Cheleng Brifkani always keeps his eye on the prize, and this strategy has served him well throughout life. As a graduate of the University of Ottawa with a degree in Biochemistry, he originally had hoped to matriculate into U. Ottawa for his MD. Yet when this didn’t come to pass (“Canada is notorious for having the odds being stacked against you when applying to medical school”) he didn't just give up and switch to a different career as so many of his peers did.
“For me, I didn't want to give up on my dream. I had a friend who introduced me to Saba and had a lot of good things to say about the school. Saba is very well known as a reputable school where they train you well and students get high USMLE scores”.
Cheleng continues, “Saba was the best decision I've made for my career. It's a secluded island, which is one of its strengths because this allows you to focus on your studies without any distractions. It's also a beautiful island where the weather is amazing, full of great hiking trails, and plenty of opportunities to learn how to scuba dive! The connections you make with your peers is also one of a kind. There's very much a 'we are all in this together' mentality and the camaraderie brings everyone together during basic science.”
He excelled in Basic Sciences, serving as a TA for Histology, Physiology, Biochemistry and Neuroscience.
“My clinical experience was largely positive. Another strength of Saba is the many facilities that the school is affiliated which allow for a ubiquitous experience during clinical rotations. I wanted to be in as many different hospital settings as I could, not only to learn about each novel aspect of residency programs but also to meet different faculty members and Program Directors. I felt this would give me a chance to figure out what to look for in a residency training program. This kind of experience is valuable when it comes to deciding how to rank different residency programs. If you opt to just stay at one hospital you don't get this information.”
Armed with an understanding of his preferences for a residency, Cheleng applied and matched into a three-year Internal Medicine Residency at Norwalk Hospital, a Yale University affiliate. It was his top choice.
“Norwalk was the only program to offer a global health elective and I knew I had to take advantage of that unique opportunity”. After completing his first year of his residency in Norwalk, he rotated at a Cho-Ray Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City,Vietnam.
He observed, “I learned that the backbone of third world medicine is the patient's family. They would bathe, clean and walk patients while they are in the hospital. What was most striking were the limited vital resources and how they managed to get around these challenges, especially involving ventilators. There simply weren't enough to go around, so when a patient was intubated their family members would sit at the bedside all day and night and manually bag ventilate them". It was an eye-opening experience.
Back in Norwalk, Cheleng had a lightbulb moment about his next steps. Inspired by the fact that the vast majority of his patients are older, have complex social issues, and are dealing with multiple co-morbidities he grew to understand that Internal medicine and Geriatric medicine are inextricably intertwined.
With this he applied, and was accepted into a one year Fellowship in Geriatrics at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medicine. He will begin this summer.
He tells other students, “Use Saba as an opportunity to reach your goals. Find a way to make it happen for yourself”.