Photo of Viraj Gorthi.
Viraj Gorthi

Spartan Showcase: Viraj Gorthi

During his junior year of high school, Viraj Gorthi was on his way to Cancún with family when his uncle passed out mid-flight. Everyone aboard froze in shock, and as the flight attendants desperately asked for a doctor, he remembers feeling powerless to help someone he cared about. 

Fortunately, a nurse aboard the flight gave his uncle something to replenish his blood sugar and they went on to enjoy their trip to Mexico—but that incident has stuck with Gorthi ever since.

“I began to see the profession of medicine as a way to do good for the people I cared about,” he explained. “I see medicine as the ultimate opportunity to help people take care of their health. While a doctor gives advice and intervenes when necessary, much of a patient’s care rests in their own hands; their habits, diet, and overall lifestyle.”

Gorthi will soon learn what it takes to empower people to maintain their health. Next month, he’ll begin his Doctor of Medicine program at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The two-time CWRU graduate earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and a Master of Public Health, all while staying involved with—and leading—multiple student organizations.

Not only was Gorthi treasurer of Class Officer Collective, he also served as president of CWRU’s chapter of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), president of CWRU’s chapter of Delta Chi Fraternity and vice president of membership of the Toastmasters Club. He was also a student orientation leader, a member of the Hinduism Club, and a member of the Senior Week Committee.

Read on to learn more about Gorthi before he begins his medical school journey next month.

Answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine, and how did your undergraduate studies at CWRU shape this decision?

Coming to Case Western Reserve, I knew that I was in the perfect location to pursue my interests, and my education helped me further evolve them through its many opportunities. I got involved in research at the Kang-Woo Lab at the medical school, giving me the invaluable opportunity to see the role of academic inquiry in medicine. The many hospitals around campus (UH, VA, Metro, and Cleveland Clinic) made it easy to find volunteer opportunities nearby and continue my work from back home at Kaiser. We also have an integrated graduate program (IGS), so I graduated with an MPH along with my degree in biology. This is not a program that you can find in many other schools, another thing that makes CWRU unique (though that probably technically falls under graduate education). I also met several peers and teachers who became essential mentors throughout the years, helping me find opportunities (like hospice volunteering) that I would not have found by myself. 

2. Why are you passionate about your area of study? 

I got interested in public health after the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteering at CWRU’s vaccine clinics, I met high-risk members of the community and had the opportunity to speak to them. Learning about their situation opened my eyes to the role health access and chronic health conditions play in health outcomes. As I continued to explore this through my bioethics minor, I found myself interested in prevention as a form of treatment. In the program, I learned a lot about how social factors play into community and individual health outcomes. I also had the opportunity to study naturopathy (a form of holistic medicine) hospital in India and a research project looking for ways to increase the recruitment of African Americans for a study on Alzheimer’s Disease.

3. As someone deeply involved in various campus organizations, how did you manage to balance your academic responsibilities with your extracurricular activities?

It was quite a learning curve! In high school, I didn’t involve myself too much in clubs, so that made me all the more interested in jumping in during college. I leaped before I looked and found myself sophomore year in many organizations with many different responsibilities. This ended up being a good problem to have, as I could later choose which organizations I felt most passionate about and stay involved in them. It also provided me the opportunity to make many friendships that lasted beyond my time in the organizations. For me, it was helpful to have a mental hierarchy of the urgency of my responsibilities. 

4. In your role as AMSA president, what initiatives or projects are you most proud of, and what impact do you believe they had on the student community?

I’ve been in the American Medical Student Association since freshman year. In my first year, I worked with another member of our junior executive board to publicize information about the COVID-19 vaccines through our Instagram stories. I just really wanted to do something during the pandemic to help and found that by translating some of the dense news articles about vaccine efficacy into simpler words, I could make it easier for others to understand. Apart from that, I’ve had the privilege of inviting many different doctors to speak to our student body, some of whom I and other AMSA members later had the opportunity to shadow! These were always my favorite meetings; getting a chance to understand the diversity within medicine. I also created new events, like collaborating with EMS to make a clinic for students to get practical experience with basic first aid skills that could potentially save someone in a life-or-death situation (especially important because I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to practice medicine “because I’m premed”). 

5. What advice would you give to incoming students to help them make the most out of their college experience, especially those who might be struggling with the transition?

I would say to give every club that strikes your interest a chance. They don’t have to be related to your major or career interests, even! Organizations can help you find good mentors too! I can’t even count the number of times I’ve reached out to older members of my fraternity about courses I should take, extracurricular activities I should do, how to navigate an unfamiliar situation, or even just general advice! My fraternity tended to be the one I found to be the best for the advice I needed over my four years, but you can also create similar relationships through many other campus opportunities, like research, clubs, jobs, and dance or sports teams! The people you meet in college are the best part of it. And don’t feel like it’s too late to make a new friend. It might seem like friend groups have been solidified in your sophomore year but I was making new friends in my first semester of senior year, so trust me, it’s never too late!