Harvard MBA Admit: Battling COVID-19 On The Frontlines

Shahdabul Faraz, a resident surgeon, will be joining Harvard Business School as an MBA student this fall

The exact time that the application portal for Harvard Business School admissions decisions comes open is an anxiety-ridden moment for any applicant to the school’s MBA program.

But few candidates would have been in the same position as Shahdabul Faraz. A resident physician at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, he was scrubbing up to perform a surgery minutes before the noon EST deadline on Dec. 10.

“It was literally 11:58 and I had to scrub in,” he recalls. “I was really waiting two or three more minutes to see if I got in. But everyone was waiting and it was a three- or four-hour surgery.”


Faraz couldn’t wait any longer. He strolled into the operating room for a complex abdominal surgery, not knowing his HBS fate. “For the entire time, I kept telling myself, ‘Don’t think about this.’”

Somehow, he managed to put it out of his mind for the next three and one-half hours. “Finally, I stepped out, logged into the portal from my phone and couldn’t believe it.”

The message? “The answer is YES!”


As difficult as the journey to a top school for most MBA candidates, few could imagine what it would be like to take that journey while you are a resident surgeon at a teaching hospital of the Harvard Medical School. The pressure, particularly for someone wielding a scalpel, is formidable. The hours just pile on top of each other. In fact, it’s not uncommon for Faraz to work 24-to-28 hour shifts at a time, often without a break for a meal. In the first two months of his residency, Faraz shed 30 pounds.

Yet, somehow, while in his acute surgery rotation, he managed to fit in time to study and take the GMAT exam. “I was doing surgery during the day and at night learning how to do long division again,” laughs Faraz who would ultimately land a score of 720.

Since he has gotten the good news from Harvard, he has been on the frontlines of the deadly virus that has claimed hundreds of lives in the city of Boston alone. In a recent New York Times essay, written after he read one of Trump’s tweets on immigration, he unloaded in a remarkably candid way.


“My hours are grueling,” he wrote. “The physical and mental toll, unimaginable. I’ve begun to suffer from panic attacks. I have trouble sleeping. In one of the toughest moments of our careers, my colleagues and I cannot properly console one another. Amid all this mental anguish and physical danger, some of us must also contend with a government that seems to want to get rid of us.”

When he wrote the Times opinion piece under the headline “President Trump, I Am Not Your Enemy. I Am a Doctor,” nearly 4,000 coronavirus patients were lying in hospital beds in Massachusetts, with 675 in intensive care units. Faraz felt compelled to puts his feelings in print after returning home from a long hospital shift on April 20th and encountering a tweet announcing that the U.S. was about to close the border to immigrants. Trump said that he was acting as a response to the coronavirus pandemic and to protect the jobs of American citizens.

“I had just come home after a rough 14-hour shift and had just showered and laid in bed browsing Twitter when I saw his tweet,” recalls Faraz. “I just remember feeling very, very frustrated and overwhelmed by it. Even though I had to work the next day, I stayed up from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. to write that piece and then went to work in the morning. What I was trying to get out in that piece was an honest reaction to the national conversation as someone who is a non-American physician on the front lines taking care of mostly American patients.”


The reaction from the public at large and from his HBS classmates has been positive. “I got a lot of emails from around the country showing support. That’s been true in our HBS class, too. So it has been great. I really have appreciated the support I’ve gotten. I realized that the views of the current administration are not shared by the majority of Americans.”

Faraz, who has spent the last ten years in the U.S., has come to view the U.S. as his home. Born in Bangladesh, Faraz spent his formative teenage years in Canada where his family immigrated in search of a better life, far from the inequality and political unrest that has plagued the South Asian country for decades. In 2010, he applied and was accepted into Emory University in Atlanta, where his aunt and uncle lived. He started Emory as a philosophy major but that didn’t take and he transitioned to pre-med. 

“In my first year,” he says, “I started branching out and taking all the different pre-med courses starting with general chemistry and biology. I loved those courses, and I knew I could help a lot of people. It made sense to me to do something where there was a lot of demand. Society needs a lot of doctors and medical professionals. But there was a lot of pushback because it is very, very difficult for international students to get into a U.S. medical school.


“If you go to the pre-med advising department, everyone pretty much tries to discourage you. They give you grim statistics about how few international students get into med schools each year. The stats on internationals also made me understand I had to be at the top of my game. I hunkered down and studied when people were going out on Friday and Saturday nights. I did what I needed to do because I realized the odds were stacked against me. One of my mentors at Emory retired a couple of months ago and always said, ‘if they only take one why shouldn’t it be you?’ There were 20 or 30 of us who applied in our cohort and I was the only one who actually got into a U.S. medical school.”

Cornell University’s medical school in New York City accepted Faraz and that obviously led to his general surgery residency, a seven-year-long path to becoming a full doctor. After two years of non-clinical work, every resident then leaves for a stint, usually to work in a lab doing clinical research.

Faraz had other ideas. Mid-way through med school, he was elected class vice president, went to networking events and eventually began working with hospital administration. “I realized that I wanted to have a clinical career but do something different as well. So I became interested in inequality outcomes research and hospital administration.”


During his residency, he became involved with his hospital’s quality improvement council, working closely with administrators on those issues, an experience that led to his interest in getting an MBA. “Five to ten years down the line when I finish my residency and my MBA, I do want to have a part-time clinical career but also want to focus on hospital administration. I’m also keeping an open mind to explore healthcare consulting or something related to healthcare.”

After getting his GMAT out of the way, he applied to a half dozen business schools: Harvard, Wharton, MIT, Yale, Chicago, and Northwestern. “I honestly didn’t know how competitive I was because I didn’t have many resident friends or doctor friends who went to business school,” he says. “I thought it was going to be a little bit of a crapshoot.”

When he began studying for the GMAT, Faraz found the quant the most challenging, despite his science background. “The verbal wasn’t difficult because I grew up speaking English. But math was a real challenge because I hadn’t done any math for eight or nine years. I actually had to relearn long division.” When he scored 720, he hit the 98th percentile in verbal and the 50th in quant.

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