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Chemistry photo diary: Vikram Shankar
Chemistry photo diary: Vikram Shankar

Full Name: 

Vikram Shankar

Employer: 

University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

What do you do?: 

I am in my 3rd of 4 years of medical school. The 3rd year of medical school is spent largely rotating through different medical specialties such as pediatrics, surgery, neurology, emergency medicine, internal medicine, and OB/GYN. I recently completed a 6-week pediatrics rotation and I am currently on a 6-week OB/GYN rotation in Milwaukee. This will be followed by a rotation in psychiatry in Madison.

What is a typical day like?: 

A typical day for me really depends on the rotation that I am involved with. In pediatrics I spent a lot of time in clinics assisting with Well Child visits where we would assess the growth and development of children. In contrast, in hospitals we see cases where children have more severe illnesses like sepsis and meningitis. Currently, in OB/GYN I have the opportunity to work on cases with underserved and low-income populations where I get to talk to patients about reproductive health, assist in surgeries, and deliver babies. The OB/GYN rotation has been a lot of fun!

What was your path to get to where you are today?: 

I started with a very non-traditional path to medicine. After graduating with a degree in Urban and Environmental Policy, I decided to join the Peace Corps for 27 months in a small West African country called Togo. This was the most invaluable experience I could have had. I was incredibly touched by this experience that I didn’t hesitate to change my career path to medicine. This career path will bring me back to a place and people I feel strongly close to. West Africa is where I want to live and practice medicine, and for this to become a reality I decided to go back to college and started taking science classes as part of PSU’s pre-med program. My first class was Intro to Chemistry with Dr. Marilyn Mackiewicz, a research assistant professor at PSU in chemistry. Her teaching methods demonstrated how energetic and passionate she was about teaching chemistry and its real-world applications. I could not have picked a better mentor to help me provide a strong foundation in chemistry to students back in Togo during the summer months when I visit the country. Through Dr. Mackiewicz guidance and mentorship I have been able to teach basic chemistry, organic chemistry, and various health-related projects to help educate the students. We also learn what is important for them and how we can make an impact that improves their lives. This cultural-science partnership has been expanded recently to working with local pediatricians in Togo to distribute books during Well Child visits as a means of promoting early childhood literacy. Educating the students is important because they can connect science with diseases and therapeutic treatments, which can be transferred to their parents.

What makes you excited to go to work every day?: 

Medicine gives me the opportunity to share in other people’s struggles regardless of their individual background or life circumstance. Whether this interaction involves breaking down complex disease mechanisms or giving full attention to someone suffering from depression, I am encouraged to know that I am there for the sake of that person at that very moment. Everyday I am developing skills that are both lifelong and universally applicable, and it’s very rewarding. It is also rewarding to know that my fundamental science background in chemistry and biology is being used in a real world application.

What is next on your career path?: 

I hope to live and practice medicine in West Africa (Togo, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, or Liberia). After I complete my medical residency in the US my goal is to join Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian-aid non-governmental organization that works largely in war-torn regions. In addition, my future plans include collaborating with Dr. Mackiewicz to help educate the students in Togo in the future by building a stronger cultural-science partnership.