Dr. Veeral Ajmera: Dr. Richard Mays Smith Award in Internal Medicine

By Katherine Morales

Dr. Veeral Ajmera describes the goal of his medical career not as a destination, but rather a continual evolution, maturation and learning experience that stretches out endlessly in front of him.

That learning process began early on for Dr. Ajmera, growing up in Tulsa, Okla., and listening to his father’s experiences in his own practice as a gastroenterologist.

“Medicine is what I’ve been exposed to for a long time, and it was an interest definitely encouraged by my father,” Dr. Ajmera said. “He would bring his work home and tell me about his day, his cases, and from an early age I developed a profound respect for the profession because I respected my father.”

Dr. Veeral Ajmera

His parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s, before he was born. They focused all of their efforts on improving the family’s quality of life and in broaching new opportunities.

“Becoming a doctor meant so much to my father because it opened a lot of doors for him and my family,” Dr. Ajmera said. “He was able to come here and begin a new life because he had a good profession.”

The family settled in Tulsa, where Dr. Ajmera recalls being one of a handful of minority students in his grade school. But like all things for him, he saw it as a learning opportunity and a way to educate others about his background and beliefs.

“Being first-generation in Tulsa was a different experience, but being in the minority forced me to consistently evaluate what I believe and what I stand for,” he said. “It helped me to develop a more inquisitive mindset.”

Those early experiences helped guide him throughout his medical-school education and in his nascent interactions with patients and their families. Rather than being nervous, he drew upon his own abilities to relate to people and educate them about the process. Taking patients’ histories, counseling them and providing them with information quickly became Dr. Ajmera’s favorite part of medical school.

“I really enjoy walking into a patient’s room and talking to him or her,” he said. “Doctors have this privilege of entering someone’s life at a very vulnerable time for them and then making such a positive difference.”

This enthusiasm and clinical prowess helped Dr. Ajmera earn the 2010 Dr. Richard Mays Smith Award in Internal Medicine, given to a graduating medical student who excels academically during clinical rotations and exhibits an interest in and compassion for patients.

The award honors Dr. Smith, who spent 45 years as an internist, including his career as associate professor of internal medicine at 
UT Southwestern, before his death in 1975. The award includes a $1,000 cash prize.

In addition to his patient interactions, Dr. Ajmera discovered a love for mentoring younger medical students and giving them advice from his perspective as a peer. Of course, making the occasional, rare clinical discovery stoked his enthusiasm.

“We had a patient who came to the hospital a number of times with vague respiratory complaints,” he said. “Nobody had really figured it out, and we had this great ‘aha’ moment where we finally diagnosed her as having an obscure parasite in her lung.”

“Veeral is an exceptional student who not only excelled clinically but has a strong desire to go to the next level of patient care,” said Dr. Hari Raja, associate professor of internal medicine, who worked with Dr. Ajmera on his clinical rotations. “He showed a great interest in the utility of tests performed for patients and developed his own project to evaluate the benefits of these tests. He will make an exceptional internist in the future, and we are all very proud of him.”

Teaching others and learning from his own mentors stimulated Dr. Ajmera’s interest in academic medicine, something he hopes to pursue during his internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Eventually, he said, he would like to subspecialize in gastroenterolog — just like his father.

“I really never thought that is what I would choose. I figured I’d go into cardiology,” Dr. Ajmera said. “I guess it’s in the genes.”