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By Jenny Stockdale
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  • Neurobiology and Behavior
  • Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
  • Health + Nutrition
  • Medicine
  • Biology
Veer Vekaria ’19 is a research collaborator in the Division of Health Informatics at Weill Cornell Medicine and a first-year medical student at the New York Institute of Technology. In these roles, he develops health modeling of high-risk populations and takes a data-driven approach to inform policies that address health disparities.

At CALS, Veer majored in biological sciences, with a concentration in neurobiology and behavior. He minored in business, inequality studies and health policy, and he received the Richard A. Church ’64 Senior Service Award for his contributions as a student leader to the CALS community.

Here, he reflects on how his experience at CALS shaped his career trajectory.
 
How did your Cornell CALS experience support your personal and professional goals?

CALS is defined by the electricity and interplay between all the disciplines it houses. When I first started at Cornell, I felt like a cookie-cutter pre-med student. But after heeding advice from mentors encouraging me to branch out and experiment — such as with business, developmental sociology and environmental design — my sense of purpose began to emerge.

CALS was also an early proponent of the active learning initiative, and the classes where I participated in group dialogues and engaged with multiple viewpoints were the ones where I felt most present. The Dyson business minor for life sciences majors, especially the flexibility to tailor a course plan that applies to any major or interest, is a terrific opportunity for students to branch out, and it reflects the interdisciplinary culture that CALS is known for.

Moreover, generous funding for experiential learning through this minor — made possible by Kim and David Mullarkey ’88 — allowed me to spend a summer living in New York City, working as an intern at the Division of Health Informatics at Weill Cornell Medicine. Upon graduation, they offered me a full-time gap year research position, and I continue to collaborate with them today.

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How did you discover that you ultimately wanted to have a career in healthcare?

It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific time where I knew I wanted to pursue medicine, but there were experiences along the journey that made it clear that this was my calling. The paradigm of choosing to become a doctor is “to save lives,” and yes, there is that element to it, but saving lives takes teamwork, relationships, creativity, adaptability and lifelong learning — and this is what I find to be the most fulfilling about my chosen career.

Cornell instilled in me an appreciation for lifelong learning, and CALS taught me to be adaptable and comfortable with change. Changing or influencing things is addictive to a point where you don’t see it as work, and as a first-year medical student, I find that the intellectual energy involved really draws you in.

How were you involved in the public health response while working at Weill Cornell?

The situation evolved rapidly, literally on a day-to-day basis. While I was not directly involved in the pandemic response, being employed there gave me a unique behind-the-scenes lens into how a large urban health center began preparing before the first inevitable case arrived. As a biology major, it intrigued me early on to understand the thought processes of hospital leaders as they addressed questions from the public and tried to contextualize the novel virus within a framework of communicable diseases.

As a health informaticist, my colleagues and I were tasked with profiling some of the early data on COVID hospital admissions, and seeing the rows of data increase every day illustrated how devastating the impact was going to be early on. But there’s a different, more tangible sense of urgency when you start to see physician colleagues absent from meetings because they are now working full time on the front line. That was when the seriousness of what was happening hit home for me.

The pandemic has exposed many of the fragilities in our systems and societies. Witnessing this right as I embark on my professional journey has adjusted my perspective on how I can lend my skills to help the most people as our communities recover. My hope for humanity as we emerge from the pandemic is that we remember to express gratitude for the mundane things we once took for granted.

If you could re-live your undergraduate experience, is there anything that you would have done differently?

There’s nothing I would change, but one thing I regret not doing sooner was taking some of the cool classes that lie outside of the scope of my major. It was often these courses that most refined my worldview and generated the fondest memories.

Today’s working landscape is interdisciplinary, and every profession hinges on a network of others. Experimenting in this manner cultivates an appreciation for other disciplines, backgrounds and skills that make your own profession possible.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing a career in healthcare?

One thing often overlooked by pre-health students is international experience, such as study abroad. I was fortunate to be able to spend a summer in London in a research program centered around public health. Even if time isn’t on your side, be persistent in global learning and take time for reflective learning too. Doing so during your most formative years in college will change the way you perceive your impact. I was even fortunate to receive partial funding through my major, so talk to your advisors about options and resources.


Header image: Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City at dusk. Photo by Lindsay France.

Jenny Stockdale is an associate director in the Cornell CALS Office of Marketing and Communications.

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