While it’s common to approach a New York apartment hunt with a long wish list, Taruna Chandok had just one requirement for her first apartment in the city: “The only criterion was near the hospital,” said Dr. Chandok, 45, who started a residency in internal medicine at the BronxCare Hospital Center in July.
“Residency is busy — you don’t get time to think about everything else,” she said. “When I am home, I am reading about my patients. You cannot stop reading and learning.”
Dr. Chandok practiced medicine for four years in India before marrying another doctor and moving to Massachusetts. But to work as a doctor in the United States, she would need to take qualifying exams and complete a residency here — hurdles that, with two young children and several seriously ill extended family members, she was not able to start tackling until a few years ago.
“I was running around to doctors’ appointments, making sure everyone had their medications, grocery shopping, laundry, the kids were very young and, on top of it, people being ill,” she said. “I was so busy. I never thought about myself.”
The residency in the Bronx, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from the Newton, Mass., home that she shares with her husband, their teenage sons and her mother-in-law, came on the heels of volunteer work that Dr. Chandok did at the hospital during the height of the city’s coronavirus epidemic.
“When Covid happened, I did not want to sit at home and be a spectator to it,” said Dr. Chandok, who had previously volunteered as a research assistant at a V.A. hospital near home, work that was put on hold during the outbreak. “I started with New York, because it was the worst-hit place, sending emails everywhere to see if I could be a helping hand to anyone. I immediately got a call from BronxCare.”
After two months of working at the Grand Concourse hospital, by the border of the Mount Eden and Claremont neighborhoods, sleeping on an air mattress in an apartment provided for medical workers, she returned to Massachusetts. “I was glad that the worst of the Covid season had ended, but sad to leave the hospital,” she said.
Three weeks later, she received another call from BronxCare, offering her a residency at the hospital where she had volunteered. “I was so excited,” she said. “I was so hungry. You know if you put food in front of someone who is so hungry, and they gobble everything? I was like that.”
Dr. Chandok knew that most of her waking hours over the next three years would be spent at the hospital, not at home, so she didn’t want to waste time apartment hunting. She also knew that many of the medical professionals who worked at the hospital lived in one of two nearby buildings, 1700 and 1770 Grand Concourse, owned by Goldfarb Properties, a New York City-based landlord and management company that had provided the apartment where she lived as a volunteer in the spring. Dr. Chandok told the company she would like a studio in one of the buildings.
“They gave me a nice one with a balcony that’s just a two-minute walk to the hospital,” she said. “It doesn’t take long to come back. And time is precious, because you get that much more time to relax.”
Her rent is $1,780 a month, and although she has met other residents with cheaper places, she is glad that her building has 24/7 security and someone to accept packages, as her shifts regularly exceed 12 hours and change frequently.
She has been pleasantly surprised by some other features: good sunlight from three large windows and a private balcony. “Though I’m not here to enjoy that much,” she said. “Each week, I get a Saturday or a Sunday off. A golden weekend is both days off. When that happens, I go back to Boston to see my family.”
$1,780 | Mount Eden, The Bronx
Taruna Chandok, 45
Occupation: Internal medicine resident at BronxCare Hospital Center
Exploring New York? Not yet: “I’d like to get to know the city,” she said. “But I haven’t thought about it yet. It has been so busy.”
But she is getting to know the Bronx: “The community is teaching me so much,” she said. “You see how Covid modifies and changes everything. I have a lot of respect for this community.”
New York City traffic: “is crazy here, people are honking without reason. I have been driving for so long, and I’ve never honked once,” she said. “In Boston, people are a little more patient than in New York.”
On the other weekends, her husband, Dharmender, comes to visit. (He is an anesthesiologist at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester.) “My kids, I miss and they miss me, but they’re older now — 13 and 15 — so they don’t need me as much,” she said. They also talk on the phone every day.
This is the first time she has lived alone. As a student and young doctor in India, she lived either in dorm-style medical housing with a roommate — she did most of her training in Mumbai, “which is not a cheap place to live; it’s just like New York” — then later, with her family in New Delhi, so she could save money.
Typically, she spends only a few hours awake in the apartment between shifts. “As soon as I get home, I put on background music, relax, have tea,” she said.
She took a no-nonsense approach to the décor, furnishing the space with items from Ikea and Bob’s Discount Furniture, and buying heavy blinds for when she works nights and needs to sleep during the day.
As for how the space compares to her house in Massachusetts, she laughed: “It’s just a studio. It’s like the size of one bedroom. In Newton, I have a big house, a big yard. And you don’t see roads or cars — they’re all in garages — only greenery. Here, the cars are lined up on the street, and it’s very busy.”
Her life is also very different from the one she led in Massachusetts. There, she spent hours each day grocery shopping and cooking meals for her family. Now, her mother-in-law cooks and freezes meals for her, and her husband brings them when he visits, so she can focus on work without domestic distractions.
“I’ve always been someone who likes eating healthy, exercising. I don’t like eating out,” said Dr. Chandok, who will not be subsisting on takeout and vending machine fare for the next few years, as many of her colleagues will. Exercise, however, has fallen by the wayside, even with a gym in the building next door. Her focus is elsewhere.
“I’m lucky that at this time, after 20 years, everything is possible,” Dr. Chandok said. “My family doesn’t need to depend on me anymore, and I am quite well settled. I can devote all my attention to patient care.”
She added: “I can’t tell you how good it feels to start your life again after such a long time. I’ve always been a hard worker, and I have the support of my husband and kids and friends, which you need if you’re starting late. But there is no wrong time. My colleagues are much younger than me, yes, and even my seniors are younger than me, but I don’t feel it.”