Biological Sciences Major Nick Sookhoo is on the Path to Medical School
By Gina Myers
November 22, 2021
Nick Sookhoo always knew he wanted to be a doctor. Well, almost always.
“I knew when I was little that I wanted to do medicine, but there was a period of time in the eighth grade where I wanted to be an NBA player,” he laughs.
However, when Sookhoo was in high school, his mother began working as a surgical tech, and his interest in medicine returned.
“She worked in the operating room and would tell me a lot of stories. It made me want to be in the hospital—I wanted to be around patients, I wanted to be around doctors,” he explains. “I wanted to talk to people about the illnesses they were experiencing—not to diagnose them. I was just curious about what was going on. I was interested in how people described what they are going through.”
It is this curiosity combined with an interest in interacting with people that continues to drive the biological sciences major today.
Though he knew he was interested in studying science, Sookhoo arrived at Drexel as an undeclared major. However, it wasn’t long before he decided to pursue biology, and a summer research experience helped show he had made the right choice.
An Inquisitive Nature
Following his freshman year, Sookhoo began working in the Petrie Lab under the mentorship of Associate Professor of Biology Ryan Petrie, PhD, as a Students Tackling Advanced Research (STAR) Scholar.
“When I first started out, there was so much I didn’t know—I didn’t know cells move,” Sookhoo explains. “The lab studies cell migration, looking at the functioning of molecular mechanisms, like RhoA pathways, and how these mechanisms drive migration.”
He enjoyed working in the lab so much that he decided to stay on as a volunteer researcher. He credits his research experience as helping him to mature and be better prepared for his courses and his life.
“The entire process of logging your hours, sitting at a desk and making the most of your time and learning to plan things out on your own—I think it’s so important. It makes you become an adult,” says Sookhoo. “It preps you for co-op, and it preps you for life. And you build connections and get to meet people.”
However, working in the lab hasn’t just been a learning and development experience—Sookhoo has also made a significant discovery.
Petrie explains, “Nick has done great things in the lab. He was solely responsible for discovering how a critical cytoskeleton protein is re-distributed when cells move into three-dimensional material. Excitingly, this data helping inform a current PhD student's project as well.”
Petrie sees great promise for Sookhoo’s future as a physician and researcher. “Nick is simply a great person to work with. He comes across to me as a very empathetic person and I think this quality is going to make him an outstanding physician,” he says.
“This is of course in addition to his inquisitive nature and desire to learn. He has expressed interest in continuing to do research as a doctor, and I think the sky is the limit for what he could accomplish by combining these two passions.”
In addition to his research experience, Sookhoo has also gotten a feel for what being a doctor might be like through a co-op at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. While his title was clinical research anesthesiologist trainee, his work was mostly in the operating room, where he shadowed an anesthesiologist and observed surgeries.
“I would wake up at 5 a.m., put on my scrubs, go to the hospital and watch surgery for seven hours. I saw everything from a laminectomy to cesarean sections. A lot of what I saw focused on the anesthesia aspect of it, administering, pre-op, post-op,” he says. “I saw in vitro fertilizations (IVFs). I never understood the process until I saw it—you take the eggs and bring it back into a lab and do tissue culture. It’s really amazing.”
This experience exposed him to a different side of medicine from his volunteer work at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center (Presby), where he has volunteered both in the emergency department, where he has witnessed serious trauma, and in the lobby, where he currently helps greet and direct people as they come in for COVID vaccinations and testing.
Connections and Community
In both volunteer areas at Presby, it has been essential for Sookhoo to be able to connect and communicate with people across diverse backgrounds, which is a skill he has long been developing—in part due to his involvement with GlamourGals.
GlamourGals chapters provide companionship through giving complimentary beauty makeovers to elderly residents in senior care. These events build community and intergenerational connection.
Sookhoo reflects on his first time attending a GlamourGals makeover when he was in the eighth grade. “I was wary of doing it. I was the only guy there, but I ended up loving it. I got to connect with people and talk, and I learned a lot—I enjoyed hearing the stories that people would share about their lives.”
The coronavirus pandemic has temporarily made these visits to senior centers impossible, but the work continues. Sookhoo recently partnered with Drexel chapters of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) and Kappa Phi Gamma to hold a card-writing event.
Sookhoo’s ability and desire to interact with people across different backgrounds and experiences bodes well for the future medical student, who will need to develop bedside manner.
For now, Sookhoo is looking ahead to graduating after winter term. He plans to take a gap year or two to continue to prepare for the MCAT and gain more experience as a researcher. He is already lined up to work in the Rogulja Lab at Harvard Medical School.
“One day I would like to be a surgeon, but I am open to other possibilities,” he says.
Regardless of what lies ahead, it’s clear Sookhoo, driven by an endless curiosity, will make the most of the opportunities that come along.