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M4 student discovers her voice — and helps other students find theirs

Komal Safdar collaborates to creatively improve medical education

When the possibility of a professional tennis career ended in college due to injury, Komal Safdar felt surprisingly unconflicted about her next move.

“I loved the sport, but was always hesitant about making tennis my career,” she says. “I did not have that extra mile in me to do what it takes to be a successful professional tennis player.”

The daughter of two physicians (her father is a nephrologist and her mother is an OB-GYN), medicine had always been her ultimate goal.

“It runs in my family,” she says. “I always wanted to go to med school; it was just the timing. During college, I discovered that tennis wasn’t for me and then it really became an easy decision.”

Komal Safdar [View Image]

The Class of 2020’s Komal Safdar.
Photo by Yena Son, Class of 2021

Now a member of the Class of 2020, Safdar says the exemplary clinical training initially drew her to the MCV Campus. Since arriving, she discovered a collaborative environment that fosters numerous opportunities for students.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” she says. “I think the student voice is so important at VCU. It’s allowed me to get involved in a lot of things.”

Outside of her studies, Safdar has served on the School of Medicine’s Curriculum Council for four years and is now the vice president of curriculum, overseeing 16 representatives from each of the school’s classes. Last year, she created a Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) tutoring program that has been used by about 100 students since its inception.

Christopher Woleben, M’97, H’01, interim senior associate dean for medical education and student affairs, and associate professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics, describes Safdar as one of the most engaged students he has worked with.

“She identifies issues facing students, brings them forward to the curriculum office with proposed solutions and works collaboratively with faculty and her fellow classmates to determine creative solutions to improve the educational experience for all,” he says.

Safdar also was appointed the sole student representative on the search committee for the new VCU Health vice president and CEO, who will replace Marsha Rappley, M.D., who retired on Jan. 2, 2020.

The experience of sitting in board rooms with more seasoned medical professionals, she admits, can be intimidating.

“But it’s been a growing experience for me to be able to listen to the conversations that take place and to really be able to think on that big of a scale,” she says. “It is something that I never really considered before.”

Asked how she finds time for it all, Safdar says being a lifelong tennis player taught her a lot about discipline and time management. “I utilize every 20 minutes that I have.”

Mentors such as Woleben helped her reach this point in her professional development, Safdar says.

“Sometimes you can feel like your voice is not as valued because you don’t have the experience and the wisdom,” she says. “But Dr. Woleben and others always asked me for my opinion and that gave me confidence in what I had to say.”

She has the awareness to know when she should let others be heard as well, an equally important quality for a future physician.

“Komal will be the type of physician who listens to and advocates for her patients,” Woleben says, “to make sure they receive the best care possible.”

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