As a current second-year Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Resident in New York, Natasha Bhalla knows that managing work and life at the same time may often feel like an impossible feat, especially in the medical field. However, she let us at the TWN-Boston University chapter know that maintaining healthy lifestyle habits is easier than it seems, as long as we sustain positive mindsets, attitudes, and habits across our personal and professional lives.
Born in India, having grown up in Dubai and Canada, and having moved to the United States to complete her collegiate and practical education, Dr. Bhalla had always prioritized her studies and potential job opportunities over everything else. She was a very studious person, always keeping her mind on her grades, which she believed would not just greatly impact, but come to dictate, her future.
Dr. Bhalla completed a four-year undergraduate program, where at one point she got the opportunity to shadow medical professionals in different fields. “I got the chance to shadow a Dentist at one point, and I really loved the way he interacted with his patients,” she recalled. This experience encouraged her to apply to Dental School, where she believed her true passions lied.
“Unfortunately, I was not a big fan of Dental school,” she said, a hint of irony in her tone. “But I got to go to a big trauma medical center in New York, and the first night I worked there we had a shift from 7pm to 7am. Many patients needed a lot of emergency facial treatment and after working so hard for so long I thought, ‘That was awesome!’” This experience lit up a lightbulb in her head—this was it for her, what she really wanted to do.
She accentuated while telling her story that she had not been clear as to what field she wanted to follow until that moment, sometime after having actually completed her studies. “If you don’t know what you want to do, it’s not the end of the world! A lot of people don’t know what they want to do, but there’s lots of opportunities out there to help you figure it out!”
After graduating from the Schulich School of Dentistry in Canada, then, Dr. Bhalla moved into her surgical residency. Her specific area of interest, called Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, (OMFS) involves surgeries done from the neck up. This may include: treatments to trauma in the nose, forehead, cheekbone and jawline; head and neck cancer treatments; or cosmetic surgeries.
As very rigorous and demanding field to be in, one might think that maintaining a healthy social life as someone working towards becoming a medical professional is virtually unmanageable. “But I do think it’s possible to be balanced, have friends, be part of your community, and not miss out on life,” Dr. Bhalla reassured. And she has, indeed, reached this balance, which she enjoys showing via her social media accounts, mainly her Instagram.
Dr. Bhalla told us that creating this account stemmed from her want to push herself out of her comfort zone, for as someone who is private and often doesn’t feel like she has much to say, she wasn’t sure whether this venture would be successful for her. “But like all things in life,” she started, “I just decided to post something random about my life and see how it goes.”
Now with more than 20k followers on her Instagram account, she utilizes the platform to let her followers know that it is possible to strive for health and success within one’s personal and professional life by sharing lifestyle tips and personal stories that include everything from recipes, to life advice, to behind-the-scenes on her own daily occurrences. “Nothing is planned,” she highlighted. “I very much just post what’s on my mind.”
After finding some success on Instagram and seeing how much her content influenced others, Dr. Bhalla saw that her account was a big inspiration for other women out there, especially those interested in doing surgery and OMFS. “When I was applying [for my residency], I noticed there was only one Instagram account on OMFS,” she explained. “I didn’t really have too many people to talk to about what I was applying to, and that one account really inspired me and told me that I really wanted to pursue this career. I’m hoping that I can be that person for others, inspiring people to go into healthcare and pursue similar fields.”
Her social media ventures have also proven to be a great networking resource for Dr. Bhalla: “I’ve gotten the chance to connect with many professionals around the country who I might not have met otherwise [through Instagram] … Having had so many positive reactions made me want to come back to this, and it makes me feel like I’m working towards something big and that I’m being helpful. Having these opportunities makes me want to do more. All of these experiences have kept me going.”
Her story just goes to show how doing something unexpected, such as documented your life through social media even though you feel like you’re someone who doesn’t have much to share, can prove to be much more helpful and rewarding than it seems. However, as we all know, nothing in life comes easy.
When asked about her journey and the process that got her to where she stands today, Dr. Bhalla mentioned that her growing experiences weren’t really what she had wanted them to be, especially as someone who prioritized her academic life over everything else. “I recently realized that I was not that good at balancing life as an undergraduate,” she mentioned regrettably. “The way I dealt with it, I spent most of my time studying and not making friends, and I only really cared about my grades. It worked out in my favor, since they really pay attention to good grades at dental school, but I ended up not building as many happy memories as others did.”
“Some of the people who I looked up to in life have very balanced lifestyles—they spend a lot of time with their SOs and their families, but they’re also very good at what they do.” So why did that mean that she couldn’t do the same? she seemed to imply.
It wasn’t until she started her residency that she began to reassess her priorities and start to genuinely take care of herself and her body. “My residency made me more efficient with my time. I’d try my best not to give up on things like exercising and eating healthy and getting sleep. It really helped me discipline and streamlined my life a lot.”
Her line of work has helped Dr. Bhalla reevaluate her life, for she is often exposed to people who see serious injuries and struggles on a daily basis. “We get to develop relationships with these patients, and seeing them suffer puts your own life into perspective,” she said. “It helps me not get upset by the little things—I have family, I have health, so I shouldn’t have to feel bad about something as silly as a food delivery.”
Dr. Bhalla also touched the challenges she’s faced in light of her being a woman, and thus a minority, within her field. As a medical resident in New York, she often sees many women within the medical profession as well as within her program. “However,” she noted, “people will often see women as part of a team, but they usually don’t see women as leaders.” While this is something she doesn’t feel has affected her too gravely, it is a statement that rings true for many female leaders across the world, regardless of their profession.
She does believe this view is getting better, at least within her own field, where her rotation as resident often sees her taking command as General Surgeon. “As long as you show you’re competent, you care, you’re honest, people will be okay with seeing you as a leader,” she made sure to accentuate, encouraging the meeting attendees to practice their independent strengths with confidence.
By the end of the meeting, Dr. Bhalla was asked what advice she would give her younger self if she could. She took the opportunity to address the members of TWN BU, all of whom are currently facing their own experiences of social, academic and professional anxieties, and offered several tips and words of advice that stemmed from her own experiences, especially the challenges she faced when trying to find her way:
- “Be good to yourself. Respect yourself, and do the things you need to do to do that. Eat healthy and exercise. Those are signs that you respect your own body.”
- “If you have things to do, write them down. Write everything down, for it could make a huge difference in terms of managing your time and your calendar.”
- “Figure out what methods for studying work the best for you, but don’t beat yourself up too much about it. Just try your best. Low grades are not the end of the world.”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly:
- Surround yourself with not-toxic people, and learn to filter toxic people out of your life, because it makes a difference in your happiness. Pay attention to how you feel after interacting with people, and surround yourself with people that you feel good talking to and interacting with. It can make a huge difference in your life.
Natasha Bhalla is a current Oral and Maxillofacial Resident in New York. Her current academic interests include research, teaching and doing Operative Room cases, and she specializes in General Dentistry and General Surgery.
Find out more about her work and lifestyle via her Instagram @dr.natashabhalla.