Student Spotlight: Karishma Patel C’21

Karishma Patel C’21                         

What attracted you to Drew?

I was born and raised in eastern Massachusetts and there were so many things that attracted me to Drew. I loved the idea of getting to know my peers and professors. I’m at my best when I can ask questions, go to office hours, and have interesting conversations. The Drew community just gave me the warmest feeling, even when I first visited. As a science student, I was so impressed by the idea that I could do actual research as an undergraduate, or be minutes away from Morristown Medical Center, one of the best hospitals in the country. At the same time, science wasn’t the only thing I wanted to study. Drew offered me the perfect chance to study a curriculum full of breadth as well as depth.

Did you know what you wanted to major in when you started at Drew and why did you choose your majors/minors?

Originally, I started out as a Neuroscience major. My academic advisor, Dr. Cassano, helped me see just what was possible, and I quickly added my other major and both minors before the spring of my freshman year.

I am someone who is most fascinated by the application of concepts. I love learning new things, but love seeing how they fit into the real world even more. The applications of biology to understand something as complex as the nervous system is a perfect example. I found that, even underneath the physiology and molecular details of Neuroscience, though, were really the principles of Biochemistry. The two subjects weave together so beautifully that I’m always finding myself learning one thing in one class, and applying it to a new situation in another class. Ultimately, I knew that my dream career would be in medicine, and I could not have asked for a better pair of stepping-stones to that goal.

Why is the field of medicine so exciting for you?

For me, essentially it boils down to the fact that medicine has always been a way for me to connect to all types of people. Being an EMT in the Madison community for the last couple of years has exposed me to people from all walks of life.  In the ambulance, on the ride to the hospital, it helps patients to see a friendly face and have a conversation. Being able to be there for someone like that is really special for me. There are few things I can think of that are as gratifying and as humbling as that experience. Another factor that drove me to medicine was that my aunt (my mom’s sister) is a neurologist and I saw her go through medical school and her residency as I was growing up. She was a big influence on me, but I didn’t really fall in love with it until I tried it for myself. Becoming an EMT for the Madison Volunteer Ambulance Corps, taking internships, and shadowing, showed me that not only can I do this, but I love it for reasons other than what I first imagined. Of course, loving people is the biggest factor. I was also interested in languages and social sciences.  This is one of the reasons I chose Drew because it wasn’t pinning me specifically to a science pathway.  I could double minor in French and Public Health and I find myself using them in medicine.  My foreign language has helped me to communicate with patients, and I have applied my understanding of Public Health to understand a lot of the healthcare infrastructure. Things just sort of fell into place, and I am currently in the process of applying to medical schools for next fall.

Have you done any internships?

I’ve been unbelievably lucky with internships. The summer after my freshman year, I shadowed physicians in the Emergency and Cardiology Departments at Newton Wellesley Hospital, a small community hospital near my house. Later that summer, I took a longer full-time internship in the Emergency Department of Boston Children’s Hospital in the city, doing patient registrations. It was such an incredible way to experience a range of healthcare settings, from local community healthcare to acute urban medicine, and really sparked my love of Emergency Medicine. I’ve been riding as an EMT with Madison Ambulance since getting my certification during the winter of my freshman year, and haven’t looked back since.

The summer after my sophomore year, I spent 10 weeks in a graduate lab at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, where I studied the effects of high pressure on RNA folding and structure. It was amazing to see what research was like at a larger institution, but also to see just how much I had actually learned through my experience at Drew as well. I think I surprised myself to see how transferable those skills really were.

During the fall semester of my junior year, I did the Morristown Medical Center Mentorship program. After having worked as an EMT for two full years at that point, it was fascinating to see Emergency Medicine from the other side: within the hospital. I have to say that this experience was one of my favorites. I would recommend this one to anyone even thinking about a health profession. Getting to know the residents helped me actually start to picture myself in this role. It was a sense that, “yes, I think I can actually picture myself here. I can do this for the rest of my life.”

Do you have any mentors at Drew? 

I certainly would not be where I am today without my mentors. Chemistry professor Dr. Adam Cassano has been my academic advisor for four years now, and he’s been there for me no matter what. He’s done nothing but encourage me when I wanted to try something new, or add another minor, and that kind of support is just irreplaceable. My research mentor, Dr. Marvin Bayne, has taught me so much about the importance of curiosity, persistence, and a good sense of humor, especially in a field like research where nothing is guaranteed. I honestly have so many professors that have guided me at Drew, and I want to thank them all. If I had to name one more, it would definitely be Biology professor Dr. Joanna Miller. Her BIOL 250 lab class was my crash course into the most fundamental techniques in molecular biology – ones I actually use in my research today. I loved her lab and learned so much from her that this is my second year as her Teaching Assistant for the course.

What issue in the world means the most to you?

As a student of Public Health, and especially during this health crisis, I’ve become so passionate about health education. When people know the facts, and feel like they can trust in the science, is when health intervention and public policy have the best chances of success. I think communicating science and health information in a way that everyone can understand is, and will continue to be, a critical goal for healthcare professionals.

What are a few of your favorite memories of Drew?

I have the best friends at Drew. My favorite memories are when we have all been together: getting brunch on a Sunday morning, going to the C Store at midnight, or just hanging out in our suite.

What advice would you give students who are just starting out?

The best advice that I got was to try everything and to enjoy the moment. It’s ok not to have everything perfectly figured out, but every new experience you try adds something to your perspective. Nothing you do at Drew is “useless.”

What are your career goals? Where do you hope to be in 5 years?

I am currently in the process of applying to Medical Schools across the northeast to become a medical physician. I just got my first acceptance letter. As of now, I think I’ve fallen in love with Emergency Medicine. In 5 years, I could see myself starting my first year as an Emergency Medicine Resident at an urban hospital. This is where my heart is but I’m keeping my options open in medicine.

Are there any fun facts you would like to share?

  1. I’m right-handed for most things, but I’m a left-handed artist (I draw)!
  2. I love fitness, yoga, running, lifting, and cooking all types of foods.
  3. This year, I’m writing my Honors Thesis in Neuroscience as a member of the Bayne Lab. Adapting two years of prior research to fit a COVID format has been tough, but also different and interesting in new ways. I’m definitely exploring things now that I would not have considered before, which is really cool in its own way.
  4. I speak Gujarati at home, which is one of the many languages spoken in India, I’ve spoken French throughout my education, and I know a handful of phrases in Japanese.

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