked in two exciting labs at Penn. I volunteered in Dr. Ruscio’s Boundaries of Anxiety and Depression lab, which examines biobehavioral risk factors for anxiety and depression using psychophysiological data. I also completed my thesis for my BBB major in the De Biasi lab, where I studied the effect of flavored e-cigarettes on the reward response to nicotine in adolescent mice. Both experiences contributed to my passion for addiction medicine, which I explore today through harm reduction advocacy.
What clinical experience did you find the most meaningful during your time at Penn?
Both of my clinical experiences are actually post-undergraduate experiences that I found during my senior year at Penn. I currently work full-time as a research coordinator for the Maternal and Child Health Research Center at Penn Medicine. I coordinate research for a wide variety of studies for pregnant, laboring and postpartum women. I have learned some fantastic clinical skills at this job; I complete pelvic exams, blood draws, newborn baby anthropometrics, and training for various medical technologies. However, I would say that my most meaningful clinical experience is my volunteering at Prevention Point Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization that focuses on harm reduction, disease prevention, and health education for individuals living with substance use disorder and experiencing homelessness. I volunteer for the mobile Syringe Exchange Program, which invites community members to exchange used needles for clean syringes, overdose reversal tools, and supplies for safe injection, safe sex, and wound care. My primary role is to distribute Narcan, an overdose reversal drug. I administer overdose history surveys and train clients on ways to provide medical assistance during opioid overdoses. I also prepare supplies, educate sex workers on safe practices, and provide wound care assistance. My final role is to connect clients to outreach services, including medication assisted therapy, case management, and services for victims of domestic violence and homelessness.
How did you find your clinical experience?
I had been interested in getting involved with harm reduction for a long time. I grew up with a babysitter who suffered from substance use disorder. When I moved to Philadelphia, I became naturally drawn to photo books and NY Times articles about the opioid crisis in Kensington. It took me two years to realize that there is actually a methadone clinic across the street from Leidy labs; the crisis was much closer to home than I thought. Dr. Brian Work’s role in the Prevention Point medical clinic was highly publicized on Penn media during my junior year. But I didn’t consider volunteering there until my senior year, when I took a popular BBB class called “Drugs, Brain, and Mind.” Dr. Michael Kane introduced every drug of abuse we learned about in that class with public health information about the substance. He once spent a full lecture mourning citizens who had fallen to fentanyl poisoning in Philadelphia. My curiosity peaked at that time, and I started talking to him about ways to get involved.
My lack of experience with the opioid using community limited me at first. Dr. Kane and I thought about ideas for the President’s Engagement Prize, a prestigious opportunity for seniors to embark on a fully-funded community service project. When I went to Prevention Point for the first time, I felt incredibly vulnerable and out of place, ending that dream. It was only after starting my job and realizing how widespread and unavoidable the crisis was, even among our city’s pregnant patient population, that I felt empowered to move past my comfort level and work directly with this community.
How did your clinical experience impact your personal growth?
My clinical experience helped me understand my goals as a future physician. Like many students, my attraction to medicine had always been understood through vague ideas of enjoying science and service to others. Service at Prevention Point involves a non-judgmental method of care in which volunteers meet participants where they are on their path to a healthy life. Volunteers offer a way to use substances safely and an opportunity to form a positive relationship with a member of the healthcare community. Their tolerance empowers community members to feel that they are loved and worthy of a healthy future. Providing preventative care ultimately inspires them to individually seek curative treatment in the form of medication assisted therapy. They access this treatment through a community resource and a bond they have already formed during their substance using years. As a woman of color and child of immigrants, their message of acceptance deeply resonates with me. I now feel uniquely poised to increase accessibility to healthcare for stigmatized and vulnerable patient populations through compassionate, community-level care.
What piece of advice would you give to current pre-health students at Penn?
Develop a capacity for reflection. Your story is arguably the most important part of any future professional application. Reflection will help you decide whether medicine is a central part of that story. When I failed my first general chemistry exam, I was genuinely demoralized. Afterwards, I met weekly with a free tutor from the Tutoring Program, went to all office hours, and asked for tons of help. When I looked back, I realized that the sense of resilience I demonstrated that semester proved that I could face any level of academic rigor in my career. When I got kicked out of my first neuroscience lab, I wondered whether I would ever accomplish anything noteworthy in my research endeavors. I eventually completed my honors thesis. Developing relationships within my first lab and thinking critically about research design during my thesis year proved to myself that I could actively contribute to future academic communities one day. Schools want to know that you have the capacity to grow. Demonstrating a capacity for reflection shows them that you will think critically about your responsibility to your future patients and strive for excellence.