Interview with Akhil Padarti

Please tell me a little bit about your background, including where you are from and how you decided to move to El Paso.

I was born in a small town in India. My family has lived in that town for multiple generations. In fact, my dad’s side has been in my dad’s house for five generations. There are photos that line the wall of each generation. My mom’s side has been in her house for 3 generations. We have very deep roots in our town.

My dad was the first in his family to leave our town and got a college education in engineering. He was the first one in our family to get a college education. He married my mom and we moved to the U.S.—in Union City, CA. In the beginning, my dad worked a lot of contract jobs. We moved around a lot (every 12-18 months or so). During this time, I moved back to India often. We went back and forth based on the timing of the school year. We would finish the school year in India. I lived in Connecticut, New York, Baltimore, etc. We finally ended up in San Antonio when I was in 8th grade.

I finished high school in San Antonio and wanted to stay close to home for college. I was tired of moving around because we did it so much as a child. I graduated from UTSA, and that is where I developed my love of research. I originally wanted to go to graduate school and work at a lab. I soon realized that working in a lab can be isolating for someone like me because I enjoy interacting and being in a team setting. I chose medicine because I could still do research, but I could be a variety of people-patients and colleagues across health care professions.

What attracted you to Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso?

When it came to applying for medical school, I applied to all of the Texas schools. Interestingly, my last interview was in El Paso.

The second I interviewed here I could tell right away it was a good fit. During the interview, everyone puts their best face forward, so it is difficult to get a full picture. You have to trust your sixth sense when interviewing. I looked at the culture – it is important to me whether the school fits my personality or not.

At other schools, I felt the students didn't know each other, there wasn't that same warm feeling, I felt here in El Paso. I didn't want to be in a place like that. When it came to El Paso, I went to a pre-interview dinner, and I realized the student body was so close. I saw how the students came together and it was just a feeling I knew it was the right place for me. During my time here, I learned the student body was close. I am able to rely on my classmates. The bond between the classes is also very strong.

I wanted to be somewhere I could develop a network and close relationships with my peers. El Paso is definitely that place.

Have you always wanted to be a doctor? What are you currently studying?

I was a late bloomer to decide to become a doctor. I didn’t decide until I was more than halfway through college. I was undecided for a long time and slowly warmed up to the idea of medicine. However, once I decided I never looked back.

I am currently a fourth-year medical student. I'm applying for neurosurgery this cycle. In the future, I want to be in academia. I do want to teach the next generation of doctors. The public gives respect and trust to doctors. I think it's important to honor that trust and hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards.

Tell me about your first year.

The first year is a wakeup call for everyone. I still remember the first day and first class. I didn’t prepare for my first class and it blew me away. I never felt more lost. I called my parents and told them - you don't realize how different medical school is than college until you experience both. I realized the first day I had to dig my heels in and vowed to never fall behind. Since then, everyday it gets a little bit easier. I just had to change my mindset and work ethic.

My advice for a first-year student: Enjoy it while it lasts. It may seem hard at first, but it becomes really fun. It also doesn’t last forever. You have this amazing opportunity to be inducted into the field of medicine. Even if you don’t understand it all or are overwhelmed, it’s worth it. You're here for a reason and you will get through this.

What makes the Foster School of Medicine stand out?

We have a small school (my class has 100 students). Because of this, you really get to know your classmates here. By the second or third month, I knew everyone's name.

The curriculum is unique as well. Our school offers experiences because of the class size that other medical schools aren’t able to do. For example - in anatomy - our first year we dissected a cadaver. Opening up a human body is a rite of passage for medical students. How many people get to say they opened up a skull to look at a brain?

However, it's very time consuming. Our medical school is unique. The national trend is less dissection time because it’s time consuming, it’s expensive, and the process is cumbersome plus hiring faculty that knows what they are doing costs money (time commitment). Also, there is a lack of student interest. Only the few students that are going into surgery really show enthusiasm for anatomy lab. I was very impressed and excited that this was part of our curriculum.

Were you involved in the student run clinic? Is there a moment or story that stands out as being memorable during your time at the clinic?

I was very involved in the student-run clinic. I think I spent more weekends in the clinic than not. You count hours that you have volunteered as you go, and I racked up 100 hours my first semester, and now have over 500 hours. You get to practice your skills as a doctor. You get to talk to the patients, examine them, and get real world experience.

I was also able to improve my Spanish quickly through my time at the clinic. Coming into medical school, I never spoke Spanish, but several months in El Paso, I learned quickly. Most patients in El Paso speak Spanish and are very understanding when it comes to the medical students practicing with them. They loved helping me practice.

What do you hope to achieve through the Foster Scholarship?

I am eternally grateful to Mr. Foster for his donation to not only the school but to my future. If I didn't get this, I am not sure I would have been able to attend medical school. I want to finish school, graduate, complete my residency and be a physician helping people in the community.

Do you plan to stay in El Paso?

I’m doing a neurosurgery residency and there is not a program here in El Paso. If there was, I would have definitely stayed. However, I have to leave for seven years. The field in neurosurgery is small, ~230 students a year and the number of job openings is small. If the stars align and there is an opportunity to come back, I will. El Paso felt like home to me the day I stepped here.