P&S Class of 2016: Ani Nalbandian
When Ani Nalbandian, MD'16, was growing up, the youngest child of Armenian immigrants from Lebanon, nobody thought they would see a doctor in the family. Except her.
“When I was really young, around 5 years old, I said I wanted to be a doctor. My father always said he expected I would grow out of it.” Dr. Nalbandian's father is an Armenian Orthodox priest and her mother is a chef. No one in her family had an interest in science or medicine.
But she kept her focus on medicine even while she pursued other interests. In high school, she turned to literary pursuits and wrote a book about her impressions of life in suburban Connecticut and her Manhattan Armenian school. At the College of the Holy Cross, she decided to major in history alongside pre-med classes; she spent summers working in a tissue engineering lab at Yale.
After graduation she stayed in the lab until she was offered the opportunity to teach in the Armenian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. While overseas, she had to make a choice: accept a Fulbright award to study in Armenia for a year or an award to do research in a developmental biology lab at the National Institutes of Health for two years. She chose the NIH award, determined that Armenia and global health would enter her life after completing her medical training.
Dr. Nalbandian finds herself drawn to both the “hustle and bustle” of a hospital and the research lab. Her father’s own hospitalization for sudden heart failure solidified her interest in both. It happened during her rotation in the CCU, and she asked her attending for advice. That attending, Dr. A. Reshad Garan, became her father’s physician and ultimately her own research mentor. After Dr. Nalbandian asked a question about her father’s illness that neither Dr. Garan or the medical literature could answer, the two initiated research to find the answer themselves.
With her father’s condition under control and her research well under way, Dr. Nalbandian feels fortunate that she’s staying at Columbia for her residency in internal medicine. Ultimately, she would like to “stay in academia, with one foot in the U.S., but another in underserved international communities.”
Her advice to incoming medical students is simple: “As my father told me before I started medical school, learn from everyone, not just your professors or patients. And recognize that it takes time and clinical experience beyond four years of medical school to really mature into a doctor, so remember to always be patient with yourself.”