Medical school hasn’t been the first time Vrinda Shukla has heard about interesting patient cases.

“My parents are not physicians but a lot of my family members on my mother’s side are doctors. We would go to visit and they would discuss some of their recent cases, so I got an idea of what being a doctor would be like from them.”

While medicine was a consideration, Shukla decided to pursue something a little different as an undergraduate at Cornell University that would still fulfill her interest in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). Biomedical engineering was a perfect fit.

After volunteering at the Ithaca Free Clinic, however, she realized that while she enjoyed engineering, she loved the patient interactions that come with practicing medicine. “As a physician, you get to see people every day and help them on a one-to-one level. I realized that fit my personality best.”

While she continued to pursue biomedical engineering as an undergrad, she found herself drawn to projects that were health-care oriented, such as a heart stent design.

The engineering training she received at Cornell was good preparation for her transition to the curriculum at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, where she is now a first-year student.

“A lot of the engineering curriculum was team-based. We were even encouraged to do homework in teams. That was a huge plus to have already been exposed to that type of learning environment before coming to VTC,” said Shukla. “The team-based learning here is a big reason I wanted to come. Other medical schools can have competitive environments. At VTC, it’s really close-knit and everyone helps each other.”

The problem-based, small-group learning environment at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine also allows students with different backgrounds and strengths to learn from each other. “Recently, we’ve been learning about the heart. For some, the pressure and physics of the heart is hard to work through, but it’s something I enjoy and understand,” Shukla said. “I’m able to help teach my classmates about that, while they may know more about something else and can help me the next time.”

The smaller class size and faculty-to-student ratio has also been a huge plus for Shukla, even just five months into her medical education. “If I have a question, it’s easy to get an answer from our faculty. I love having individualized learning opportunities and being able to build relationships with faculty and other students.”

For now, Shukla doesn’t have her heart set on one particular specialty.

“Honestly, I tell everyone I’m soaking everything in right now. I’ve been going to all kinds of student interest group meetings to see what sparks my interest,” Shukla said. “Right now, what I’m most interested in academically is cardiology, vascular surgery, and interventional radiology given my previous involvement with heart and stent technology, which relies on imaging. It all fits into my engineering background. I hope the problem-solving skills from my engineering background will allow me to see medical problems in a different light.”

Shukla is the first-ever recipient of the Dr. Edward G. and Arlene Murphy Scholarship at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. The late Dr. Murphy was president and CEO of Carilion Clinic when the school was founded and is considered one of the visionaries, with Virginia Tech President Emeritus Charles Steger, to establish the medical school and partner research institute.