Magazines and Medicine: an Interview with Alum Ayan Kusari

By Christina Cui | UTS Staff Writer | SQ Online (2014-15)


The stereotypical medical student wears a white coat speckled with stray pen marks and pockets stuffed full of notes. When I met Ayan Kusari in person, however, he did not fit that stereotype at all. I also learned very quickly that medical students who had been in clinics all day love the TapEx combo as much as starving college students do. For Kusari, however, TapEx was not the only habit he had carried with him into medical school. Before crisp white coats embroidered with “UCSD School of Medicine”, Kusari wore a very different role at Columbia University.

Kusari’s journey to Columbia and then UCSD School of Medicine started in UCSD’s Revelle College a few years ago, where he, like many other pre-medical students, pursued a degree in general biology. His interests, however, extended far beyond the sciences and into the humanities. “The desire to meet people I wouldn’t have otherwise… was one of my favorite things, even growing up,” Kusari says about his initiative to pursue journalism. It was this interest that guided him to positions such as staff writer for Under the Scope and managing editor for the Guardian. Like many other pre-med students, Kusari had stellar academics, allowing him to graduate in two years with his bachelors in Biology. But, rather than entering medical school directly or pursuing other biology-related interests, Kusari decided to take time off from his scientific self and immerse himself completely in the world of journalism.

In the fall of 2013, Kusari packed his bags and moved from sunny La Jolla to chilly New York for his master’s degree in journalism at Columbia. “It was fun, but not glamorous”, Kusari stated frankly. While his biology degree aided his work on environmental health, there were plenty of other issues that a science degree could not address. Sometimes interviews were hard to find, and, even with interviews, sometimes pieces simply didn’t add up into a coherent article. While the work was demanding, his role as a freelance writer and as a writer for the school gave him the opportunity of exploring areas he otherwise would not have had the licence to do so. And it was this process of immersing himself into these diverse lifestyles that allowed him to grow most as an individual.

Extensive journalism experience is not a trait commonly seen among pre-medical students. But for Kusari, it was a year that shaped his experiences in medical school today. Being at UCSD School of Medicine is definitely challenging, but being so deeply outside of the comfort zone of science for a year has built his ability to overcome these difficulties. “There hasn’t been a moment so far that has come close to being as challenging as last year” Kusari frankly states. And it isn’t just the difficulty level that journalism has prepared him for; Kusari has also discovered a fundamental connection between the two fields that unites the experiences. “There is such a similarity in trying to figure out the essential truth about something,” he states. Whether it is the story of a molecule or the story of changing environmental health issues on the east coast, both roles require the ability of connecting sparse evidence into a fluid piece for readers or patients.

Kusari’s gap year tugged him outside of his comfort zone and ultimately shaped who he is a person. For him, there was no career building reason as to why he chose to pursue the additional degree, it was “just a right thing for me to do”. There is no blanket reason as to why students should take gap years or not, as long as the decision is made with, as Kusari says, a bit of selfishness. It is okay to simply do things out of the desire to experience more and to make you happy. For some, that might mean pursuing additional science degrees but for others it might mean taking time off to find additional experiences in life. Sometimes, happiness is as simple as a large milk tea and combo from TapEx ten minutes before their kitchen closes.