Student & Trainee Profiles > Medical Student Drawn to Oncology in Search of Human Connection

Medical Student Drawn to Oncology in Search of Human Connection

By Kayli Hanley

In 2009, Gohar Manzar walked across University of Texas at Arlington’s campus to mark the completion of her undergraduate studies in biology and chemistry. While most graduates take a moment after graduation to plot out their next step in life, at 14 years old, Gohar’s next destination was already set. She was headed to the University of Iowa where she would pursue a Ph.D.

Participating in a Ph.D. program as a teenager reinforced Gohar’s love for learning.

“It was a demanding but exhilarating experience,” Gohar says. “I loved exploring the truth of our world in the pursuit of science.”

Amid the formulas and molecules competing for her attention, Gohar’s dedication to science revealed an element missing from her work — a human connection.

“I really wanted to see the faces behind my research and to interact with people in the service of improving health care as part of my job,” she says.

With this direction in mind, upon completion of her Ph.D. she turned her focus to the pursuit of a career in oncology at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine.

The Right Path

The decision to enter clinical cancer care was also rooted in the loss of a loved one who died from the disease during Gohar’s first year as a Ph.D. student.

“This difficult experience put my life goals into perspective and drove me specifically to oncology,” Gohar says.

However, a pediatric rotation during her first year of medical school caused Gohar to question her career choice. Leaders of the rotation hosted a bereavement ceremony where parents who had lost a child to cancer shared their experiences with students.

Their stories shook her focus.

“I was convinced that my empathetic response would prevent me from being the backbone my patients would one day need,” Gohar says.

The challenge of encountering difficult medical situations on a regular basis had surfaced and brought uncertainty.

This experience prodded Gohar to consult with Jacob J. Strand, M.D., who leads Mayo Clinic’s palliative medicine efforts, for additional perspective.

To stay balanced, he stresses the importance of investing time in external opportunities that sustain one’s self.

Physician burnout threatens the careers of physicians on a national level, and Mayo Clinic works diligently to prepare its physicians for the job.

“Self-care,” Dr. Strand says, “is critical.”

In searching for a way to sustain herself as a physician, Gohar found her answer to self-care in the humanities — specifically, poetry.

The Human Connection

Host to musicians, artists, thespians and more, the Dolores Jean Lavins Center for Humanities in Medicine works to weave the arts into medicine to promote healing.

Art and Healing

The Dolores Jean Lavins Center for Humanities in Medicine integrates the arts and other expressions of human culture into the healing environment. The center does this through a variety of powerful mediums, including music, dance, theatrical performances, visual arts exhibitions, bedside arts programs, lectures and more.

The center is also home to The Tempest, Mayo Clinic’s student creative arts publication. It features a collection of poetry, prose and visual art meant to illustrate the growth of a medical student into a medical professional.

A visit to the center by patients, visitors, community members and Mayo Clinic staff can be a reminder to pause and take a moment to breathe. Additionally, there are eight humanities-based selective study opportunities available to medical school students at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine.

The program has expanded significantly since beginning in 1981 thanks to benefactor funding.

Paul Lavins saw the program’s potential and took a vested interest in helping it grow. Following the passing of his wife, Dolores, in 2010, Paul made a leadership gift through The Dolores and Paul Lavins Foundation to name the humanities center at Mayo Clinic in her honor. In honor of their generosity, Mayo Clinic recognizes the Lavins as Philanthropic Partners.
Learn more about the center here.

It also offers a variety of optional humanities-based classes to medical students.

The center helped Gohar form a solid foundation for processing difficult situations in medicine. The Human Element, a Humanities in Medicine selective led by Johanna S. Rian, Ph.D., specifically encouraged Gohar to use the arts to navigate the emotional challenges encountered in oncology.

“We try to give students as broad an exposure as possible to all aspects of the field of medical humanities,” Dr. Rian says. “People are realizing that it is very important to provide a balanced training in both the sciences and arts because it helps physicians and medical students to stay connected to their patients as people rather than diseases or cases.”

Now, in addition to her studies, Gohar purposefully pencils time into her schedule to write.

“Art has been an anchor through the instability in my life and a fertilizer for my medical education,” she says.

Adding the arts to Gohar’s medical education impacted the way she sees patients.

“I will encounter patients in times of high emotion, and it is important for me to be able to process that as a provider. Art is great at allowing that to happen,” she says.

The pediatric rotation that once threatened to end her pursuit of a career in oncology actually helped Gohar build a lifelong process for working through difficult medical cases. It also encouraged her to develop tools that help her stay resilient throughout her patients’ treatments.

“Habits built now will set the tone for my practice forever,” she says. “I find it very important to not lose a sense of novelty and awe at the responsibility I have, the privileges I enjoy in caring for patients, and what a gift it is to be part of an institution and profession as impactful as ours.”

With graduation in May 2019, the 24-year-old Gohar walks confidently into the next chapter of her medical education journey. Her focus isn’t on the finish line. Instead, it’s on the many lives that can be impacted along the way.

“A career in medicine is not about the light at the end of the proverbial dark tunnel,” she says. “It’s about the journey of scientific thought, improving lives and seeking the truth and meaning about the world we live in.”

Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine is educating medical students to solve the complex health care issues facing our world by pairing engineering skills with clinical expertise to ensure the needs of the patient always come first. Support the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science to turn learners into leaders.

Student & Trainee Profiles
Student & Trainee Profiles
Student & Trainee Profiles