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M4 Students Nina Curkovic and Sachin Aggarwal are a Match Made in Med School Heaven

Posted by on Monday, February 12, 2024 in Fourth Year, Match Day, Shade Tree Clinic .

Fourth-year couple Nina Curkovic and Sachin Aggarwal look to tackle residency together after spending their VUSM journeys side by side.

By: Kyra Letsinger

Nina Curkovic and Sachin Aggarwal outside EBL on the last day of their M1 year

When Nina Curkovic and Sachin Aggarwal entered their first day of M1 Orientation in July of 2020, they were naturally nervous. A perfect storm of a new place, new people, and both being over 700 miles from home were obvious causes for anxiety but throw in a global pandemic and anyone can see that overwhelming would really be an understatement.

As they checked into orientation, the first step on their journey to become doctors, these feelings of fear and excitement remained the only things on their minds. What they didn’t know was that fate was simultaneously setting them up on another deeply personal and overlapping path, one toward finding the person they would spend their lives with.

Split into groups of eight as a COVID-19 prevention method, Sachin sat directly across from Nina during lunch. The two soon discovered they had a lot in common: They were both inspired to apply for medical school after volunteering with patient-outreach organizations, both were drawn to Vanderbilt’s “warm and supportive environment,” and, perhaps most importantly, were both major baked-good enthusiasts. The connection was instant.

Luckily, the two students would get the chance to bond further when they were placed into the same CBL group. And again when they both landed in Batson College. And again when they were paired as anatomy lab partners. And once more when they discovered they lived on the same floor in the same building.

They were catching onto fate’s ulterior motive rather quickly… and they weren’t mad at it. By November of 2020, still in their first semester, they decided to take a leap of faith and started dating.

Together Through Med School Memories and Milestones

Now fourth-year medical students, Nina and Sachin continue to find immense joy in taking on every step of medical school together, so much so that they’ve built a reputation amongst their classmates for being attached at the hip. The couple wouldn’t want it any other way. Despite facing the time-consuming stressors of med school, they say having one another as a support system has strengthened their relationship.

“It started with reviewing lectures and studying together since we were in the same CBL group and anatomy lab partners for the first half of medical school and has continued through other medical school landmarks,” Sachin said. “We went to get our first COVID vaccine doses together when medical students were able to get them in late January 2021. We took both of our STEP exams on the same day. We even practiced drawing blood on each other when we first learned how to do phlebotomy. It has meant a lot that we’ve been able to share in those experiences.”

Nina Curkovic and Sachin Aggarwal during their engagement photos at Cheekwood Gardens

Even outside of the classroom, the two have always been the perfect team. When their clerkship rotations aligned in their second year, Sachin would walk the short distance down the hall to cook dinner with Nina. When schedules changed, the person with the lighter rotation would take care of errands like getting groceries. And weekends? Those are reserved for Nina’s meal-prepping ritual, which Sachin has come to enjoy. Nina lovingly calls him her sous chef.

The times the two were not able to work together in the kitchen or the clinic would actually end up being advantageous to the relationship as well. After plotting for months while Nina was away on rotations, Sachin created what would be the most special of the countless experiences the two had had together: He proposed to her at Cheekwood Botanical Garden in November 2023, almost exactly three years after they had one of their first dates there.

Nina, of course, said yes.

Finding Direction in Shade Tree

Aside from getting engaged, perhaps the most impactful medical school experience for both Nina and Sachin is their work with Shade Tree Clinic. Inspired by their undergraduate experiences volunteering with underserved populations, the couple began working with the student-run free clinic in their first year, both volunteering for telehealth shifts (at the same time, of course). As appointments shifted back to being in-person, the two made sure to consult each other on which specific roles they wanted to take. They both quickly seemed to find their fit.

“For me, Shade Tree was a big draw to [VUSM] in general,” Nina said, “My first year I started off as a dispensary volunteer, helping to dispense medications for patients. It was really meaningful because despite everything being virtual in a pandemic, that was one of the roles that had to be in person. It felt special to be a part of the patient care at that time.”

Shade Tree Clinic’s 2023 Executive Board

The impact of this direct patient care stuck with Nina, and in her third year, she became Shade Tree’s Director of Patient Assistance Programs (PAP), helping clinic visitors apply for free or reduced-cost medications that would typically be too expensive to obtain. This wouldn’t be the only leadership role she would take on, though. The couple each ultimately decided to take on executive leadership roles, with Sachin as an executive director and Nina as Director of the Shade Tree Dermatology Clinic. It was through the combination of their volunteer roles and their real-world patient interactions at Shade Tree that the two came to realize their true medical passions. Both credit Shade Tree with helping them determine their intended specialties: Dermatology for Nina and Internal Medicine for Sachin.

“I was pretty interested in internal medicine coming into medical school, and my experiences at Shade Tree really just solidified that for me,” Sachin said. “My time at Shade Tree has informed a lot of who I want to be as a physician and how I want to care for and advocate for patients. It’s allowed me to gain a lot of great exposure to all aspects of medicine, especially internal medicine, while also being a great way to have a meaningful impact.”

In their leadership roles, the two would bounce ideas for the clinic off one another, ask each other for input on specific projects, and fill the other in about clinic happenings when they didn’t volunteer together. But Shade Tree became more than just a shared professional growth opportunity; it also served as a relationship-strengthening experience. Sachin says it was special just having someone — a partner — who understood the inner workings of something he was deeply committed to, and who knew the patient population he was so passionate about.

A Future Full of Trusting the Process

Even before getting engaged, the pair knew they wanted to continue on their overlapping paths and take on the next step of their medical careers together: Residency.

Nina Curkovic and Sachin Aggarwal on their trip to Croatia

This meant the two would need to participate in Couples Match, a process that allows two National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) applicants to link their rank order lists in the hopes they match into residency programs in the same geographic location. They immediately began preparing for the process, speaking to couples who had gone through Couples Match previously, and researching ideal programs in each person’s specialty to ensure a strong fit for them both. Luckily, the two say they have similar criteria for the programs they are looking at for residency, prioritizing the same attributes that drew them to Vanderbilt.

“Beyond quality clinical training, it’s important for me to be in an environment where I feel supported and can enjoy my time outside of medicine as well,” Sachin said. “I also want to have avenues to explore adjacent interests in research and informatics, making sure I’m well-positioned to successfully apply for fellowships down the line.”

With Match Day now less than a month away, the two are eager to see what fate has in store this time, but regardless of where each ends up, they are comforted by the idea that they will be able to share in yet another pivotal experience.

“Even though residency will be busy and we don’t know exactly everything to expect, I feel like it’s been comforting and reassuring to have someone to go through Match with,” Nina said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to go through residency together the same way.”


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