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Stars of Stanford Medicine: Exploring options, advocating for patients

Second-year medical student Nagehan Ayakta tried out research before turning to medicine, she explains in this Stars of Stanford Medicine feature.

After spending three years doing biomedical research, Nagehan Ayakta wasn't happy. Medicine, she thought, would be a better fit. Now beginning her second year of medical school at Stanford, Ayakta thinks she's hit on the right career.

I sat down with her to learn more.

Why did you choose Stanford?

Stanford is a big campus with literally everything you can think of. Being here, I can test out humanities, policy, activism and see what I want to do for the rest of my life. I think that’s pretty unique to Stanford, having all the different departments and schools in one location.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Istanbul then moved to New Jersey when I was 8. I moved to the West Coast for my undergraduate education and haven't left since.

Why did you go into science or medicine?

I’ve always been into math and science. I loved biology and I've been very curious about why people behave the way they do.

My brother-in-law has a PhD in chemistry. He pushed me to explore my curiosity in science.

What are you working on today?

I'm the head of chapter development for the health policy interest group. We lobby California and national leaders by writing resolutions that represent physicians' ideas about health care and we serve as advocates for our patients.

Recently, for example, I helped write a resolution to urge the CMA to work with the University of California system to give grants for replication studies to draw more attention to negative results.

Was there anything that has surprised you about medical school? 

My classmates are extremely supportive and very open — that was surprising coming from a very competitive environment.

I never feel like I am alone struggling with a class or trying to narrow down my interests and I have people I can talk to if I have a rough day.

What is one piece of advice you would give to a future medical student?

Don’t be overwhelmed with the number of options and things going on. Take a deep breath and take it day by day. You belong here and you will get through it. Remind yourself that there’s a community here for you.

How do you unwind?

I love to get takeout and watch a movie with my fiancé, and I also love to cook with friends and have dinner parties at my place.

What do your colleagues not know about you?

One thing that I haven’t really talked about in some time is why I moved to America. In 1999, there was a big earthquake in Istanbul. My grandmother passed away and we lost our house.

I really admire that my parents decided to take a leap of faith and move to America. My parents spent more than one year alone in New York, while my siblings and I stayed with our other grandmother in Turkey. They didn't speak English, but wanted to find a town with the best education where we could all live.

What was the best trip you’ve ever taken?

I love to travel. On my last big trip, I took my fiancé George to Turkey for five weeks. We rented a car and traveled along the coast of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. It was gorgeous, we had the most amazing food and he got to meet my family. It was really special and definitely a way to destress before med school.

Do you have a favorite scientist?

I’m surrounded by so many amazing doctors who show compassion and care about their patients. Even though they’ve been in the field so long, they are just as empathetic as they were on day one. I have lots of scientists and physicians to look up to at Stanford.

Stars of Stanford Medicine features standout scholars in the School of Medicine. 

Photo by Becky Bach

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