'Attitude is contagious'
Laura Gates May 01, 2023
Class of 2023 Graduate Punit Vyas leaves legacy of peer mentorship and wellness at IU School of Medicine
The last time Punit Vyas played his guitar in earnest was the seventh grade. He might want to dust off those guitar strings because the Indiana University School of Medicine 2023 graduate is headed to Nashville.
Vyas will begin his General Surgery Residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center this summer.
“It’s a great program and a great place to grow my career and my professional self,” Vyas said. “Vanderbilt is one of the best places to train in academic surgery, which is what I’m interested in. And I like country music, so the move to Nashville will be that much more exciting!”
Vyas recently was recognized among IUPUI’s Elite 50 graduate students and received the top honor as the 2023 Charles R. Bantz Award for Excellence recipient. He was one of seven IU School of Medicine students named to the 2023 Premier 10. Vyas also has been inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society and the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society—the highest honors for undergraduate medical students in the United States.
“He inspires students and colleagues alike with his dedication to his profession and his passion for service, wellness and program development in medical education,” said Kristen Heath, Vyas’ lead advisor and the statewide wellness coordinator at IU School of Medicine. “He has an infectious spirit and charismatic energy.”
Vyas quickly became an active student leader at IU School of Medicine, taking on the role of Indianapolis campus representative to Medical Student Council (MSC) during his first year of medical school. Working closely with the Wellness Coalition, Vyas helped develop and implement wellness curriculum for the School of Medicine.
During the COVID pandemic, Vyas initiated the Emergency Medicine Morale Boosters to support the wellness of frontline health care providers. Additionally, Vyas became certified in Mental Health First Aid and was among the school’s inaugural group of student advocates, Heath noted. For his efforts, Vyas was recognized with the Emerging Leader Award as part of the 2020 Excellence in Leadership Awards given jointly by MSC, Medical Student Service-learning Group and the Wellness Coalition.
“Punit has been a pioneer for many outstanding initiatives at IU School of Medicine,” Heath said. “He is one who makes things happen.”
Wellness matters in medicine
Vyas decided he wanted to be a doctor in high school, but his interest in medicine began much earlier.
“In third grade, we had enrichment days. For one of them, they gave us a first aid kit, and I took it everywhere,” said Vyas, who grew up in the southern Indiana town of Newburgh.
Neither of his parents are in medicine, but Vyas’ grandpa was a community physician in India.
“I didn’t get to spend much time with him, but I looked up to him as a role model—I hope that he would have been proud,” Vyas said.
Vyas majored in chemical engineering at Purdue University before entering medical school. During this time, he volunteered in a hospital emergency room.
“I was initially attracted to the pace, acuity and the breadth of what emergency medicine doctors did,” Vyas said. “But I realized it was the patients seen by the trauma surgeons or the general surgery team in the ER that I was most attracted to. My clinical rotations made my career choice feel easy.”
Although surgery is done because of injury or disease, Vyas aims to incorporate wellness into his practice.
“One of my passions in medicine, separate from surgery, is to promote the idea of health care rather than disease care,” he said. “It’s more than medicines for diseases; it’s helping people be healthier.”
Several years ago, Vyas started doing wellness presentations at his former high school to educate students on physical, social and emotional well-being. He’s now recruiting and training other students to do these presentations—either virtually or in-person.
Vyas also is a certified personal trainer. He took a part-time job during this time at Purdue and now has his own personal training business.
“It’s a different side of medicine where you get to have some time with a person to discuss their physical health goals,” he said. “It’s a friendlier side of health care.”
Helping others succeed
Throughout his time at IU School of Medicine, Vyas has produced over 20 scholarly works and served as a tutor and peer mentor. His mentoring extends to pre-engineering, pre-med and medical students, and he has tutored in over 12 medical school subjects.
“Punit is a true academic!” Heath said.
Niloy Lahiri noticed Vyas tutoring another student in the anatomy lab and decided he could also use some help.
“Punit is incredibly disciplined, intelligent, kind, hardworking, and a stellar student scoring top percentile on exams,” Lahiri said. “However, what sets him apart from other top scorers is that he sympathizes with and goes above and beyond in helping students in a different boat than him—helping them succeed as he does! I would not have succeeded in med school without him.”
When Lahiri was studying for Step 1 of the medical licensing exam, Vyas helped him establish a study routine. He also helped Lahiri learn to excel in the clinical environment and gain confidence in presenting patients.
“He made sure to always make time for me and give his undivided attention in tutoring me,” Lahiri said. “Punit leaves a legacy of being an amazing role model for medical students.”
Wherever Vyas goes, he spreads positivity and operates by the motto: “Attitude is contagious.”
“There are people who walk in the room when you’re having a bad day, and your day gets a fraction better—everyone just feels better when that person walks in,” said Vyas. “Medical school is hard, and there’s a lot of stress. I hope I’ve left some of that positive, contagious attitude for the students around me.”