For Archit Baskaran, a second-year medical student, healthcare is much more than a doctor’s visit or a medication. It’s the prescription to a better life for all people and a means of changing society for the better.
Inspired by Quentin David Young and Boris Lushniak — President Obama’s personal physician and Surgeon General, respectively — Baskaran set his sights on medical school.
“I desired a life similar to theirs: in health activism, leadership and government, and international humanitarianism,” Baskaran said. “Both of them graduated from the Feinberg School of Medicine.”
Read a Q&A with Baskaran below.
Where are you from and where did you attend undergrad?
I was born in England — my parents, who are South Asian immigrants, struggled while there, so we sought a better life in the U.S.. We relocated to Birmingham, Alabama. Through a series of moves through my early life, I ended up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I went to undergrad at Northwestern, too.
Why did you choose Feinberg?
I was in high school when I first discovered medicine’s capacity to profoundly enhance human dignity beyond the clinic setting alone. President Obama was in office at the time, pushing for the Affordable Care Act. In studying the Medicaid expansion, I grew interested in not just the act of caring for marginalized populations, but involving myself in the various governing systems which generated their disparities in the first place. In this mosaic between medicine and its various intersections with politics, art, and other fields, Feinberg became my dream destination.
I heard about two people in particular during this time who further shaped this dream. The first, Quentin David Young, was a dynamic, inspiring social activist and personal physician to President Obama and the great Martin Luther King Jr. The second, Boris Lushniak, was the Surgeon General of the United States for President Obama’s second term. “I desired a life similar to theirs: in health activism, leadership and government, and international humanitarianism,” Baskaran said. “Both of them graduated from the Feinberg School of Medicine.”
What are your medical or research interests?
My research interests are currently in health care disparities and public policy. My Area of Scholarly Concentration project is a qualitative study investigating disparities in hospice and palliative care for LGBTQ+ people in Nepal. I traveled to Nepal for two months to conduct it, going to remote parts of the country to conduct semi-structured interviews and focus groups with extremely marginalized, often hidden (from even their partners) Nepalis.
I presented this project at Northwestern’s Global Health Day recently. As a hopeful and ambitious follow-up project, I’ve been slowly writing a small book in my free time called Maya Ta Maya Ho (“Love is Love,” in Nepali) based on this topic.
My medical interests are always in flux — currently it’s in neurosurgery/neuropsychiatry, motivated mostly by my family’s extensive run-ins with neuropsychiatric disorders, from Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and more — to my own personal battles with mental illness and spinal problems. Whatever it is, I plan on integrating activism, humanitarian or disaster response, and public or global health into the field. Access to neurosurgical services, for example, is very poor in many regions or disaster zones around the world. My role in advancing the possibilities for a better life for underserved people transcend any specialty I choose.
What has been your most rewarding experience?
My most rewarding experience of medical school was pretty unconventional, because it came at a moment of desperation and vulnerability.
While I was a second-year med student in 2018, my health issues became more complicated. I was in an extremely challenging place and in that time of need, I talked to the support systems Feinberg set up for me. They all helped me declare a medical leave of absence, so I was ultimately able to take a gap in my education for myself and my recovery.
Since I left mid-year, I’m now repeating the year as an M2. What’s been extraordinarily rewarding through this challenging process is the overwhelming amount of support faculty and fellow students (in my old and new classes alike) have shown.
In medicine, we often talk about challenges like burnout, wellness, and more — but very few schools have developed the resources and capacity to respond to “non-traditional” students: those like me who may be in need of help. Everyone talks about their medical school communities, but Feinberg’s is quite different. I was only given unconditional love, support and friendship. Feinberg’s staff and community continue to provide me, and many others like me, a chance at a new, upgraded life, and for that I am — and always will be — grateful.
Do you participate in any organizations or societies at Feinberg?
I’m one of the co-founders and current co-executive director for the nonprofit organization and social movement called WE ARE SAATH (“We are together,” formerly called “I AM SHAKTI”), which works to sensitize South Asian populations to mental health challenges while providing hope and support to those affected. Why South Asians? Because our communities have extremely intensive stigmas toward mental health. In the United States, for example, suicide rates and under-utilizations of care in teenagers alone are extremely high among South Asians. We’re pretty new, so we’re still growing.
At Feinberg, I was formerly the president of the medical school class of 2021 and I was also involved in the Wellness Committee and Health Equity Group in that capacity. I was extremely active in our school and Student Senate, until my medical leave.
What advice would you give to prospective medical students?
Empathy is not an algorithm, but an art. Just as art can be enriched with various colors and brushstrokes through practice, so too can empathy be improved through diversity, richness of experience and exposure. Every specialty of medicine requires undeniable empathy. And it is that gap in empathy which contributes to health disparities we see across the country and world. It’s not sufficient to just learn active listening skills anymore. A doctor has to constantly engage with people who represent upbringings, environments, cultures and privileges different from those of their own.
My sole advice for anyone seeing this is the same advice I give myself: broaden your worldview by engaging with advocacy or social justice in any form. This can look as simple as confronting your biases, volunteering at community clinics, diversifying your current club membership, reading more news, talking to peers who are actively engaged — anything. Advocacy isn’t just picking up a microphone and marching in protest.
With the vast trove of knowledge and privileges we are afforded in our profession and the challenges with equality and equity our most marginalized and misunderstood patients face in our profession, all coupled with our extensive educational backgrounds, our greatest obligation is to build our empathy. Particularly when we feel our patient is “difficult,” or presenting in a personally uncomfortable way that leads us to become defensive, dismissive or neglectful of their humanity.
Our Hippocratic Oath doesn’t just compel us to maintain healthcare for those who can access it. It calls upon us to unconditionally protect those who have been barred by society’s social inequities from reaching our hospital’s front doors. Realizing this is a necessity for anyone who practices medicine. And I believe, without an inch of doubt, that it’s a necessity worth fighting for.