From Science Nerd To Accomplished Ballroom Dancer: My Story As A Hospitalist


By Aaron Morgenstein, MD & Corinne Sundar Rao, MD

“Life is about taking chances, trying new things, having fun, making mistakes, and learning from them.”-Annonymous

Early journey as a science nerd

In high school, science was my thing. I wasn’t like the others. I wasn’t interested in teenage drama. The boys didn’t chase me, and I didn’t chase them. I was that nerd; I was committed to science. My love for science drew me to a degree in biology which led me to discover medicine. Like many, I fell in love with the theoretical aspects of medicine and the art of treating people in medical school. And then, my residency started.

On a highway with no exits

During my internal medicine residency, my life became a blur. Things were moving fast. What others today refer to as burnout, back then, we thought of it as typical residency fatigue. Life was not slowing down. Residency was tough, but life was even more challenging as a physician and a mother. Early on, there were no exits on my life’s path, so I placed my blinders on, put my head down, and pushed through life.

Seeking an exit

Following the path of those before me, I graduated residency and became a traditional internist at first, taking care of my patients both in the clinic and at the hospital. I continued to enjoy medicine; however, the practice of medicine was weakening my soul. The burden of regulatory demands, never-ending paperwork, cumbersome EMRs, intrusion of work into personal life, and less and less time to do anything else grew to unsustainable levels. I needed an exit. After 14 years, I transitioned into being a full-time hospitalist. I would be happier, I thought.

Seeking an outlet from medicine

While I enjoyed the acuity and complexity of hospital medicine, it still felt like something was missing. Unlike some, I was not prepared to leave medicine entirely. I still loved the practice of medicine, but the regulatory burdens were stealing my joy, and I needed an outlet. One day, I walked into a dance studio, and my life was changed forever. This science nerd had found ballroom dancing.

Waltz with me

Immediately, I was captivated by the world of dance. So many things to learn: musicality, frame, posture, footwork … all these dances! A weepy waltz, a jazzy foxtrot, a passionate tango floating on a cloud in a Viennese waltz. Then I was introduced to the world of competitive ballroom dance. One which I never knew existed—a world of beautiful dazzling dresses, makeup, hair, judges, and competition. I was hooked! Captivated!

Competitive dancing isn’t easy.

After many years of school and training, I am confident in my ability to read an EKG, review diagnostic studies, develop a differential diagnosis and manage critically ill patients. I thrive as a hospitalist, but not so with ballroom dancing. Becoming a competitive dancer has been more challenging in many ways than medical school or residency, as it requires a different skill set. Whereas medicine requires brain power, ballroom dancing requires coordination, rhythm, musicality, timing, partnership, and footwork—skills I have not had to hone during my medical career.

I never once tripped over my feet putting in a central line.

On the dance floor, I felt like an imposter. I was surrounded by professional dancers and instructors that have spent their lives perfecting their art. Being around such accomplished dancers led me to doubt myself and feel vulnerable. I feared I might trip over my feet, embarrass my dance partner, and be judged critically by those in attendance. The practice of medicine did not raise such feelings of doubt or fear. As a physician, I feel confident, calm, and centered.

Intensive training leads to success.

I had my first dance class several years ago. I attacked my dance classes with the same intensity that got me through residency. Not knowing how to dance, I had a lot to learn. My dance instructors, like my attendings in residency, were tough on me. Residency pushed my mind; dance pushed my body and mind to extremes. I fought through foot sores and body aches to perfect my skills. Even though I was a novice, I fought thru my nerves to compete in my first ballroom competition. I barely got through it, but at least no one died. The emotions, the energy, I was addicted! I won’t look back! I now can’t live without dance in my life.

Healthy distraction from medicine

Both dance and medicine are sources of healing. Dance is a different way of seeing and being. It has challenged me in ways that medicine never could. It allows me to express myself in different ways than medicine. The practice of medicine is stressful and can leave us with few outlets to decompress. Dance has become my outlet and heals my wounded mind from long days as a hospitalist. Working as an independently contracted hospitalist allows me to accommodate my dance classes and competitions. I get to travel the country competing as a ballroom dancer as a part-time hospitalist. Life is good!

Final thoughts

Who knew that this uncoordinated science nerd would become a ballroom dancer? I am fortunate that I found dance to augment my career as a part-time hospitalist. Instead of wearing scrubs and crocs each day, I take a break from medicine and wear beautiful dresses, false eyelashes, and high heels surrounded by music and glamor. I am making mistakes, meeting new people, trying new things, and having fun. Life couldn’t be better. Join me for the next dance!

Corinne Sundar Rao is a board-certified internal medicine physician.

Aaron Morgenstein is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon.


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