For Sonika Raj of All Saints parish in Albany, "busy" doesn't even begin to cover it. On Sundays, she sings with the parish choir; the rest of the time, she's studying as a third-year medical student at Albany Medical College.

"I am ultimately going to be an emergency medicine physician," the 25-year-old soprano told The Evangelist. "That's an extra three years after medical school."

Ms. Raj is originally from Westchester County. Her mother, a Catholic, worked for the United Nations; her father, an OB/GYN physician, was Hindu.

"My family is sort of two things coming together," the med student said.

Although Ms. Raj said she has always connected more with the Catholic Church, she noted that her parents were very supportive of whatever faith tradition she and her younger brother and sister chose.

In these hectic years of preparing for her career, the med student keeps active in her faith by singing with the choir at All Saints.

"I think I've always connected with my faith a little bit more" by expressing it through music, she remarked. "Sometimes the words don't touch you, but the music does."

Medicine and music
Ms. Raj completed her undergraduate work at Union College in Schenectady. There, she majored in biology and music. Although the two majors were very different, she was able to strike a balance between the different disciplines.

"It gave me a chance to sort of let loose a little bit," she said, adding that she is a dancer, as well.

Ms. Raj's involvement at All Saints sets a good image for the parish, said music director Cylon George.

"I think that it gives [parish youths] a model and example of someone that might look closer to them," he said.

Mr. George noted the choir had many older members, which might give the impression that younger participants weren't accepted. He hopes that young parishioners will see Ms. Raj singing and want to join the group.

"Clearly, her faith is meaningful to her," he added. "Even though she is really busy, she is making time for her faith. She is knee-deep in medical school."

Year three
Ms. Raj is finishing her third year at Albany Med. She stated that the first two years are traditional classes, "like an extended college.

"Third year is very, very different," she told The Evangelist. "I'm more or less tired" all the time, since students spend their third year rotating though the major disciplines in medicine.

"You get a taste of each bigger specialty. I'm on the surgery rotation right now," the student said. "I'm halfway through my trauma month."

On most days, Ms. Raj has a full schedule of checking on patients and being present in the operating room. She has a pager that alerts her whenever a big trauma case comes into the hospital.

"Whenever the pager goes off, I have to go down," even if it's 4 a.m., she said.

"In the ER," she told The Evangelist, "you're the first person on the scene. You can make what might have been the worst day of [a patient's] life maybe a little bit easier."

Ms. Raj sees being a doctor as a way to really live out her faith.

Light of the world
"We are all here to do the best for other people with the gifts that we have," she said. "It's a way to shine a light for someone else where there's darkness for them."

She stressed that she doesn't think she would have made it through studying for her board exams without leaning on her faith. For six weeks, the student studied nonstop from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

As the Church celebrates a jubilee Year of Mercy, Ms. Raj remarked that she sees mercy in her work every day.

"If you view a person as a person and not a case, that's merciful," she explained, adding that "it's always sort of hard to make the choice to stop [treatment], when enough is enough.

"It would be really difficult to be a medical student without whatever your faith happens to be, your belief system," said the future doctor.