Coming into college, senior Nandan Patel knew he wanted to study physical medicine. However, it wasn’t until he worked at Wake Forest’s Baptist Medical Center in pool therapy that he honed in on what exactly he wanted to do.
“I want to go into physical medicine and rehabilitation,” Patel said. “The term of the doctor is a physiatrist. They specialize in helping people get back on their feet after any kind of traumatic injury, cancer or stroke. It’s the rehab part after all the traumatic stuff has gone by.”
Patel’s experience at Wake Forest has been marked by the research he’s completed in both his majors: biology and psychology.
One of his biology classes, Special Topics in Molecular Biology, spent an entire semester doing a single experiment with a DNA sequence and a bacterial plasmid. Patel has also completed two independent research projects.
For his independent research in the psychology department, Patel looked at how artificial light affects cognitive and physiological aspects.
“Your computer screen is blue light, so how does that affect your focus and fatigue — your focus being the cognitive aspect and your fatigue being the physiological,” Patel said.
As for the biology department, Patel conducted an experiment looking at the different types of attack behaviors in wolf spiders.
“For this one, it’s interesting because we were able to isolate three different types of senses,” Patel said. “We isolate vision, vibration and chemoreception, which is the ability to smell. We looked at how all three of those play into attack behavior.”
“Nandan is a generally relaxed and pleasant fellow, but at the same time has an uncommonly high level of energy and drive,” said biology professor Glen Marrs. “While he maintains a clear idea of where he is going, I found Nandan to be especially grounded in the present. His distinctive core motivation therefore gives him an important advantage, the activities and experiences of each new day in his training serve as their own reward for him, and are not simply an obstacle or hurdle to be overcome.”
Further, Patel is thankful for the ways in which he was able to conduct his research. He was granted a great deal of independence, which allowed him to learn the most he could from those experiences.
“Independent research was really nice in the sense that your professors are there to help you rather than just direct you,” Patel said.
From this, he’ll take away what that independence taught him.
“I now have the ability to ask for help, the ability to go back and forth with a faculty member on ideas and topics that I’m having trouble with, the ability to run a great idea by a faculty member, and the ability to do experimental design and to do research in an elegant way,” Patel said.
Having a background in biology and psychology will allow Patel to become the personal, empathetic doctor he aspires to be.
“Biology gives you the basics you’re gonna learn in medicine whereas the psychology portion lets you understand the person you’re working with,” Patel said. “When I took psychology classes, I took Social Psychology and Human Sexuality and Industrial Psychology not only to be more efficient but to also be a better person.”
Patel underscored the importance of his valuable relationships with his professors, noting that working with faculty has engendered some of his favorite experiences at Wake Forest.
Next year, Patel will be attending medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, but he’s already trying to make plans to visit again because he knows he’ll miss his friends and faculty the most.