By Jamie Talan
May 18, 2023
Abhilasha Boruah was a toddler when her mother, a math professor, and her father, a software engineer, moved from their small town of Duliajan in Assam, India, to Boston. They knew no one, but her father's new job came with the promise of hope in America. Abbi and her mother found their community at the local library, where books, story time, and chess helped make it their place. Her passion for storytelling has followed her throughout life.
In elementary school, she gravitated to science, and in high school, she spent a summer shadowing her uncle and aunt, physicians who also had moved to the US. She also was accepted into a summer high school volunteer program at Massachusetts General Hospital before she applied to an eight-year BS/MD program at Case Western Reserve University.
During her first year of college, Abbi took a cognitive science class that brought her interests into focus: science and storytelling. The pre-med student earned enough credits to graduate college a year early and went off to work at a neuropsychology laboratory at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany. She studied early neurological coordinates of morality development in infants, igniting her passion for research. She went back to Ohio in 2018 to begin her medical school training.
During her third-year neurology clerkship at Cleveland Clinic, Abbi was inspired by the support of Robert Wilson, DO, who modeled empathetic patient care, provided invaluable teaching, and encouraged her to continue to explore her passion for neurology.
She took a research year between her third and fourth years of medical school to work in Columbia University Irving Medical Center's department of neuroinfectious disease under the mentorship of neurologist Kiran T. Thakur MD, studying neuropsychological sequelae of COVID-19 infection in patients from New York City's Washington Heights, Inwood, and Harlem neighborhoods. Her experience working with and learning from Dr. Thakur's dedicated research team solidified her interest and passion for community-centered research initiatives.
In June 2022, she moved back to Ohio to start her fourth year of medical school. Her internships in neurology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and Cleveland Clinic brought her textbook learning and the hands-on patient care and pathology into sharp focus and re-affirmed her passion for the field.
She knew many of her colleagues were shying away from neurology with the preconceived notion that there is so little available to treat patients. But Abbi saw something very different. During her internship, she helped care for a patient on the floor with an unexplained seizure. The team suspected it could have something to do with alcohol abuse, given the patient's prior history of alcohol-induced seizures. But testing revealed an undiagnosed subclinical status epilepticus that had nothing to do with his drinking.
They needed a few more days of testing, but as a patient from a disadvantaged socioeconomic status with limited health literacy, he was reluctant to stay. By listening to his concerns and creating a treatment plan led by Mary Ann Mays, MD, the team helped ease his concerns and provided him with the management he needed. “He showed me the power of partnering with patients in all aspects of their life to navigate their health journey and advocate for their optimal care,” Abbi said.
David Preston, MD, vice chair of neurology for academic and educational affairs at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, recommended she apply to the residency program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. On the day of her interview there, she walked away thinking that “they really took the time to understand what I wanted out of a future career and provided partnership in that vision.”
On Match Day, Abbi got her wish. Her parents flew in for the ceremony, and her brother, mid-flight from Barcelona to Massachusetts, joined through the plane's Wi-Fi. After the ceremony, word spread quickly through her Assamese communities—in both Massachusetts and India—that she had gotten into Beth Israel's program.
“It is still sinking in,” she said. “I am going to be a neurologist.”