Stories from the VP&S Class of 2024

This week, Columbia University Irving Medical Center celebrates the graduating Class of 2024 with commencement events for all four schools. We spoke to a few graduates from the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons about why they decided to pursue medicine, their experience entering school during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how their time at Columbia impacted them. Read below to hear from a few of our graduates.  

Columbia Medicine | On May 15, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons celebrated the Class of 2024’s graduation with friends and fa... | Instagram

Halil Beqaj, MD and MS in Biomedical Sciences 

Why did you decide to pursue a degree in medicine? 

My father helped me discover my passion for science at the earliest birthday I can remember. As the nerdy PhD pathologist that he is, he got me a microscope for my fifth birthday. I very vividly remember him poking himself in our kitchen and placing a few drops of his blood on a slide under the microscope. Bewildered, I looked through the lens to find what my father excitedly described as “millions and millions of blood cells!” It was in that moment that I realized that there was so much that I couldn’t see that explained the world around me. 

It was around the age of 12, while my family and I visited our home village in Montenegro, when a close relative died suddenly from a complication during a procedure that was supposed to be relatively routine that I discovered a passion for medicine. Seeing how this event, and how other consequences of the health care disparity in the region impacted my family, I developed a deep sense of wanting to make sure nobody else had to experience what my family had—in addition to needing to understand the underlying mechanisms that caused such mortality and morbidity, from both physiologic and health system levels. 

How has your time at Columbia impacted you? 

One main reason I came to Columbia is the diversity, both in the class selected each year and in the patient population. I have been incredibly lucky to learn from such bright peers who have such a wide variety of interests, passions, and backgrounds! I am not sure how the medical school’s admissions team does it, but the mix of people they select seems to foster a culture of camaraderie, making the learning environment extremely collaborative. From a patient perspective, I feel extremely lucky to get to learn in one of the most diverse cities in the world; I never thought I would have the opportunity to directly treat fellow Albanians. In addition, there are some diseases that I was certain I would only see in textbooks; yet, the reality I have been so fortunate to experience is that people come from all over the world for the rarest of diseases to be treated by the experts here at Columbia. 

Megan Chung, MD 

Why did you decide to pursue a degree in medicine? 

I think I decided to go to medical school in high school when I saw the Ebola crisis break out, and I learned more about Doctors Without Borders. And I thought the mission really spoke to me. It really paired with my interest in serving people and working with people in my career and not just science. 

What is your most memorable educational moment? 

Definitely the most memorable educational moments were on my clinical rotations when I was actually working in the hospital. So many patients come to mind. So many stories and relationships I've made. Maybe the most memorable experiences are the ones where I'm in the OR and allowed to do something in the case. Maybe that's because of the adrenaline and feeling like time is going by really slow, but I ended up going into surgery. So maybe that's why! 

What's next after graduation, and how has your time at Columbia prepared you for your next step? 

I matched at Columbia for cardiothoracic surgery so I'll be staying here for at least six more years. At Columbia, I felt that it was really easy to find mentors who would believe in me and support me, even for my first year of medical school. Those advocates really got me to land my dream position and get me where I wanted in life. I think the mentorship, the research opportunities, and really just exposure to such an amazing patient population and community were really the highlights. 

What was it like to enter school during the COVID-19 pandemic? How did that experience affect your time at Columbia and inform your future career? 

In the beginning, you had to be really flexible. We had no idea what to expect coming up. Personally, I felt like part of me wanted to be on the front lines, helping out and wishing I was already a health care provider. But on the other hand, I felt kind of protected from that because of the virtual semester of medical school, and in a way kind of safe from some of the dangers of the unknowns. It was kind of conflicting, but it did teach me a lot about how to stay flexible. You can never know what you're going to expect in your career or in your lifetime. And I was really inspired by the front-line workers in New York City and at Columbia and NYP.

Omid Cohensedgh, MD 

Why did you decide to pursue a degree in medicine? 

I was raised by a single mom who is legally blind, and so growing up, I saw firsthand how illness can impact a person’s life and the lives of their loved ones. At the same time, I witnessed how physicians had the unique ability to connect with their patients and guide them through their experience of illness. This sparked my initial interest in medicine, which was further solidified by my experiences in college at Columbia, including my time working at the Gay Health Advocacy Project and conducting biomedical research. I also saw a career in medicine as a way to connect with and give back to communities that have been historically underserved, including the LGBTQ+ community. 

What do you hope to do after you finish medical school? 

After graduating, I plan to start my first year as a resident! I’m still exploring my specific interests within psychiatry; some contenders include child and adolescent and consultation-liaison psychiatry, but I know that I want to continue working with patients from marginalized backgrounds, including patients who identify as sexual and gender minorities. Long term, I also hope to be involved in medical education, which is another passion of mine within medicine. 

Isabella Tous, MD 

Why did you decide to pursue a degree in medicine? 

Since I was a little girl, I have always really loved science and interacting with people. Medicine was a very nice intersection of the two and was on my radar as I was growing up. My tipping point came in 2012 when my grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was a very difficult time for her and the rest of my family. However, we were lucky in that she had the most exemplary physician as her oncologist and the exceptional care he gave has really stuck with me to this day—he was very caring, attentive, thoughtful, and every minute he spent with us felt meaningful and intentional. As a family member, it was priceless to see how the oncologist gave my grandmother strength that none of us could really give her at that point. I understood then that medicine was about more than curing people, and I wanted to be able to be that source of support for others in the future. This experience was so impactful for me that I was unable to envision any other path for myself outside of medicine after then.   

What is your most memorable educational moment at VP&S?  

Definitely the Ready for Residency course we took this spring! I really enjoyed learning a lot of practical things that I know I will be able to use from day 1 of residency as well as continuing to develop our team building skills. Particularly, the simulation sessions that we had were really fun and gave us ample space to do high-yield learning in a low-stakes environment.   

What's next after graduation, and how has your time at VP&S prepared you for your next step?  

After graduation, I will be starting internal medicine residency here at Columbia. I definitely feel like VP&S prepared me well: from having a strong curriculum for the foundations to giving us a wide array of clinical experiences at the medical center. I know I still have much to learn but I feel like I was exposed to enough during my clinical years that I am less intimidated by whatever may come at me in the future.   

What was it like to enter school during the COVID-19 pandemic? How did that experience affect your time at VP&S and inform your future career? 

I moved across the country for medical school during the pandemic, which was a scary experience. I had no social support here and building that during a worldwide pandemic was definitely challenging. At the same time, I feel like the experience bonded my class in a unique and unusual way that only we will understand. It was difficult having a fully virtual first semester, learning material such as anatomy that is usually taught in person, and navigating the challenges that came from that. I admire our faculty immensely for their ability to quickly adapt the curriculum to keep us safe and for engaging us with the material as best as they could through Zoom. For me, that really sheds light on the ability all of us have to be resilient and I will carry that lesson with me as I go through my career and the rest of my life. 

Watch videos from the College of Dental Medicine, Mailman School of Public Health and School of Nursing commencement ceremonies below. 

Columbia Medicine | Congratulations to @columbiadentalmed’s #classof2024 graduates! Your hard work and dedication to #dentistry has finally paid off and we... | Instagram


Columbia Medicine | Congratulations to #ColumbiaPublicHealth‘s Class of 2024 graduates! 👏🎓 We look forward to celebrating your future triumphs.


Columbia Medicine | Congratulations to the #ColumbiaNursing Class of 2024 as they embark on their nursing journeys. 🎓🥳