Commencement Spotlight: Monika and Sanika Satoskar

NEOMED’s Commencement Ceremony was held Saturday, May 6, at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall. Among the graduating class were twin sisters, Monika and Sanika Satoskar, who earned their Doctor of Medicine degrees.

Many people explore their future careers at an early age. You could say the Satoskar sisters had their first medical school experiences in utero.

“Our mom was just beginning her residency at the time we were born,” they shared in a written interview with The Pulse.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Monika Satoskar, M.D. (’23), and Sanika Satoskar, M.D. (’23), spent much of their childhood living with their grandparents in Mumbai, India, while their mother completed residency.

“This was an interesting experience as we got to develop a very special bond with our grandparents,” they noted. “From celebrating our first birthday to watching Bollywood movies to taking walks on the beach to enjoying the delicious street food, Mumbai has always held a special place in our hearts.”

Eventually, they returned to the U.S. and grew up in Columbus, Ohio, but continued to visit India each summer. “Living in the heart of Mumbai really allowed us to embrace the culture and form long-lasting relationships with family and close neighbors,” they said.

The twin sisters – Monika is 5 minutes older – stayed together through their undergraduate years, both attending Youngstown State University as biology majors through the B.S./M.D. program before matriculating to NEOMED. They also took an enrichment year together to earn Master of Public Health degrees from Johns Hopkins University after their second-year in the College of Medicine.

“This was during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic which made our experience very unique,” they said. Monika concentrated in epidemiology and biostatistics, while Sanika focused on infectious diseases and vaccine science. 

“My favorite part of this year was being able to learn the biostatistical and epidemiological tools and methods in class, and then being able to apply that to clinical and public health research projects,” Monika said. “My project looked at cardiopulmonary outcomes in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Working with a multidisciplinary team of cardiologists, biostatisticians and epidemiologists was a great experience to have. I was also involved with a global health project aimed at creating a digital health curriculum for community health workers in Peru, which was also a great learning experience.”

Sanika also gained invaluable experience during her enrichment year.

“I enjoyed working with the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust, a nonprofit organization based in India during my MPH year at Hopkins,” she said. “We were working on a community project focusing on expanding non-communicable disease care and building a primary comprehensive health network within the community. Learning about the different health care systems and levels of care, as well as differences in patient management globally made it an interesting experience. I was also involved with a research project focusing on injury trends in the pediatric population during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting to learn about the various ways in which the pandemic affected us in real-time made that year especially unique.”

All in the Family

The sisters’ interest in careers in medicine should come as no surprise — both of their parents are physicians at The Ohio State University — their mother is a renal and transplant pathologist, and their father is a physician-scientist focused in immunology/microbiology research. Their maternal and paternal grandparents also are all health professionals who completed their medical training in Mumbai specializing in distinct fields including pediatrics, internal medicine and pharmacology, obstetrics-gynecology and physiology.

“Coming from a family of physicians, we were exposed to the medical field from a very young age, which definitely helped pave our curiosity and interest in the field,” they noted. “However, listening to our grandparents’ stories is what inspired us; coming from lower-middle income families with limited resources, they did not have an easy path to becoming physicians. From struggling to afford basic necessities to losing a parent very early on in life, there were several obstacles along the way. Seeing where they are today and what they have accomplished has been very inspiring.

“Our parents, as first-generation immigrants to the U.S., also encountered several challenges throughout their careers, and witnessing their perseverance to navigate through them has taught us a lot,” they added.  

The Drs. Satoskar made the most of their time at NEOMED, attending conferences with their friends and colleagues, traveling to San Diego for the American Medical Association (AMA) interim conference, to Miami to present on a project from the Student-Run Free Clinic at the Community Health Leadership Conference, and to Washington, D.C. to participate in advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill.

“Another interesting memory we share is during the M1 year cadaver lab,” the sisters shared. “With our dissection stations right next to each other, teaching assistants would often confuse us with each other which would make for a good laugh (not intentionally)!”  

“I feel very lucky to have had a sister with me during medical school!” Monika said. “Given the rigor and challenge that medical school entails, it was always nice to have a study buddy and someone who you could relate to and who also could understand you. While it was common for one of us to be mistaken for the other during rotations, having a sister alongside made the experience only better!”

The sisters will part ways for residency. Dr. Monika Satoskar will join her parents at the Ohio State for residency in internal medicine. Dr. Sanika Satoskar will return to Johns Hopkins for residency in pathology.

Words of Advice

When asked for the best advice they ever received, their responses show that the best advice is sometimes the simplest.

Monika’s pick? “There is no such thing as a stupid question,” she said. “Oftentimes during medical school and clinical rotations, you are interacting with new people, adapting to different workflows and constantly learning. In these situations, you may not always be in your comfort zone and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Whenever I was placed in such a situation, I would remind myself of this advice. Not being afraid to ask for help when unsure and aiming to always get better has been very helpful.”

Sanika went with “work smart, not hard.”

“With the level of information that you are expected to learn and apply as a medical student, it can be quite a daunting task,” she said. “I think it is important to ask yourself and figure out what works the best for you to acquire the information efficiently and effectively, as each person has a different learning style.

And what advice would they give their M1 selves?

  • Remain open-minded as you go through medical school regarding specialty choices as it is natural for interests to evolve as you go through the journey. It is okay to change and do what makes you happy. 
  • Absorb as much as you can throughout the process. 
  • Take the time to understand yourself and your learning strategy. Medical school is rigorous and content-heavy, and so it is important to understand how you learn best!
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