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Karan Chhabra on the Fruits of Being Unconventional


Karan Chhabra, co-founder of Project Millennial. Photo provided.

Karan Chhabra found his calling at a young age. He says he’s always wanted to make an impact on the world through medicine; the gratification of face-to-face patient care and the ability to treat people quickly and accurately hooked him on medicine for good.

Once inside the system, Chhabra also began to experience the complexities of the healthcare system. At times, he says these complexities prevented him from doing justice by his patients – but this just further ignited his drive. Today, Chhabra is the co-founder of Project Millennial, a blog aimed at and curated by millennials to engage and inform them about the healthcare system. A third-year medical student at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, his work is frequently published on KevinMD as well.

We spoke with Karan about his optimistic perspective on improving our wildly dysfunctional model by rallying his generation, and how he manages to remain sane while juggling medical school rotations with it – well, we are still waiting for an answer on that one.

Q: What originally attracted you to medicine and how do you keep that passion kindled?

My prior experiences at research institutes and consulting services gave me a good amount of exposure to healthcare and how the system is failing us. In fact, I wrote my college thesis on the disconnects in doctor-patient communication. Healthcare is entering its golden era, with policy and technology opening the pathway for incremental changes. Once in the trenches, it’s easy to become oblivious to these nuances; I continue this escapade hoping to always keep the patient in mind.

Q: In a recent blog post, you wrote, “I worry I’ll end up in a new generation of well-read, friendly, ethical, system-conscious doctors who’ve learned the textbook but forgotten the patient.” What did you mean by that?

I was saying that I wish medical school taught us more about yesterday’s medicine – with a little less supervision – being able to backtrack and solve problems without labs, imaging, seeing open surgery, etc. While this shift in education is better for patients, no doubt, it is probably compromising on the doctor’s long-term skill set.

Q: Digital health will play a crucial role for doctors of your generation. How will you navigate the delicate dance of empowering patients and doing your job?

The issue with self-diagnosis through WebMD- like channels is that people don’t present with diseases, they present with complaints, and it ripens the chances of misdiagnosis. On that note, technology and patient empowerment tools deepen the doctor-patient relationship. Doctors are being strained, and these tools will allow not only doctors, but also nurses and PA to provide timely, effective care.

Q: Shifting gears, Project Millennial has really taken off. What are your plans for it?

I started Project Millennial with Adrianna McIntyre to connect my interests in writing and health policy. Initially, it was very policy oriented; today we get contributions from medical students and professionals alike. In fact, I’m proud to say that it has become a launch pad for writers hoping to get noticed in their fields. We have been successful because we are eager to post good material and work with our writers to retain their voices.

Q: How have your mentors shaped your professional goals?

There are three things I want to achieve from my career: being the best clinician possible, continuing to write and cross-pollinate ideas and finally, being at the helm of a leadership role whereby I can impact patients beyond those I interact with everyday.

People whom I admire have achieved some combination of these three things. Atul Gawande has long been a hero of mine. I remember in high school receiving a copy of Complications and being in awe – that’s when I realized I wanted to devote my life to healthcare.

Q: Before we let you go, what’s a lesson you would like to pass down to other medical students?

I would say that don’t pursue opportunities just to “check boxes.” I got involved in some projects because it looked good in a resume or others were doing it, but they didn’t bring me much satisfaction. I’ve gotten much more out of work that was unconventional but that captured my passion enough to stay up all night pursuing it. Passion is my fuel, and I know I’ve found it when 14-hour days fly right by – and that’s exactly how I feel right now on my clinical rotations.

This post is part of our new series of Q&As with “The Activist Generation” – a group young medical students, doctors and residents who hope to change the face of medicine as we know it. Do you know someone who’d be a perfect fit for this series? Email jenni@medtechboston.com and we’ll get them involved, too.

Shreya Iyer

Shreya Iyer

    Shreya specializes in health communications and is a copywriter for an advertising agency. She was previously at Bayer Healthcare, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide

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