Navjot Kaur Sobti, MD
With experience in journalism, this incoming interventional fellow is passionate about increasing diversity in the field.
Navjot Kaur Sobti, MD, is a second-year general cardiology fellow at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center (New York, NY), where she recently accepted a position to continue her training in interventional cardiology. A first-generation Sikh American, she studied French and creative writing at New York University before earning her MD at Quinnipiac University (North Haven, CT). During her internal medicine training at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (Lebanon, NH), Sobti interned with the ABC News Medical Unit working on a variety of broadcast and online news projects. Sobti would like to pursue a career as an academic interventional cardiologist where she can teach, empower women, and continue her work as a medical journalist.
Tell us a bit about your pathway to becoming a cardiologist.
When I went into residency, I was debating between whether I wanted to do critical care or cardiology. I was fascinated by the physiology and also the propensity that cardiac patients have for recovering from critical illness, especially after revascularization. I was deeply moved by their oftentimes dramatic recoveries. As an intern, I quickly realized that cardiology was what I wanted to do. I was also inspired by two female mentors at Dartmouth who were interventional cardiology attendings. Not only were they stellar proceduralists, but they embodied a sound grasp of cardiac critical care and dedication to academic medicine. Their mentorship inspired my research interest in women’s cardiovascular health and desire to pursue academic cardiology.
Now that I know I’ll be staying at Cornell to complete my interventional training, I'm really excited to embark on that next step. General cardiology training has been fulfilling because the experiences and the responsibilities are very tactile and versatile; plus, we're finally getting to practice in the field that we've aspired to specialize in for so many years! Starting next year, I’ll still be a third-year general fellow, but Cornell has a “2+2 program” wherein the majority of our third year is spent in the cath lab. We are effectively treated as interventional fellows. We still have core rotations like TEE and nuclear cardiology plus get a lot of hands-on time in the cath lab. In the meantime, even when I'm on outpatient rotations like nuclear, I try to find time to scrub into evening cases just because I love being in that environment. I’m also lucky to have had an amazing mentor who has supported me and really is my inspiration for wanting to do cath, Dr. Luke Kim. I still remember when I first told him I wanted to do cath. He welcomed it right away. “We need more female interventionalists,” he told me. “I’m going to recruit as many of you as I can!” He’s supported that vision on every level ever since the first time I scrubbed into a case.
How did you get involved in medical journalism?
The ABC News Medical Unit offers a program for residents where, prepandemic, if accepted we were invited to do an on-site internship with variable responsibilities. During mine, I did everything from writing digital articles on medical topics—such as heart disease, the physiology of space travel, and the effects of long commutes on pregnancy—to vetting and medically clearing scripts for World News Tonight and Good Morning America. I was able to work directly with Diane Sawyer, helping to finalize all the medical content for one of her documentaries, ScreenTime, which looked at how various forms of digital devices and media impact neuropsychiatric development in kids and adolescents. Ultimately, the documentary was nominated for an Emmy Award. I also got some exposure to television and broadcast media, including going on air for the World Health Organization's vaccine week to advocate for increased awareness about vaccination.
Had you had experience in media before this internship?
In college at NYU, I majored in French and creative writing, so I did a lot of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry composition. I also worked as a manager for our radio station, WNYU, where I did a lot of music journalism interviewing bands across the country. Additionally, I wrote and edited for a Sikhism awareness film festival and interned with a civil rights organization called the Sikh Coalition.
When I interviewed at Dartmouth for residency, one of the huge selling points for me was their immediate recognition of my dream to train as a physician journalist. They suggested at the outset that I apply for the ABC News internship. Even though the majority of programs I had applied to were in New York—where I’m from and ultimately wished to practice—I left my Dartmouth interview day with an undeniable instinct that they understood my professional vision: that while my interests were seemingly all over the map, my focal point was always medicine. Ultimately, the support Dartmouth gave me was a huge launching pad as a medical journalist.
What career path would you like to pursue?
My 10-year vision is to practice as an interventional cardiologist, taking care of patients in the cath lab and CCU. I really enjoy medical education and teaching, so I’d like to be within an academic environment, where I can help to train fellows and residents. I would also like to continue clinical research exploring sex-based disparities in cardiac outcomes, including PCI and peri-arrest care in women.
In addition to being a practicing cardiologist, I would like to continue my work as a medical journalist. One of the things that I appreciate about the work we do in medical journalism is our ability to help increase the public's awareness of preventative health—ways to stay well and prevent cardiovascular disease. Through writing, we can make the latest evidence-based medicine more accessible, digestible, and relevant for the public. It's also a great outlet to connect with patients and people across all walks of life. For me, writing has always been a breath of fresh air. I feel that having a passion outside of medicine is a powerful way to prevent burnout.
Thinking back, what has been your most meaningful clinical experience?
I remember a patient who I'd helped to resuscitate during a code blue a year and a half ago. I took care of him when he was in the ICU, but during that time he was intubated, so I never actually interacted with him in any direct way. I did, however, interact with his family a great deal and got to know his children quite well. Fast forward to several months ago, I recognized the patient’s name on my clinic schedule and was blown away to learn that he had survived a rather difficult hospitalization. When I met with the patient in clinic, his daughter said their family had requested the ICU team schedule follow-up with me after discharge. It was incredibly moving to learn that I'd had this impact I wasn't even aware of—a whole year later. My patient was doing well and had since started cardiac rehabilitation.
I think that propensity for clinical recovery, for hemodynamic improvement, and also to have such a meaningful impact on our patients lives is such a unique aspect of cardiology. That was one thing that really inspired my affinity toward choosing cardiology: the fact that you can play such a big role in the recovery of these patients who really arrive on the brink of death.
For many of our clinic patients, too—who are largely Medicaid insured—we are their first point of entry to the health care system. They really look to us as their primary doctor: the physician who is going to help them through sometimes very serious and advanced cardiac disease, be it CAD or heart failure. Guiding them back to health after a difficult hospitalization is a team effort, and one of the most meaningful roles we fulfill as fellows.
You seem to have a keen ability to suss out humanity in your day-to-day work. How would you say you started doing that?
I think there are a lot of threads and inspirations for that. First and foremost, it comes from my family and my upbringing. My mom and dad are both from India, and I am a first-generation Sikh American. A core philosophy of Sikhism is that we should embrace and treat other human beings with humanity and compassion. There is also a concept of seva, which is selfless service and working to achieve prosperity and wellness for all of those around us. I'm not someone who prays regularly, but I feel very spiritually connected and attuned to those aspects of my faith. I also grew up in a trilingual household; we spoke Punjabi, Hindi, and English, and later I learned French in school. Growing up in a bicultural family, particularly in the post-9/11 world, we frankly did experience a fair deal of discrimination. By virtue of our distinct religious identity—including the fact that as Sikhs we do not cut our hair and my brother wears a turban—we were affected by prejudice on a nearly daily basis. I think that made me more sensitive to some of those biopsychosocial determinants of health, wellness, and our experience of the world: namely, what it's like to be perceived and treated as the “other.”
So, when I meet patients with unique heritages and religious beliefs, I try to attune to and understand their context. Because we can give our patients recommendations and guidelines on what they need to do to manage their hypertension or hyperlipidemia, but without understanding what their world is like at home, what their family system is like, we cannot actually truly support them in staying well. We have to understand the barriers they live with at home, and in their community.
I've also always had an interest in human rights. When I was at NYU, I was a French and Hindi interpreter for the Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture. There, I worked with predominantly French-speaking West African refugees seeking medical and psychiatric care. A lot of them had survived really extreme levels of neuropsychiatric trauma and physical violence. In my role as an interpreter and intermediary between patient and physician, I observed their resilience and healthcare challenges. This made me even more sensitive to a lot of barriers that are unspoken. I’m currently trying to learn Spanish because, as a former interpreter, I feel like there's a certain connection that you cultivate when you can speak to your patients in their own language. Sometimes, that can get lost when you're using an interpreter.
Having gone to residency in New England, coming back to the city and its proverbial “melting pot” has been really refreshing. As cliche as it sounds, there is nothing more exciting to me than the diversity of New York. You meet patients from all walks of life, who have really interesting stories. It also challenges you, and your unconscious biases, to better understand the challenges our patients face, after we discharge them from the hospital.
How has training during the COVID-19 pandemic affected you?
Our program has been really protective of us, in the sense of wanting to make sure that even during the second wave of COVID, we had as much exclusive cardiac training as possible. There was a point at which our CCU was converted to a COVID ICU; in that moment, we were all on the same front, working to take care of our community when COVID was quite rampant in the city. That strengthened the team dynamic between us, the medicine residents, the medicine program, and just our system as a hospital. In those moments, we formed bonds that gave us the resilience needed to get through that portion of the pandemic.
Things really changed after vaccination became widely available. While we, as fellows, are back to doing exclusive cardiac work, I think we have all become increasingly vocal about the importance of vaccination and infectious precautions. In addition to blood pressure monitoring, exercise, and healthy diet, counseling patients about the importance of COVID-19 vaccination has become an equally important part of my clinic visits. Some of the sickest ICU patients that we took care of were those who did not have continuity of care—specifically they were not seen by primary care docs and had not been vaccinated. While the pandemic has been very tragic, it has also increased the world's awareness of science, including vaccination and disease transmission. As vaccines have been developed and different variants of COVID-19 have been identified, I think the general population has been more abreast of the science that's come out to help us better understand the virus. That's a positive thing.
What is your advice to people wanting to train in cardiology?
One of the cliches that I follow is to “follow your passion.” I still remember my first week on the cardiology service as a medicine intern: it did not feel like work and the hours went by quickly. I enjoyed working with the cardiology fellows and attendings, and I felt like there was an instant academic, intellectual, and interpersonal fit. In general, when you're finding your specialty choice, as subjective as it is, there is an instinctive feeling that you get when you have found the field that is your calling, and you should listen to that. To put it frankly, there are stigmas and concerns about women being underrepresented in cardiology, and I do think there are powerful barriers that we face, but that said, there are more women going into the field now than ever. Lifestyle and this perception that cardiology is a “male-dominated” or “male-friendly” field should not hold you back. Follow your vision and you will find the mentors to support it. I do feel lucky that I came from an institution where there were a lot of female interventionalists. In that sense, I think I had a bit of recall bias because I was surrounded by stellar women.
Despite this, I know that the barriers and the stigmas are real, and there are challenges for women in cardiology. An important first step is to find a mentor who can understand your long-term vision: what makes you tick professionally, including your 10-year plan. If they can share your vision, I think that is the most important sign of an effective mentor who will support you through those hurdles.
Anyone who goes into a subspecialty will face challenges. Cardiology is a rigorous field, and the knowledge base is seemingly infinite. I think that's part of the fun. Cardiology drives you to keep growing and keep learning; strong mentors catalyze that growth and provide the scaffold for professional success. I’m lucky to have had phenomenal mentors, along the way. As an aspiring interventional cardiologist, I hope to carry this forward by mentoring women with an interest in cardiology.
Aside from all this, what do you do for fun?
I am very close to my family. I grew up in a very tightly knit Punjabi household, so I love to spend time with my family and my friends. I can say that's much more feasible now that I'm back in New York! I also like to run, spin, and hike, in between exploring the amazing food scene of NY. My goal is to run a half marathon in the next year. My dad's a marathon runner, so I'll be training with him this summer. I also intermittently emcee for a film festival that's held in the city and love going to concerts. I love live music—a little bit more of the right hemispheric activity that I sometimes miss on the daily grind.
What her nominator Julie Marcus, MD (NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center), says:
Navjot is extremely hardworking and diligent and is an incredibly thoughtful clinician. She is extremely reliable, always prepared, and passionate about cardiology and patient care. In addition to her impressive work as a busy clinical fellow, she has managed to continue to thrive as a medical journalist. She is continually looking for ways to integrate her passion for medical media, including writing, into her training as a fellow. Her background serves her well. Having worked with her on the wards, I have witnessed firsthand the ease with which she writes and presents complex patient histories and assessments. She is bright, a true team-player, and a wonderful colleague to have.
*To nominate a stellar cardiology fellow for the Featured Fellow section of TCTMD’s Fellows Forum, click here.