From Torch Editorial Board to Medical School for May St. John’s Graduate
A weeklong trip to Ecuador was all it took for St. John’s University senior Priyanka Gera to plot a course for her life.
“It was amazing to have the opportunity to observe in an operating room and help people recover post-op,” Priyanka recalled. “It was so eye-opening to know that what I take for granted, other people don’t have.”
Drawn to a medical career from childhood, during her time at St. John’s Priyanka enjoyed another passion—journalism. She served on the staff of the campus newspaper The Torch for four years, shepherding its transition from print to a fully digital product during the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But any notion that she might trade in her medical scrubs for a reporter’s notebook evaporated upon her arrival in Ecuador during a January 2020 relief effort. Priyanka, then 19, traveled with a Huntington, NY-based nonprofit to assist medical personnel in the impoverished South American country. She calmed patients’ fears before surgery and kept their spirits up during rehabilitation.
She was especially drawn to a seven-year-old boy who was dropped off alone for surgery because neither parent was able to miss a day of work. “It was heartbreaking,” Priyanka recalled.
Missions such as those are the reason Priyanka, from Plainview, NY, came to St. John’s. It’s also why the St. John’s Presidential Scholar will attend New York Medical College beginning in the late summer.
“The Vincentian mission is so meaningful to me,” Priyanka said. “Seeing the goodness in everything is so inspiring—and that’s something I hope I can bring to medical school.”
Priyanka will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish. St. John’s has been all she hoped it would be after committing while at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School.
Meeting with a recruiter at a college fair, she was surprised not only to be admitted to St. John’s, but to receive a scholarship opportunity. She accepted the offer on the spot.
“I was in shock,” Priyanka recalled. “I was always interested in St. John’s. I remember thinking, ‘He is giving me a scholarship right now!’ It was completely unexpected, but I am glad I got it.”
While her course of study was unconventional for a student bound for medical school, Priyanka said she will use her ability to communicate with Latin patients in their native language to help form a bond of trust with them as she builds her future practice.
Her Spanish studies, steeped in literature, inspired her to pursue her other great passion: writing. A member of the student newspaper staff in high school, she sought out the editors of The Torch during her first year at St. John’s, moving quickly from Assistant Culture Editor to other key positions before finishing her term as Managing Editor, one of the top posts in the organization.
While Priyanka loved the experience, it was not enough to make her reconsider the plan for her life.
“Everyone on the staff of The Torch made me feel so comfortable. I instantly fell in love with it,” Priyanka recalled. “It was something I was definitely passionate about it, but going to medical school was always on my radar.”
And to those who wonder, Priyanka says the two disciplines are not dissimilar.
“You leave behind a piece of yourself with every story you write and every edition that you publish,” Priyanka said. “As a physician, when you can help someone in their most vulnerable moment, you become part of that person’s story.”