The November Resident Spotlight is now here! For this month, we interviewed Dr. Tarun Soni, a PGY-1 in Family Medicine. We chatted about his decision to go into this specific field and attending medical school in India, balancing residency and wellness, and his experience learning how to act between medical school and residency—and how that has helped him as a physician!
Family doctors deal with all specialties: we are the jack of all trades. I get to work on different cases, diversity, age groups, and procedures. It is refreshing and energizing to see a newborn child after a heartfelt conversation with a person going through depression. It is never a dull moment.
When I graduated from high school, I had the opportunity to chase my childhood dream of becoming a doctor. I attended a medical school that my mother had once worked at in India. This is where I got a glimpse of medicine as a child. I had the opportunity to utilize my unique experiences in Canada with my Indian history and use it as a tool to help patients. I had the privilege of going to poverty riddled areas, and with a different outlook on patient care, I learned an approach to helping people that I still use today. I realized that I can make an impact on the lives by counseling patients about a healthy lifestyle and diet, benefits of exercising and a clean environment. Soon, I realized I was on the right path with most patients appreciating a physician who cared for them more than just their physical complaints.
It was during the toughest times that I realized how much difference a family doctor can make with patients. During the final year of my medical school, I remember getting a phone call from my family, telling me the most terrifying news. My father had passed away with a sudden heart attack, which was a big shock for all of us because he did not have any major cardiac risk factors. I felt shocked and confused! I could finally understand what patients feel when they lose loved ones. Now that I understand the impact of grief and loss on families on a more personal level, I’m in a much better position to listen to and comfort my patients. A few months later when I was in my Family Practice rotation, I saw a young man who was undergoing grief due to his father passing away from cancer. I was able to connect with him on a deeper level, helping him get through a dark period of his life. I realized that sharing my story and building deep relationships helps the patients. No other profession offers that.
What are your plans for the future after your residency?
I see myself becoming a full-time GP in Fraser Valley where my family resides. I want to continue giving back to the community that gave me everything. Currently, I am involved in writing articles for the local newspaper and have a health blog, where I help spread awareness in my community about health literacy, which I will continue to do in the future.
I am also very interested in doing enhanced skills training such as Addiction medicine after my residency as I want to help the youth who are involved in substance use in the future as we are dealing with a huge opioid crisis currently.
Working in India helped me understand the differences between the health services in distinct parts of the world. I witnessed people traveling from faraway places to come see a doctor for many health problems that we take for granted here in Canada. I remember managing patients suffering from tuberculosis, mitral heart disease, and even going personally door to door to give polio vaccine to kids for the national polio eradication program. This helped me gain a different perspective of how medicine works in other parts of the world, and I am excited to share the skills that I have gained with the underserved communities here in BC.
How do you work on your wellbeing and manage to balance your life around residency?
I believe in a balanced approach to life. Working hard during the rotations is very important and necessary, but I also believe in de-stressing during my off time. This not only gives me time to work on my hobbies, but also mentally prepares me to work hard for the next day.
During my off time, I enjoy reading non-fiction books, which helps expand my thought process and gain a better understanding of how the world works. Currently, I am reading Principles, by Ray Dalio.
I also enjoy exercising and strength training. I try to hit the gym at least two times a week. This allows me to not only work out my physical body but also condition my mind. Family and friends are a very important support system for me. I am lucky that I have my family in Abbotsford and I try to visit them at least once or twice a month. I get the chance to share my experiences with my family and as a bonus, I also get to enjoy home-cooked meals.
I feel managing to balance your life in residency is very important to prevent burnout in the future, as we all want to keep enjoying our time practicing medicine as long as we can. At the end of the day, life is a marathon, not a sprint. So, I take it one step at a time.
You learned acting from a professional acting school after finishing medical school. Tell us a bit more about how that experience helped you as a physician?
As an avid Bollywood fan, I was interested in acting and I dreamt of learning it one day. After finishing medical school, I took the opportunity where I had some time off to go to the same academy, Barry John’s Acting Studio, which is the same as my favorite actor, Shah Rukh Khan. I wanted to get it out of my system before I worked hard to get into residency. I knew it would make me confident, which would help me later on during my interviews, but after finishing the course I felt it helps me become a better physician as well.
Being an actor and a Family Physician has many similarities, which I found very useful during my clerkship and even now in residency.
I realized that acting teaches you to be more empathetic as a person. When you are acting, feeling the emotions is not enough, you have to express those emotions for the audience to see. Similarly, as a physician caring for the patients is not enough, really expressing, and emoting those emotions is equally important.
Even though you have the lines memorized in a play, things might change as acting is all about “reacting” to the person in front of you. Similarly, in the medical field, you have to always be aware of the non-verbal clues that the patients provide and react to the person sitting in front of you. Sometimes, as the physicians we have our agendas, such as finding the right diagnoses, treating with the right therapy and counseling about the side effects, etc., but understanding the patient’s values and their concerns is very important. This is where I understood what a patient-centric approach means.
Overall, I feel life can teach us many things, even unexpectedly, as long as we are willing to learn from them.
Dr. Tarun Soni runs his own blog, and regularly writes for the Mission City Record newspaper, which comes out once a month.