From Fulbright to medical school

In this post, WaF interviews Dr. Sanhita Reddy about her experience doing Fulbright research before medical school.

Dr. Reddy studied public health and journalism, and applied for a Fulbright Research/Study award to Brazil while a senior in undergrad. For her Fulbright project, she examined health communications and different ways people search for health information. Dr. Reddy is about to begin her final year of residency at UC San Diego in Anesthesiology.

WaF: How did your Fulbright experience affect your approach to medical school?

Dr. Reddy: There are many avenues to medical school. For me, the gap year on the Fulbright between undergrad and medical school was a break between strenuous course loads. It gave me perspective. It allowed me to shift how I view work/life balance in medicine, which is really important in a field where the hours are so demanding.

WaF: How has your Fulbright experience affected the way you practice medicine?

Dr. Reddy: You are not just representing yourself on a Fulbright. You are representing the United States. You have to become comfortable quickly in a foreign environment and maintain composure. Those are intangible skills you gain on a Fulbright. My ability to be comfortable in a tricky environment and maintain composure transcended into the way I approach patients and the people I work with.

WaF: Is it possible to participate in the Fulbright program while applying to medical school? How would this work out with regards to scheduling interviews at different medical schools? Is there a way to change the start time of the grant? Or fly back to the US to participate in all of the interviews?

Dr. Reddy: The point of the Fulbright is to immerse yourself, so you want to be there. You might be able to do some video interviews depending on the school, but that might limit your options. While on the Fulbright you can probably work on submitting your primary applications and start interviews when you get back.

I approached it by applying to the Fulbright and medical school at the same time. I was accepted to both and my medical school let me defer for a year for the Fulbright in Brazil. If you got the Fulbright, I can’t imagine any medical school that wouldn’t allow you to defer for a year. They are excited for their students to have the unique opportunity to do a Fulbright.

You can also work with the Fulbright commission to make the timing work better for you. Brazil’s grant period was off from the academic calendar year. When I applied, I was specific in my application about the months I could be in Brazil and wove my plan to return to medical school into the grant. It really wasn’t an issue. I remember being stressed about it at the time. The host countries are used to working with people in graduate school and need to fit their Fulbright work into the U.S. academic year. Once you find your question, what you want to explore, and can communicate why you need to be in that country, all those other details will fall into place a lot easier than you expect.

WaF: Does your work in the United States now have any continuity with the research that you did on the Fulbright?

Dr. Reddy: I kept a good relationship with the partners I worked with but didn’t continue the same research. I did pursue a similar project in a different country. I made a conscious choice to complete my research in Brazil before starting medical school. If your project work is something you want to continue to build on in medical school, you can make that choice.

WaF: What advice would you give to premeds about creating a meaningful Fulbright project and making the best out of their experience?

Dr. Reddy: Find a question that you are interested in answering. It doesn’t have to be in medicine or health. There has to be a question that hasn’t been answered and you truly want to answer it. If you can do that, then you will have a really meaningful experience. Your project evolves while you are there and you have to be open, adaptable and curious. The social experience cannot be understated. It’s complete immersion. You are doing your passion project. Of course it’s going to be an amazing experience whatever you do.

Disclaimer: This interview was lightly edited for style and length.