Shortly after Purva Patel’s birth, her parents immigrated from India to the United States, leaving her in the care of her grandparents. She didn’t see them again until she was 9 years old.
Patel’s grandfather suffered from coronary artery disease and needed bypass surgery that would cost the equivalent of $17,000. For a family struggling with poverty, this cost was impossible—and became the impetus for seeking greater opportunities in America.
By the time Patel’s parents saved enough money, her grandfather had sustained additional heart damage which prevented him from receiving further treatment. In the final days of his life, his granddaughter delivered some happy news—she was going to medical school.
On May 8, Patel graduated from Indiana University School of Medicine, and she was selected to speak at the commencement ceremony. She will begin her Internal Medicine Residency with IU School of Medicine in July and hopes to specialize in cardiovascular health.
“My grandfather’s experience has driven me to identify and understand the social determinants of health of my patients and inspires the kind of care I want to provide—care that encompasses a patient’s needs from all perspectives: medical, emotional, social, cultural and financial,” she said.
Learning resilience and adaptability
When Patel joined her parents in the United States at age 9, it was not only a foreign world with a new language and culture to learn—it was also a new family. She had been living with her grandparents and four aunts, most of whom were students. Patel credits them for helping her develop good study habits.
Her parents were virtual strangers to her, as was her 4-year-old brother who had been born in the United States.
“For my parents, it wasn’t an easy decision to leave me behind and not be with me in my early years, but they needed to get settled first,” Patel said. “My immigrant experience taught me how to adapt and overcome challenges. It has made me who I am today, and it helps me empathize with patients who have similar backgrounds and hardships.”
Her parents couldn’t be prouder of their doctor daughter and her business-minded younger brother.
“In the end, seeing us live out our dreams makes the sacrifice worth it,” Patel said.
Even on her hardest days in medical school, Patel could be grateful. And that’s the message she wants to share with her peers in the Class of 2023.
“As each of us pursues our residency training, there will be times when we feel overworked, under-appreciated and even question why we became physicians. It’s easy to let negativity get to you,” she said. “But we are entering a privileged profession and doing something most of us have dreamed about for years. Not everyone around the world has equal opportunity to get the education they want. And if they do become doctors, they might not have access to appropriate therapeutics and technology to serve their patients. The opportunity to practice medicine is something to be grateful about.”
Patel has firsthand knowledge about how widely resources can vary around the globe. She participated in a Medicine in Kenya elective through the AMPATH program in 2022. She rotated in the medical wards of Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital for two months and learned from Kenyan physicians and medical students. In 2017, while an undergraduate at DePauw University studying biochemistry and neuroscience, she shadowed doctors in Ecuador as part of the Timmy Global Health Medical Brigade.
Back in Indianapolis, Patel manages the Student Outreach Clinic serving low-income neighborhoods near IU School of Medicine. She was pleased when she was able to use her language skills in Hindi to help patients who had immigrated from India—like her.
‘Eyes on the stars, feet on the ground’
Patel started her medical education at IU School of Medicine–West Lafayette, where she was class representative and enjoyed close connection with her peers and faculty mentors.
“I’m so glad I ended up in West Lafayette because the regional campus was exactly what I needed for my first two years, especially coming from a small university like DePauw,” she said. “My classmates and faculty were like family to me.”
During her time at IU School of Medicine, Patel pursued a Business of Medicine Scholarly Concentration, which aims to give future physicians the skills they need to envision new organizational solutions and make system-level changes for improving medical outcomes and reducing costs—a mission close to her heart.
“In residency, I want to further pursue the interests I’ve been able to develop in medical school, including the business of medicine and global health,” Patel said.
Noelle Sinex, MD, associate director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program at IU School of Medicine, said Patel’s compassionate care was evident as she interacted with patients at an outpatient VA clinic during her third-year internal medicine rotation.
“I was particularly struck by her warm demeanor and her ability to connect personally with my patients,” Sinex said. “One patient Purva saw pulled me aside and recommended that the VA try to ‘hire her on—she will be a good one!’ This was a strong praise from this particular patient.”
While at DePauw, Patel conducted research studying heart regeneration in zebrafish. At IU School of Medicine, she conducted several research projects including the use of robotics and other innovative technologies in cardiovascular interventions. And she particularly enjoyed doing patient consults during her cardiology rotation at Methodist Hospital.
“Purva is already applying the medical knowledge she learned in the classroom to patients she sees at the bedside,” Sinex said. “She brings a holistic approach to patient care, integrating the patient’s psychosocial needs into their medical care plan.”
Patel lives her life by the motto, “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”
“You should always keep trying to achieve and pursue your dreams, but it’s important to stay grateful and humble for the things that come your way and the opportunities you have,” she said. “I wouldn’t be in this position today if my parents hadn’t taken that leap and risked going to another country to make a better life for us.”