Jay Patel’s path to medicine begins with the heart — specifically one that belonged to his sister. Patel was 5-years-old when his twin sisters were born. One had Tetralogy of Fallot, a rare condition when a baby is born with four heart defects.
“She's had numerous procedures done, including four open-heart surgeries. For some reason, every time there would be a complication. All of the stuff they warn you could happen after surgery, seemed to happen to her all of the time,” said Patel, a second-year student at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. “But when that happened, the health care team was immediately responsive and did everything they could to help her. She got through all of that. Now, she's in college. That was my first real exposure to medicine.”
Patel’s family also helped reveal his passion to help address health care disparities. “I am half Indian and half Mexican. The two stories of my parents’ background and immigration here are completely different,” Patel said. “My father immigrated from India. His father was a doctor and his family prioritized education, so he was able to quickly rise up the ranks in his job when he came to the U.S. My mother came from Mexico, where she grew up in poverty, just trying to make ends meet.”
Even today, Patel sees differences in the health outcomes of each side of his family, in part because of the differences in access to health care and education resources. “That solidified why I wanted to go into medicine. To bridge that gap of health disparities that different populations face just based on the resources and opportunities that they have.”
As an undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Patel volunteered with the Mobile Clinic Project. “We worked with the homeless population of West Hollywood. Every Thursday we would run a clinic from the back of a truck. It helped people who are medically in need, but also the social aspect. We had conversations with people who may not have talked to anyone else that day. We gave them a fresh pair of socks, clean underwear, or a hoodie. I think that is what medicine is all about — giving back to people who really need it, because you have the opportunity to do that.”
The volunteer experience propelled Patel to continue pursuing the path to become a physician. While researching medical schools, Patel said he “stumbled” upon the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, but feels like he “definitely made the right decision to come here.”
Now halfway through his second year, Patel hasn’t committed to pursuing a specific specialty, but says he is interested in doing something related to the gastrointestinal tract, either in GI medicine or colorectal surgery, an interest area he is exploring in-depth through his research project. He is working with Farrell Adkins, assistant professor of surgery, to see how multiple tissue compressions during robotic colectomy surgeries impact leak rates.
Patel will work on the project over his four years at the school, a unique curricular requirement at the VTC School of Medicine. “I do like the longitudinal aspect of the research here. It lets you do a more involved project or multiple projects if you choose to. There are so many faculty here doing such different projects, you can find something that you are interested in with ease. There is a good mix of basic science research and clinical research.”
His favorite part of the school so far has been the clinical skills curriculum. “We are exposed to patients from day one and have interactions with standardized patients [or trained patient actors] every week. It prepares us to interact with patients and be a physician who actually listens to your patients, knows how to talk to them and interview them, and tie that into the clinical reasoning aspect of medicine.”
Patel also loves that faculty are open to feedback and he often sees them implement changes quickly. “Their main goal is to help us learn and they really do take that to heart. Students notice it and appreciate what our faculty do.”
The school’s small class size has also helped him overcome homesickness, with his family all back in California. “I'm enjoying my time here. Really, California — LA specifically, where I did my undergrad — and Roanoke are just different places, and so they have different things to offer. Here, you get the Blue Ridge Mountains, hiking trails, and the greenway. I recently bought a mountain bike to enjoy it all.”
Patel is one of two students this year to receive the VTC School of Medicine Charter Class Scholarship, a fund started by the school’s first class that graduated in 2014. These are the first scholarships to be awarded from the fund.
"As a member of the charter class and VTC alumnus, it is so great to see that our scholarship fund is starting to provide some support for current students,” said Matthew Joy, plastic and reconstructive surgery resident for Carilion Clinic-Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. “The entire charter class benefited from scholarship support during the formative years of the medical school so I know we all appreciate how much it means to medical students who can potentially be facing a mountain of educational debt as a result of their desire to pursue a career in medicine. Since we were so fortunate to have that support from the institution, I think it's fitting that our class has its own scholarship to give some back."