January 29, 2016

Alumni Voices: "Medicine is not the only way to help people"

In the first of our series of alumni voices, Neelesh Mittal (SAS '10) shows that sometimes the right major path leads to unexpected but fulfilling destinations:

When I got to Rutgers in the Fall of 2006, I was ready to pursue a career in medicine. After all, it’s what I wanted to do since I was 5 years old. My entire family knew that and expected me to become the surgeon I always said I would become.  I knew that I needed to ace Organic Chemistry, do clinical or lab research, score at least a 30 on my MCAT, and volunteer.

All this excitement came crashing down after my very first semester when I completely bombed General Chemistry I. After some deep thinking, I decided it was no matter because I would study super hard for General Chemistry II and show improvement and then medical school admissions committees would not care.

Flash forward to May 2007 – I did not improve much in General Chemistry II. The same story pretty much repeated itself for many of my major classes. I did however do clinical research the following summer and was published in two leading medical journals. Even with my grades, I pressed on, dropping a lot of cash on an MCAT course and taking the test twice. I got a half way decent score, which was not enough to offset my transcript. Advisers, professors, and smart friends and family all suggested finding a new route to helping people. 

I had enough credits to graduate with my Cell Biology and Neuroscience major one semester early, so December 2009 was the end of college for me. This was a good time for reflection. I didn’t do well in my science classes but excelled in my political science and other humanities classes. While I still had a passion for health & medicine, I came to the conclusion that becoming a doctor simply wasn’t going to be that path. I needed a job so I started researching the companies that would come to the Rutgers Career Fair in January. My experiences included clinical research and two publications and a stint as a pharm tech. I figured I could get a basic clinical research job at an academic hospital and buy time to really figure out what was next (because who wants a dead end $11/hour lab job?)

One of the companies coming to the career fair was a medical device company which created devices in the same area as my clinical research. I extensively researched this company and saw they were hiring for a role in Regulatory Affairs – essentially, getting new devices cleared by the FDA and foreign regulatory agencies. I met them at the Career Fair, went into their office the next week for an interview, and got an offer two weeks later. It was the only company I applied to. They loved that I had done all this research and showed a passion for working in teams and across multiple functions. Flash forward 5 years, and I have transitioned to a rewarding sales and marketing role at the same company where I work with surgeons one-on-one in the Operating Room to advance patient care.

Moral of the story: Medicine is not the only way to help people. Life goals made when you were 5 can and should change. Listen to the smarter and older people around you. I can’t speculate what would have happened if I changed paths earlier in my college career, but I know for sure I would have saved a ton of time, money, and stress. Sure, I’m not the guy at the OR table, but it definitely beats not being in the room at all.