Name: Alexandra Sowa, MD, MA
Job Title: Internal Medicine Physician, Writer and Medical Media Expert
College Name/Major: Johns Hopkins University (BA); Dual Degree in Public Health and Writing Seminars — Central School of Speech and Drama, Applied Theatre (MA); New York University (MD)
Twitter Handle: @alexandrasowaMD
What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Alexandra Sowa: There is no typical day in medicine, because no two patients are alike! However, when I am in the office, my day generally follows the same schedule: see patients all day long! I specialize in preventive health, nutrition and obesity medicine, so the majority of my patients fall under this umbrella, but I manage everything from rashes to heart disease—and everything in between.
If I have a few minutes between patient appointments, I will quickly read new studies related to a patient’s specific disease, talk to a specialist about a patient’s care or quickly scan Twitter to check out recent health news.
During my time outside of the office, I juggle many different roles: I write on health topics and serve as an on-air health expert for national media outlets like Fox and CBS News. I am also a mom (people aren’t joking when they say that being a mother is one of the hardest jobs of all!). Naptimes and evenings after my son’s bedtime are when I do the bulk of research and writing for my own articles and projects.
What is the best part of your job?
AS: Aside from helping and interacting with patients, I love that I’m in a field where I am continuously learning. Even if a doctor has been practicing 60 years, he or she still needs to read journals and attend conferences to keep abreast of medical updates. I enjoy knowing that personal and professional growth is inherent to my job description.
What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?
AS: During my years of medical training at NYU, I learned that the best physicians acknowledge that to be human is to make mistakes. No doctor is perfect, but I strive to provide the best care for each and every one of my patients.
What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?
AS: I was recently asked to speak on national television about a time-sensitive health news story. I told the producer I’d love to do it, but that it was my day off with my toddler son and that I couldn’t guarantee that I’d be able to arrange last-minute child-care—to my surprise, she replied, “No problem, bring him in with you!”
As I was standing in their studio, being interviewed as a medical expert, with my son next door in the green room happily playing with an intern, I had a “pinch me” moment. I really felt like I had achieved everything that my 18-year-old self had daydreamed. Doctor? Check. Wife and mother? Check. On-camera medical personality? This one was beyond my wildest dreams—but, check! It was totally surreal, and incredibly satisfying, to realize that years of hard work were paying off.
What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?
AS: I had a wonderful mentorship during my undergraduate years at Johns Hopkins—Daniel Weiss, former dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at JHU, gave me advice that I repeat often. On the eve of graduation, when I was having a bit of panic about feeling like my life wasn’t 100 percent figured out, he told me this: "The successes of life don’t have to follow a linear path. If you continue to work hard and do good work, the end result will be exactly the right outcome."
He was right, and I still live by this mantra.
What advice would you offer to a 20-something with similar aspirations?
AS: If you have any interest in the medical sciences, take the prerequisite classes during your college years—and know that they will be difficult! Yes, I spent many hours studying in the library, but I was also part of a sorority, had a social life and made amazing, lifelong friends. It’s all about achieving balance. It can be much harder (and expensive) to take the required pre-med classes after graduation.
Also, follow your passions! I fostered my love of writing and theatre right alongside my pre-med courses—I even spent a year between college and medical school studying theatre in London. Although some people (including a college advisor) wondered why I was “wasting time” and filling up my course load to the maximum, pursuing the arts gave me great joy—and has given me a strong foundation for my current career. Whether I am speaking one-on-one with a patient about making healthy life changes or discussing the latest health news on national television, communication is at the foundation of being a physician.