When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the city, University of Toronto Scarborough student Sri Nowduri knew he had to do something to help out.
“I saw the virus was disproportionately affecting senior citizens, and this opportunity came up to help the most vulnerable,” says Nowduri, who has been working full-time since late March as a health screener at Baycrest Health Sciences, a geriatric facility.
As a screener he checks visitors for coronavirus symptoms and certain risk factors, takes their temperature, hands out masks and helps escort them to different areas of the hospital.
Nowduri, who received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry and human biology this week, has also witnessed first-hand the difficult decisions doctors have to make.
“There have been some very heavy moments, like seeing patients in the last moments of their life or escorting family members to see their loved ones knowing they are about to pass away. It’s also tough when some family members have to wave to patients from outside because of guidelines on the number of visitors allowed into hospitals,” he says.
“I knew there were difficult aspects of being a doctor, but this experience is the first time I’ve really been exposed to it. At the same time, it also reinforces why I want to do become a doctor – it’s essential, meaningful work.”
In addition to his work at the hospital, Nowduri also volunteers at a family health clinic where he shadows doctors. There, he performs administrative work, such as filing specialist referrals and prescription renewals, and gets hands-on experience by helping to analyze reports and do patient intake.
Nowduri, who is applying to medical and nursing school for the fall 2021 semester, was inspired to pursue a career in health care following a major bicycling accident he suffered just prior to his first year. It took a while for his spine and tailbone to recover from the injury, and the negative experience proved to be a motivation.
“I thought, maybe a little naively at the time, that the system could be a bit better and that I could do something about it,” says Nowduri, who also volunteered at a children’s hospital and an autism care centre throughout his undergrad.
“That experience inspired me to volunteer in the first place, but then seeing first-hand the positive effect health care can have in improving someone’s life was so fulfilling that I knew by third year it was the path I wanted to pursue.”
A major highlight of Nowduri’s time as an undergrad came working in Assistant Professor Ruby Sullan’s lab at U of T Scarborough. The lab, which does important research on how bacteria cling to surfaces, was set up in 2017 and Nowduri was among the first students to join.
“The trust Professor Sullan gave me to take on independent research projects is something I’m really grateful for because I learned so much,” says Nowduri, whose work led to two external grants and was the focus of his award-winning research poster presentation.
Nowduri did three stints in Sullan’s lab as an undergrad – one as a volunteer and two doing research work over the summer. He did his fourth-year thesis based on his research done in the lab.
“I was comfortable treating Sri just like a grad student because he showed so much initiative, and was so determined and creative in how he approached his research,” says Sullan.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he could be a really talented researcher if that’s what he wanted to do.”
For students considering medical school or a career in health care, Nowduri recommends volunteering or gaining some work experience first in order to get a taste of what it would be like.
“If you go into university unsure of what you want to do as a career after you graduate, that’s OK. I didn’t know until third year, so it’s totally normal,” he says.
“If you want a career in health care, make sure your desire is coming from a genuine place of wanting to help others. Make sure you’ve experienced the emotionally challenging aspects of it because that insight will confirm whether it’s something you want to do.”