Consultant Profile: Dr. Elena Nawfel
Dr. Elena Nawfel acquired her B.A. at Harvard, earned her MD at the University of Massachusetts, did her residency at the Lahey Clinic, where she also served on the Lahey Clinic Internal Medicine Residency Recruitment Committee, and trained in Medical Oncology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. After completing her medical studies, she was a Fulbright scholar in Medical Ethics.
I wasn’t always going to be a physician, and I would like to share my story with you.
You might say that my decision to enter medicine all started because of a severe sore throat when I was eighteen years old. It was the next to the last day of the First Annual Japan-US Transcultural Seminar, and my freshman Calculus professor had asked me to participate. We had just finished our panel discussion, and I had been one of the speakers.
“Why didn’t I just let someone else take my place on the panel?” I thought to myself. I should have known that my voice would sound horrible, considering the severe throat infection I had suffered just two days before. However, before I left Japan, I felt that I had to speak on the panel to let my new Japanese friends know the profound impact they had made on me. I also wanted to share my new-found love of Japanese culture, but when I went to speak to the audience, I completely lost my voice. Not a sound, much less a sentence, emerged. I suddenly thought that I should have told my professor to ask someone else to speak.
I felt miserable. I went upstairs to my room in the conference center, sat down on the tatami mat, and poured myself some green tea. Suddenly a voice called out, “Hey Eleni, the bus is leaving in five minutes. You better get ready.” “Oh no, the Bon-Odori Dance Festival,” I moaned. I really didn’t feel like dancing. To make matters worse, it was raining.
Somehow, I managed to get myself together in the few minutes that I had, but I was still feeling downcast. Upon arriving at the Bon-Odori Dance Hall, the atmosphere lifted my spirits. Almost the entire population of the tiny village of Tazawako was there to greet us, and a feeling of bliss filled the hall. Both Japanese and Americans were singing and dancing. The banner overhead was perfect—it read, “The Perfect Sympathy of the Human Race through Bon-Odori Dance Festival”. One of my Japanese friends let me talk to some of the village women by translating for me. The interaction with these women was heartwarming. I was also happy that my voice sounded slightly better than it had earlier. All of the Japanese participants formed a circle, and the Americans, dressed in traditional kimonos, were put in the center and were given candles. Suddenly, the lights turned off, and the Japanese participants began to sing a Japanese song to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.” It was such a beautiful, touching moment.
It was this moment that inspired me to change my career goals. Up until that day, I had aspired to become a veterinarian, but my experience in Japan had opened a new world for me. When I had become ill with the throat infection, I was compassionately cared for by one of my fellow seminar participants, a gentle physician from Nagasaki. I was deeply moved that this man took care of me despite the language barrier and despite the fact that our countries were once at odds with each other.
To give back to the organization, I served on the Japan-US Transcultural Seminar's admissions committee (which later became the Japan Association for Mathematical Sciences) from 1988 through 1993. I learned that the most effective essays were those that had emotional appeal and revealed candidates who would contribute to the spirit of camaraderie and goodwill that embodied the Japan-US Transcultural seminars. My interest in admissions started at that point. However, my experience as a tutor at Harvard expanded that interest into a love of tutoring and working one-on-one with applicants and students.
While I was an undergraduate at Harvard College, I tutored my fellow students in various premedical courses through the Harvard Bureau of Study Counsel. This position gave me valuable insight into the fact that no two students learn in the same way and that a teacher needs to use various teaching approaches to be successful.
From 1996 through 2000, I served on the Lahey Clinic Internal Medicine Residency Recruitment Committee. I loved giving tours to prospective candidates and describing daily life as a Lahey resident. I also enjoyed interviewing candidates and hearing what they valued most in a residency program and what they felt they could contribute. I also served as Chief Resident in Internal Medicine at Lahey Clinic from 1999 through 2000 and gained valuable mentoring experience. While I enjoyed most getting to know the residency applicants and my fellow team members , I remember well what I as chief resident sought from incoming young physicians.
From 1996 through 1997, I did a Fulbright Fellowship in Medical Ethics. It was this experience that piqued my interest in both the traditional medical school interview and the multiple mini interview (MMI), both of which frequently deal with medical ethical dilemmas.
As you can see from my narrative, I enjoy personal stories and experiences that impact one’s chosen path, and I will strive to help you discover and tell your story so that you catch the admission committee’s attention and motivate them to want to learn more about you.
I practiced as a medical oncologist until 2016 and am now retired.
On a personal note, my husband and I have three sons and a daughter. We have three parakeets, a cockatiel, and a conure, and we enjoy watching old movies and classic television shows together as a family.
Here’s a fun fact about our family—we have over 150 ghost story books in our home!