“I’m So Grateful for His Mentorship”

Dr. Sonu Sahni Receives TouroCOM Harlem’s 2018 Frank Gray Teacher of the Year Award

May 20, 2018
Dr. Sonu Sahni, center, together with his students. Dr. Sahni received the 2018 TouroCOM Harlem Frank Gray Teacher of the Year Award.

“I tell them to wake up to the realities of medical school,” stated Dr. Sahni. “The next four years are going to be intense for them, but they can never forget who they were when they started medical school. They can’t afford to keep their heads only in the books; they must take this opportunity to grow into physicians as well as people.”

That lecture marks the beginning of the relationship that Sahni has with students at TouroCOM Harlem and it is a relationship that only grows throughout the students’ academic career. Dr. Sahni, who became a fulltime professor in 2016, is the course director of Physical Diagnosis I & II and teaches various other courses in the Primary Care Department. He is the faculty advisor to a bevy of student organizations including the Student Association of American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, Internal Medicine Student Organization, Sigma Sigma Phi Honor Society, Asian Pacific Student Organization, Otolaryngology/Ophthalmology Touro Interest Club and the TouroCOM Harlem Health Clinic.

In addition to all that, each semester, Dr. Sahni works with roughly 25 students on clinical research projects. (They’re informally known as Dr. Sahni’s Research Gang.) During his time at Touro, Dr. Sahni has published more than 25 articles and abstracts involving his students.

Dr. Sahni was born in Leiden in the Netherlands and raised in Suffolk County on Long Island. He currently lives on the north coast of Long Island.

“Traditionally if you come from an Asian family, you’re funneled into becoming a doctor, lawyer or an engineer,” said Sahni. “My parents were okay with us doing whatever we wanted as long as we did it well. My father has a Ph.D. in chemistry and my mother has a Master’s in English literature. I always wanted to be a doctor, ever since I took a bio class in high school. My high school bio teacher was one of the most influential teachers I had especially in turning me towards a career in medicine.”

His own experience in medical school in Poland also informed his view of the medical field and his teaching style.

“I feel that I got a very unique perspective,” said Dr. Sahni. “I had clinical rotations in Poland as well as in Surrey, England, which is about an hour away from London. For students there is a lot more hands-on experiences due to less restrictions. Both Poland and England have nationalized healthcare, so I received a unique perspective on how healthcare is practiced when it’s centrally funded by the government.”

“It helps me teach in a different way.”

Prior to becoming a professor at TouroCOM, Dr. Sahni was involved in clinical research at the Cardiopulmonary Research Laboratory at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. In addition, he was a physician researcher at the Department of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at Northwell Health.  His research focused primarily on advanced lung diseases such as pulmonary hypertension as well as interstitial lung disease.

Dr. Sahni said his main teaching focus is ensuring students pay attention to the nuances of performing a complete physical exam and obtaining a comprehensive patient history.

“Good physical examination skills are one of the greatest tools doctors possess,” explained Dr. Sahni. “While we have diagnostic testing and imaging, ultimately the initial physical diagnosis will guide a lot of diagnoses and treatment. Of course, I want all my students to do well on exams and tests, but if there’s one thing I want them to take from my class it’s to remember how invaluable a good physical examination can be.”

Students see Dr. Sahni as both a teacher and a friend. One of the highlights of his experience at TouroCOM so far was meeting his students outside of the class environment, including during the annual TouroCOM talent show.

“So many of our students have so many talents—singing, dancing, juggling,” Dr. Sahni recalled. “It’s great when we’re able to see them out of the context of studying.”  

Dr. Sahni’s fondness for his students is reciprocated. More than 150 students signed Dr. Sahni’s nomination letter for the TouroCOM Teacher of the Year Award and when a class representative accidentally mentioned that it was Dr. Sahni’s birthday, the entire class broke into a rendition of Happy Birthday for him.

“In the medical school environment, it’s so easy for students to get lost in a sea of never-ending powerpoint presentations and get bogged down by memorizing the minutiae,” stated the nomination letter that students submitted on Dr. Sahni’s behalf. “Dr. Sahni leads students away from this kind of thinking, usually by asking questions with answers that can’t be found in the lecture notes, like ‘What do you think your next step would be in diagnosing this patient?’ He doesn’t expect a perfect answer but pushes students to use their own critical thinking skills beyond regurgitating details from the lecture. In this way, Dr. Sahni continually fosters an environment that allows students to understand concepts from the physician’s perspective.”

“During our meetings about my research project he emphasized over and over again that his role is to assist me as best he can, and see it through to publication,” wrote OMS-II Megan Winters who will be presenting the research she did with Dr. Sahni at the AACOM national conference. “He encouraged me to apply to present my research at conferences, something I never thought a medical student could do, and thanks to him I have the opportunity to showcase my work... I’m so grateful for his mentorship, and I know that whenever I have problems with research, academics, or anything else, that Dr. Sahni will be there to support me.”

“Dr. Sahni is supportive and singularly dedicated to our success, whether it be academically, socially, or whatever endeavor we strive for,” said OMS-II Justin Chin.