Dr. Vijita Patel: Karen J. Kowalske Outstanding Medical Student in PM&R Award

Dr. Patel
Dr. Vijita Patel

By Patrick Wascovich

Like many medical students, Dr. Vijita Patel arrived at UT Southwestern Medical Center focused on the “before” picture of medical conditions and diseases – diagnosing patients before their maladies became more serious, treating them preemptively and preventively before a singular event could strike.

Then, between her first and second year at UT Southwestern Medical School, the Mesquite native got involved in a research project in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Before long, Dr. Patel was invested deeply in the “after” care that patients desperately need as well.

“This research project opened my eyes to think about the patient after the stroke and to question how I could help them with post-stroke issues like pain, regaining function, and more,” Dr. Patel said. “I realized that improving your patient’s quality of life is just as important as treating a medical condition. And with PM&R, I will be able to provide that for my patients.”

Her ability in the classroom, in clinical settings, and in the laboratory helped Dr. Patel being named recipient of the 2014 Karen J. Kowalske Outstanding Medical Student in PM&R Award.

“Vijita always has an enthusiastic demeanor and optimistic outlook,” said Dr. Samuel Bierner, Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, who was one of Dr. Patel’s medical school mentors. “She appreciates opportunities to become involved in clinical research, and possesses excellent interpersonal skills for residency.”

The Kowalske Outstanding Medical Student in PM&R Award is named in honor of the department’s current chair, Dr. Karen Kowalske, and was started in 2011. The recipient receives a plaque and a $250 gift certificate. The award recognizes a UT Southwestern medical student who demonstrates empathy, compassion, maturity, and inquisitiveness.

“These qualities characterize the clinical style of Dr. Karen Kowalske, who has been voted by her peers numerous times for superior patient care, which includes being named Best Doctors in America, Best Doctors in Dallas, and Texas Super Doctor, to name a few” said Dr. Benjamin Nguyen, Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “I observed similar qualities in Dr. Patel when she voluntarily shadowed me several times in my clinics to learn more about our field prior to starting her elective with us.”

Once zeroed in, Dr. Patel gained experience while working in a pain clinic, a sports medicine clinic, and with physicians who focused on patients with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, diabetes, and other debilitating conditions.

“I learned the benefits of multidisciplinary teamwork in PM&R,” she said. “Everyone plays a key role in patient care – from physiatrists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, recreational therapists, social workers, nurses, and more to create the best treatment plan for each patient. This aspect of PM&R appeals to me because I enjoy working on teams and feel that this brings out the best in me.”

A salutatorian at North Mesquite High School, Dr. Patel graduated summa cum laude from Southern Methodist University, with a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry and a minor in the fine arts (film photography). Her internship will be at the University of Nevada School of Medicine in Las Vegas for a preliminary internal medicine year, to be followed by a three-year residency in PM&R at UT Southwestern.

“I see my future helping patients achieve a better quality of life, working within a team to provide the best patient care, and enjoying every minute of it,” Dr. Patel said. “There is so much variety that it feels as though I just touched the tip of the iceberg. And I cannot wait to dive deeper to discover everything about PM&R and find the perfect spot within the field.”