Some kids dread a visit to the doctor’s office, but Sanju Garimella always loved it. In fact, she loved it so much that she spent a day shadowing her pediatrician for a fifth-grade class assignment.
“The day I was there, they were mainly doing wellness exams, so it ended up being a lot of talking to patients and parents. I thought that that was a perfect job to be able to meet people and hear their stories,” Garimella says. “Since then, I've fallen in love with science and anatomy and physiology as well, but the initial draw was just hearing people's stories.”
Garimella at the United Nations in Geneva
Garimella’s interest in medicine continued into high school at Smoky Hill in Aurora and college at University of Colorado Denver. After class and during free periods, she spent time on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus assisting a PhD student in a nanoparticle and drug delivery lab and shadowing doctors at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado.
“I’m very skilled at the art of sending cold emails,” Garimella says with a laugh. “I sent them to doctors who sounded like they were doing cool work and just asked if I could spend an afternoon with them. And people were so receptive — I don't think a single person said no.”
After graduating from CU Denver with a degree in integrative biology, Garimella knew she wanted to go to medical school, and she knew she wanted it to be the CU School of Medicine.
“I had been shadowing physicians at Anschutz since I was in high school, so when I thought of medical school, CU was the only place I could really see myself,” Garimella says. “Whenever I’d come to campus, seeing the med students felt like a peek into the next chapter of my life.”
The next chapter
In addition to allowing her to pursue her goal of becoming a doctor, medical school also gave Garimella a chance to expand her horizons. Although she was born and raised in Aurora and had “lived in about a 15-mile radius my entire life,” Garimella found herself drawn to the school’s Global Health Track, a four-year program designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills to succeed as health care providers and researchers in the global health arena.
It was the Global Health Track that also led Garimella to one of the highlights of her medical school career: a 10-week internship at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Switzerland after her first year.
“It was a very different global health experience,” Garimella says. “Traditionally when people think about global health, they think about going to a resource-limited country and setting up a clinic. But this was not like that. I was an intern within the department for noncommunicable diseases, which was a perfect fit because I got to work on cardiovascular disease management, which is something I’m very interested in. I also got to work on a couple of publications and was elected to the intern board, where I helped out with the educational aspect of internships.”
But Garimella says the best part of the experience was the people she got to work with.
“I was interacting with people from all over the world,” she says. “I know that ‘diversity’ is a buzzword these days, but truly being able to experience diversity and hear about different perspectives was really amazing.”
After returning from the WHO internship, Garimella continued her studies at CU. She focused in on internal medicine during her third year, crediting the decision to her participation in the Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship at the Colorado Springs Branch for the CU School of Medicine.
“I ended up liking a couple things about internal medicine,” she says. “It's beautiful to be able to get to know a patient and their family and to be the point-of-care for them inside the hospital. I also like the physiology of internal medicine, because you get to learn about every single thing. I think it's the best way to have a good understanding of all of medicine and be able to take care of anything that comes your way.”
“And finally, I know it's kind of a cliché answer, but they tell you at the beginning of med school to find your people, and the people in internal medicine were my people,” she adds.
Time to leave
As her time in medical school draws to a close, Garimella awaits news of where she will start her residency. But this time, it likely won’t be CU.
“I’ve been in Colorado for 25 years, and I think it's time for me to leave home and explore someplace new,” Garimella says. “So, I looked for places that were similar to CU in terms of their opportunities. For example, CU has a strong global health track, they have a health policy track, a health equity track — and I looked for all of these wonderful things in my residency search.”
She’s also hoping to land at an academic institution with a connection to health policy. “I want to be the physician that can help one person achieve their goals of care but also use the skill set I've gained in terms of leadership and experiences to implement change in society by minimizing barriers to care,” she says.
Although she’s excited to spread her wings, Garimella will miss her time at CU. “I tend to believe that everything happens for a reason,” she says. “And the fact that I got to stay in state for med school has given me the ability to grow and mature in a place where I felt comfortable.”
Garimella matched with the Yale University Internal Medicine Residency Program.