Name: Elliot Mahlon, MD
Hometown: The Jersey Shore
Current city: Atlanta, GA
Undergraduate with major: Johns Hopkins University. BS in Molecular and Cellular Biology
Medical School: Emory University School of Medicine
Residency program: Internal Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine
Take me back a decade, what did you want to be when you grew up? Back in high school, I excelled in math and science but also was very passionate about Computer Science. For a while, I thought about pursuing a career in computer science. I think I would have considered medicine earlier but I grew up with my Jewish parents "jokingly" saying my twin brother would be a doctor, but I should go into business because I was squeamish. My brother is now a financial consultant and I'm the not-so-squeamish physician. (Guts, blood, poop don't even phase me, but for some reason I still can't be in the same room as someone having their finger pricked by a lancet. It freaks me out)!
Once I got to college I loved and excelled in science. I volunteered at a free community clinic and shadowed some great private doctors as well as academic doctors working at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. I loved working with patients, but it was the ability to make diagnoses through history, physical exam, labs and imaging that really excited me and drew me into medicine. I found the problem solving in medicine to be similar but much more thrilling and rewarding than computer programming.
Tell me about your college application process? How did you decide on a school and major? I went to a prep school that was very focused on the college process. We had college admission representatives coming to talk with us very frequently and I hit it off with the representative from Hopkins. I visited the campus shortly after that and fell in love. The campus is stunning, it had a great Biology program and I felt like I fit in socially (lot's of nerds). I applied early decision and was fortunate to get accepted making my college application process pretty easy. Interestingly, after I graduated Hopkins and moved to Emory the Hopkins representative also took an admission job at Emory and we're still friendly.
What was the hardest part of your undergraduate studies? How did you get through it? The hardest part? It's hard to pick just one. College is a huge adjustment in so many ways - socially, academically, emotionally. The academics were hard. I am still amazed how much time I was able to spend studying back then. But hard work pays off and I did well. I think setting goals is huge. I knew somewhat early on in college that I wanted to become a doctor, so I worked my butt off with that goal always in mind.
In addition to working hard, I did make some great friends who I am still very close with today. I got very involved in Jewish life and became the president of the Hillel which was fun and a good escape from studying. In retrospect, I could have worked harder on work-life balance and taking better care of myself. I think a lot of how I approached medical school and now residency stems from that. I put myself first sometimes and it makes me a better human being and Doctor.
How and when did you decide on medical school? College. See answer above.
What did you do to be a good medical school applicant? I was the stereotypical neurotic premed, but did my best to find activities that I genuinely enjoyed. I think it's unfortunate, but in order to be a good applicant you need to check off boxes. I volunteered, shadowed, did research, was a leader, and studied hard. There's really no secret. You certainly don't need every box checked off but you need most of them. I also think quality is way more important than quantity. I picked volunteer work that I enjoyed and stuck with it. I was involved in the same groups for all 4 years. I served as freshman liaison then Vice President and then president of the Hillel .I also coached and swam on the club swim team. For research, it's so important to find a good mentor. I've done projects with little guidance and I truly dreaded it. Find a project where you feel comfortable asking questions and have a set agenda and goal.
The one absolute key to success in the application process is to apply early. And by early I mean within a few days of the application opening. I've seen so many peers with better applications than mine fail because they applied late. Don't be that guy.
How and when did you decide on internal medicine? What other specialties did you consider?
Picking a specialty was sort of easy but a struggle at the same time. I liked so many of my rotations including OBGYN, Psych and Neurology. While on each rotation I could very much see myself in that specially, but then would fall in love with a different rotation the following month. I ultimately decided that Internal Medicine best fit with my interest in preventative medicine and would allow me to have exposure to many different fields of medicine.
What advice would you give to a freshman premedical student? It's okay and actually very important to have fun in college, but academics need to come first. Also, be sure to shadow several different doctors early on to see if medicine is the right fit for you.
What about a 1st year medical student? Go into medical school with an open mind. Even if you're 100% sure you want to be an orthopedic surgeon or a neurologist, having an open mind will allow you to make the most of your med school experience. Also, pace yourself. Med school is just the very start of a very demanding career path. Don't burn out before you even earn your MD.
life outside of medicine
What's your favorite city that you've lived in? Where do you see yourself ultimately? I've lived at the Jersey Shore, Baltimore and now Atlanta. They all represented different phases of my life, so they're all important to me. With that being said, I am big fan of Atlanta. I think it's a really special city. It's big enough to have great restaurants and entertainment, but small enough that I always see familiar faces. I want to do a fellowship, so I'm open minded about where I see myself, but I'd be very happy to stay in Atlanta.
Any tips on balancing a long distance relationship during residency? The truth is, long distance relationships are hard. Long distance relationships between two residents is even harder.
- Realistic expectations about how little you'll see each other is important.
- I think it's helpful to have talked about a future together. It really helps put into perspective that residency is only a few years whereas the relationship is (hopefully) for the long run.
- We try to see one another about once per month, but we understand that it isn't always possible. While it's really disappointing when we can't see each other on a given month, we manage by planning fun things to do on the next weekend we're together. But...
- ...There's often a lot of pressure for couples in long distance relationships to cram in a lot of activities that they normally can't do together. That may work for some, but our golden weekends are very limited and we both usually prefer just to relax and watch Netflix all weekend instead. Perhaps in that regard having two tired residents dating is advantageous to one person having a much busier schedule.
- Communication is important. We aren't perfect, but we really try. In relationships in general, it's really easy to build up anger and resentment instead of addressing it. This is especially toxic to a long distance relationship as emotions and feelings already get lost in translation when communicated over text or Facetime.
- Having at least one person in the relationship be easy going is important. I'll let you guess if I'm that person.
Talk to me about your passion for cooking and fitness. How and when did you get into each? Any quick tips for staying healthy during residency?
Cooking: I've enjoyed cooking from a young age and remember loving to watch Food Network. I also love food and fine dining in general, so my interest in cooking surely stemmed from that. I began experimenting in the kitchen during middle school and high school. I would cook dinner for family and friends. I'd try to imitate concepts I had eaten at a restaurant or seen on TV, without having a recipe. I also often did not have access to the ingredients I probably needed. So, my meals were definitely hit or miss, but I definitely learned a lot through my errors.
By college, I felt a bit more comfortable in the kitchen and loved to entertain friends. Throwing dinner parties is still one of my favorite activities. I, unfortunately, had not embraced this passion as much as I could have at that point. My focus was definitely on my academics and still didn't quite understand what work-life balance meant.
Once I got to med school, my cooking became an escape, but also my social outlet. I made a very conscious effort when I began med school to make time for activities that I enjoyed. I threw Shabbat dinners for friends, experimented with fun recipes, and eventually began sharing my creations with social media, though not to the extent I do now. Over the years, I've become more and more focused on health and nutrition, so my cooking has evolved accordingly. As I briefly mentioned above, I'm interested in preventative medicine and would love to somehow combine my passions for cooking and medicine into a career.
In residency, I probably have less free time, but find myself cooking more than ever. For most the year I've been cooking elaborate meals for myself and others and sharing them on social media. In the last month, I finally decided to write about my food and share my recipes through a food blog. It's just getting started, but I'm really excited about it and have some great ideas for future posts! The focus of my cooking has become heart healthy meals, so roughly focused on a Mediterranean-style diet - lots of fish, whole grains, good fats. But I'm still a sucker for meat and have no qualms about posting those meals as well (in moderation). My icons are Ina Garten, who focuses on fresh ingredients for simple and absolutely perfect meals, and Yotam Ottolenghi, who features much more exotic ingredients, complicated recipes, and brilliant combinations of flavors. I hope to meet both of them at some point, whether attending one of Ina's grand dinner parties in the Hamptons or visiting one of Ottolenghi's restaurant in London. I was actually in London this year presenting at the European Society of Cardiology meeting and regrettably did not have the chance to visit his restaurant.
Fitness: Much like cooking, I've made fitness a much bigger part of my life as I've better understood the importance of work-life balance. I make going to the gym a priority and try to plan my day around how I can make it to my favorite gym class. When I had more free time (and some extra money) I really enjoyed having a personal trainer to help me get more comfortable at the gym. It also pushes you to go even when there's nothing you'd rather do less. I think the biggest tip to for success with sticking to a healthy gym regimen is finding something you love. For me, it's group classes. I belong to a small group fitness gym in the Atlanta area where members become close friends. It has made going to the gym a social outlet as well as a means to stay active, healthy (and look good for summer).
What does your ideal career look like? Right now I'm thinking about cardiology, particularly preventative cardiology. I would love to merge my passions for cooking and nutrition, medicine, prevention, and cardiology into one fulfilling career. What exactly that will look like...TBD.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Fellowship?
What sacrifices have you made for your career? My initial response was, “lol.” Elyse advised against writing just that, so I’ll elaborate. For me, the biggest sacrifice I make is giving up time spent with my family and friends. Just this past year I’ve missed out on birthdays, graduations, holidays and really nice family vacations (that one especially burns). I also missed my 5-year college reunion. With that being said, I’ve really learned to appreciate the time I do get to spend with my loved ones. A demanding work schedule makes me think about what is most important to me outside of medicine and I have learned to prioritize those things and make time for them.