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A Lifetime of Service

Fri, 04/23/2010 - 6:22am
Duke University

Service is a key word in the life of Shah Anil Shah. From receiving the Student Service Award during his career in Pratt, to international service and his desire to be a physician, Shah has been interested in humanity throughout his academic career. A 2004 Duke graduate with a major in biomedical engineering, Shah is far from the average Duke student.

While at Duke, Shah, who goes by Sumit, had many big dreams and ambitions. He hoped to pursue HIV/AIDS research, become a primary care physician, and eventually dedicate his life to medicine and helping people in whatever way he could. As he said back then, he was interested in exploring some of his passions, and he has certainly achieved this goal.

After commencement, Shah received a Fulbright Scholarship to go to South Korea and teach English as a foreign language. “It was a phenomenal year in which I was able step outside my comfort zone and learn a great deal about another culture and myself in the process,” Shah reflected cheerily. “I lived with a host family, which provided me a unique opportunity to really see what daily life in Korea is like.”

While he was there, Shah spent a great deal of time with the people of the country teaching his classes. “I loved teaching,” he remembered. “I was the middle school English teacher for about 800 7th and 8th grade boys and I taught lessons on topics ranging from American music to Duke basketball.”

Shah is delighted that “now there is a group of 800 boys in Korea who are all familiar with Christian Laettner's Final Four shot against Kentucky.”

While in South Korea, Shah was also able to study Eastern Traditional Medicine, an alternative medicine that originated in China thousands of years ago. He has carried his interest and respect for traditional healing processes into his studies at Stanford’s medical school.

“While at Stanford, I have been able to observe traditional healers in the bay area,” Shah said. “I hope to incorporate parts of its theory into my practice as a physician one day.”

Shah’s interest in medicine is multifaceted and strong. “Medicine is a unique field in which you receive the opportunity to form a very intimate bond with your patient and forge life-long relationships. But it is also an extremely intellectually satisfying field that blends together science, technology, ethics, culture, and politics.”

Shah’s interest in the field encompasses many of these aspects. “Many of my interests in medicine are rooted at the systems level of healthcare delivery, as in how do we improve the access to healthcare to vulnerable populations in a safe and cost-effective way.”

Shah’s education was far from over after his experiences abroad. He also participated in Stanford Health Policy research, inspecting various tumor treatments and vaccinations. “I was extremely fortunate to find a mentor at Stanford in Ronald Levy, MD who is one of the foremost experts in tumor immunology in the world,” Shah explained. “He is most well-known for discovering the drug Rituximab, which is a mono-clonal antibody that has revolutionized cancer therapy, as well as treatments for several other auto-immune diseases.”

Shah worked in Dr. Levy’s lab on a clinical trial priming the immune system to recognize tumor cells and destroy the cancer. “The trial has been quite successful,” he added happily, “and will be moving on to the next phases.”

At Stanford, Shah also explored his interests in student government, research, and international health. He was elected co-president of his class for all four years of medical school and has served on numerous committees for pre-clinical and clinical curriculum reform. He served as a teaching assistant for the Practice of Medicine course. He also co-founded an organization dedicated to improving awareness, research, and access to treatments for neglected tropical diseases, Access and Delivery of Essential Medicines, or ADEM for short.

In addition, Shah completed a Master of Public health at Harvard School of Public Health between his 3rd and 4th year of medical school at Stanford. “For my thesis, I worked in Tanzania with Professor Marc Mitchell of HSPH to create point-of-care medical decision-making software for local community health workers to use in managing chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension,” he added matter-of-factly.

While at Stanford he has taken some exciting new classes and had many opportunities that medical students do not generally have, such as a physical findings rounds class in his first year where he was able to develop his clinical skills early.

“Stanford does a great job of preparing its students to interact and treat patients at a very early level in their training,” he explains. “We were able to do bedside rounds with physician educators who are well known for the bedside skills.”

This was a part of Stanford’s new program in which students learn bedside manner and communication skills alongside their typical classes about cells, tissues, and the other important subjects in medicine.

“I was able to work very closely with Dr. Abraham Verghese, who is world renowned for his physical exam skills,” Shah said. “But he is also a prolific writer. In fact, his book, My Own Country, which was required reading for my freshman writing class at Duke, was one of the inspirations for my choosing to go into medicine.”

Shah is now looking to continue his education further as he applies to residency programs in internal medicine. Originally from Kansas, Shah is currently living in California. He enjoys living there, but is looking elsewhere for a residency program and is not sure where life will take him after that.

Shah attributes many of the wonderful opportunities he has had since graduating to his career at Duke, so much so that he is considering completing his residency back here. His advice to students both present and future is to “make the most of your opportunities here, it’s a great university.” Shah certainly made the most of his time at Duke, as evidenced by his numerous awards and life-changing activities.

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