Academic Success Story: Shah Ali, M.D.



Today is incredibly exciting for me (and hopefully you as well) because I’m launching my Academic Success Story series, through which I will highlight the accomplishments of and request academic and career guidance from various high-achieving and brilliant individuals (who are also being very generous with their time) across diverse fields.

Some of these individuals may still be in school or in training, whereas others will be many years into their careers. Requests for me to interview individuals from particular fields are welcome!

The first Academic Success Story to be featured is my good friend, Dr. Shah Ali, whom I met through The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans (Go Class of 2010!). At the time, he was working toward his M.D. at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

In addition to being one of the kindest people I know, Shah knows a lot about a lot. For example, I’ve personally witnessed him jump back-and-forth between discussing cardiology research, beautiful bike rides and hikes in the Bay Area, and underground bands he’s seen perform live in San Francisco.

Who is this guy? Let’s find out!

Shirag: What are you currently up to?

Shah: I am currently in my second year of residency at UCSF in Internal Medicine. Starting in July, I will be a Cardiology Fellow at UT Southwestern in Dallas, TX.

Shirag: Why did you decide to attend Rutgers University for undergrad?

Shah: It was a state school, so it was more affordable than other institutions, and I was able to live at home and commute to school. And there was an honors college through which I could get more individualized attention and support, as well as a group learning experience.

Shirag: What did you enjoy most about attending Rutgers?

Shah: I really liked that the campus I went to offered a “small pond” experience. You had access to a lot of professors. It was really easy to go up and talk to them.

Shirag: What are the top 3 things students should consider in choosing an undergraduate institution?

Shah: 1) Cost, 2) Strength of institution in whatever you want to pursue, and 3) Location: how close it is to family, where it’s located… location can mean a lot of things.

Shirag: What led you to pursue medicine?

Shah: A number of experiences. Mostly, it was the research work I did in undergrad and high school–it drew me to medicine from an intellectual perspective. I had also done volunteer work with kids at a local elementary school while in college–that made me realize why I wanted to work with people.

Shirag: There are a lot of careers you could have pursued to work with people, like social work. Why specifically medicine?

Shah: I feel you don’t know you want to be a physician until you’re in the process of becoming one. It’s a tough question. I guess I didn’t think of other options so much. It was sort of intertwined with the ability to make breakthroughs from a medical perspective, pursuing basic sciences at the same time. So, I wanted to work with people but at the same time do something to create change.

Shirag: What do you wish you knew before pursuing medicine?

Shah: I wish I had really thought about how long the entire process is. I feel you don’t get a true sense of time until you go through it. In some ways the length of time–7-9 years for most specialties–is normalized, so you don’t think twice, but when you’re in it, you really appreciate how long it takes.

Shirag: Would you have done anything differently knowing this now?

Shah: Probably not, but you just have no idea what it means to be a physician until halfway through med school, but even then you’re committing to a line of work without fully understanding what it means. It’s not until 3rd year that you start working with patients on a direct patient care level.

It’s different when you’re a student vs. a resident or attending physician. The degree changes the way you view things. You have so much power and responsibility as a resident or attending; the buck stops with you. As a student, your job is to learn as much as you can.

Shirag: How has medicine met your expectations? Any surprises?

Shah: It’s been really wonderful to learn that despite not fully knowing what I’m getting into, I really enjoy what I do. It’s such a nice realization. I didn’t fully know what medicine was back when I started, and I actually like it! Taking care of patients directly can be very challenging but it can also be very rewarding. It’s nice to experience that as a resident.

Shirag: What advice do you have for individuals who want to pursue medicine?

Shah: Go in with an open mind. There’s not much that can prepare you for it in some ways. It’s going to be hard for everyone. Everyone experiences challenges, and it’s one of the most challenging times of your life. But it’s worth it.

Shirag: What are the most common challenges you’ve noticed?

Shah: The hours. The amount of time it takes from your overall life is probably the hardest thing because of how much you work.

Shirag: That about wraps things up. Shah, thanks so much for your time and insights!

Shah: My pleasure. I hope your readers find it helpful.