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My Kind of Medicine: Real Lives of Practicing Internists: Sameer Badlani, MD

Prerna Mona Khanna, MD, MPH, FACP

On study nights in the Badlani house in Delhi, India, the TV sat silent—a strict rule enforced by Mrs. & Mr. Badlani while sons Sameer and younger brother Puneet studied for their college entrance exams. Sameer studied for it in the mornings as well, beginning at 5 AM, when Mr. Badlani dropped him off early at school. Equivalent to the MCAT in the U.S., the medical school entrance exam is fiercely competitive, with an acceptance rate of around 2%. And the pressure comes on early in the Indian school system, where students can begin preparing for the exam immediately following completion of higher secondary school, at age 15-16. Compared to the average teenage high school existence, it may have been a bit intense, but Dr. Badlani has built a life and a career from it that he cherishes today.

The Chief
Salt Lake City, Utah is as different from Delhi, India as you can get, but it’s exactly the kind of place Dr. Badlani had in mind for completing a fellowship in bio-medical informatics. “I chose the University of Utah because I felt it was time for me to expand my horizons,” he says. He soon found several things that would take getting used to in the U.S. Coming from a city of 15 million he felt odd in the sprawling state, and even basic things such as eating dinner at 9 PM had to change. And then of course, there was the weather. He jokes about going with fellow out-of-towners in search of coats when the first snowfall hit. “We went out and bought the biggest, thickest down coats you’ve ever seen,” he says, “and then we never wore them again!”

His quick acclimation was a sign of things to come. Today, the personable and funny 35-year-old is fully entrenched in the medical community in Chicago, working as a hospitalist, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, and clinical informaticist. He finds satisfaction in each for different reasons. His work as a hospitalist stimulates him. “I enjoy the intensity of the job,” he says, “I like making immediate decisions that impact patients’ lives. It’s what I do well.” The high acuity of the inpatient service is what Dr. Badlani finds challenging and keeps him interested.

Another stimulating career role is his work as a Computerized Physician Order Entry Champion at the University of Chicago. “It is exciting work,” he says. “Analyzing drug alerts, determining whether or not useful clinical information is getting utilized at point of care, reducing health care costs… I really enjoy the workflow analysis process. Redesigning, increasing efficiency—it is an intellectual play time.”

His work as Assistant Professor at the Pritzker School of Medicine is probably his favorite. He calls the job “a lot of fun” and says he takes comfort in the fact that he will always be doing what he loves. The joy he discovered in teaching came as a surprise. “I discovered when I was a chief resident at the University of Oklahoma that I really liked teaching, which I didn’t know about myself,” he explains. “I never grew up wanting to be a teacher, teaching found me.” He was even more surprised when his students at the University of Oklahoma, Tulsa awarded him the Crimson Apple Award for Best Teaching Resident. Being a chief resident was a responsibility he took seriously. He always has and continues to hold his mentors close-at-hand for guidance, advice, or even the occasional ego check. “Mentorship doesn’t stop with training,” he says. “No matter what stage of your career you’re in, you need that input from someone you respect, and you have to be willing to accept what they tell you, even if it’s hard to take.”

In high school, that person was his biology teacher, Mrs. Geeta Saini, who grounded him at a time when he admits he was cocky. “I was going around advertising how I was going to become a doctor,” Dr. Badlani recalls. “My teacher took me aside and said ‘If you really want to become a doctor, you have to actually study. Really, really hard.’” Another was his program director at the University of Oklahoma, Dr. Michael Weisz, where Dr. Badlani was having growing pains in his role as chief resident. The program director sat him down and gave him some very sobering feedback—that there were things he could be doing better. Dr Badlani was disappointed but not discouraged. “He gave me difficult and negative feedback that was hard to swallow, but I took what he said seriously and tried to change it over the next year or so,” he says. “And what he said meant a lot because if you don’t have people like that, you’re not going to make it. If you only have people around you who tell you how good you are all the time, you’re going to fall down hard.”

The mentor who made the biggest impression was his ex-boss at the University of Chicago, Dr. Chad Whelan, who gave him encouragement through one of the best compliments he’d ever received. “He told me I had tremendous potential and ability, and I knew he wasn’t just being nice,” says Dr. Badlani. “To have someone you respect enormously put that kind of faith in my future meant the world to me. Chad is the kind of person who doesn’t demand respect, but naturally gets it. My colleagues and I used to joke that we were going to create a web site called WhatWouldChadDo.com , since we were always turning to him for advice.’”

Just the Beginning
Dr. Badlani regards his career with palpable optimism. “I’ve been in the U.S. for ten years now and as an academic hospitalist, I truly feel like I’m at the beginning of a satisfying career,” he says. Recently while preparing for a lecture for medical students on how to not let debt affect career choices, he came across a study that he found to be indicative of his own feelings. “The study said that in most professional careers like law and medicine there is high likelihood of having a midlife dissatisfaction with your career and the best way to minimize this risk is to make a career choice based on interest and not money as the sole decision maker. It’s easy to follow temptation, but you have to choose what makes you happy. It’s important to not dread the Mondays in your life. Going into internal medicine allowed me to mold my career in ways that I could not have imagined.”

He believes that primary care is a field poised for growth. “I think all primary care physicians and internists will be in high demand because there are so few of us currently,” he says, “and even if you don’t want to be a general internist, with internal medicine you can transform into 10 different careers if you want to.”

Dr. Badlani credits his success in large part to his family and his wife, Kamlika. He says his wife keeps him happy and focused in his career. “She also helps me not to take myself so seriously,” he jokes. Their families knew each other in India, and while Dr. Badlani had always liked her for many reasons, he really took the fall when the two reunited two years ago in Chicago. “She’s always been beautiful of course, but her intelligence, passion for her work, and success just really impress me. I’ve found someone who understands me and what I do.”

When Dr. Badlani moved to Chicago about three years ago, he was busy and did not venture out much. He is finally exploring the windy city with his wife and enjoying the cosmopolitan experience Chicago has to offer. He says it’s important to take advantage of those times when they come. “Students should not work so hard that they forget about living life,” he says. “Stop thinking ‘Oh I don’t have a life now, but I’ll have it later when I am finished with training’ because that time will never come, the time is now.”

Check out previous articles as physicians share what motivated them to become physicians as well as why they chose their particular type of practice.

Back to August 2009 Issue of IMpact

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