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We Are Stanford Med: #ThisIsMyWhy with Preksha Bhagchandani

Preksha Bhagchandani, a Stanford Medicine MD-PhD student, was inspired to become a diabetes researcher and doctor by her own diagnosis.

They're students, clinicians, scientists and researchers. They're also artists, influencers, patients, scholars and advocates. They hail from all over the globe and come to Stanford Medicine carrying big ideas and dreams. With passions that stretch beyond the lab, classroom and clinic, they share their "why" as they pursue science and medicine.

One month before starting her freshman year at MIT, Preksha Bhagchandani's life changed forever. The 18-year-old was undergoing the medical workup required for college when her pediatrician found that she had high blood sugar. In the weeks that followed, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

"My world was basically turned upside down. Here I was, thinking I was going to go to college, be independent and do all these things that I was dreaming of, but suddenly I had this huge new responsibility," said Bhagchandani, now an MD-PhD student at Stanford Medicine. "You can never take a vacation from it. It always needs to be the number one priority, no matter what else you have on your plate."

And there was plenty on Bhagchandani's plate. "I found it very difficult to find the balance and shift this mindset that I'd had for many years," she said. "It was no longer 'Do your best in school and other things come after.' Now I had to turn that around and make sure that I was prioritizing my health."

Adjusting to a new norm

In her first few months at MIT, Bhagchandani struggled to manage her classes, make new friends and build a new support system while keeping up with her doctor's appointments and managing the daily rigmarole of insulin pumps, injections and finger pricks. But the experience opened her eyes to what was missing from diabetes care, and she began to think about how research could help fill those gaps. "I started exploring both sides of diabetes care -- observing more patients with diabetes and trying my hand at researching different medical devices. I wanted to explore how I could bridge these facets together."

Bhagchandani always had a natural inclination toward science, particularly medicine. As a child, she would often accompany her dad, a physician, to the hospital and was fascinated by how he cared for his patients. At MIT, she studied bioengineering, which she thought was poetic as the daughter of a physician and an engineer.

She aspired to go to medical school, but it wasn't until her experience with Type 1 diabetes that she realized she could also help patients outside the clinic. "I only really thought about the clinical side of being a doctor," she said. "But there are ways to impact patients more broadly through research."

At Stanford Medicine, Bhagchandani combines her two passions -- research and clinical care -- through the Medical Scientist Training MD-PhD program. She chose Stanford Medicine for its stellar academic and patient care reputations, but she also found a supportive and dedicated community to help her manage her own disease -- something she never really had before.

"It was the first time I felt supported by a large group of people who understood what I went through and how it fueled my passion and motivation to choose a career in diabetes care," she said. "It's very special to have other people around me who can relate to that and are on the same path."

Watch the rest of the We Are Stanford Med series here.

Photo by Luceo

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