BLOG / By Dr. Preeya T. Shah, Class of 2020
I suspect most physicians eventually encounter a patient whose story is identical to their own. I met one such individual during my third year of medical school, whose words were those I would have chosen if I had been more aware, mature or brave as an adolescent. I listened empathetically as they candidly shared their experience of living with vitiligo. Although this person had no physical pain, the spiritless tone and body language during our conversation expressed a familiar misery. “It’s like I am losing my identity,” they said mournfully. The patient had learned a universal truth about the impact skin conditions can have on an individual’s self-image — lesions do not have to itch or burn to affect a person to their core. This was the first time in my training that a significant part of my own experience reflected back at me. I knew this grief.
As a teenager who had been diagnosed with vitiligo, this encounter carried a unique weight. Moments like this are cornerstones of a physician’s experience — with the privilege of serving and supporting our patients, sometimes through the most challenging and vulnerable times of their lives. During my time as a medical student, I have witnessed some of the most impactful lessons of humility, mindfulness and altruism demonstrated by our institution’s clinicians and other health care professionals who care for our patients. While beginning my first clinical rotation, I distinctly recall an attending challenging our inpatient team to always begin each day by asking ourselves, “How can we make our patient’s time here more comfortable?” This simple sentiment resonated with me and has become ingrained into my daily routine through every patient encounter. I challenge myself each day to lead with gratitude, over obligation — being mindful of how remarkable it is to diagnose, counsel and heal our patients.
Through clinical exposure and patient interactions, I developed a growing fascination with the diversity of skin conditions, the ability to serve varied patient demographics, and the physician’s capacity to alter the trajectory of both benign and malignant processes to improve one person’s life.
Many specialties can anchor broader public health initiatives, and dermatology is no different. I’ve enjoyed participating in simple interventions that greatly impact patient health at the community level. While coordinating grant-funded Melanoma Awareness and Sun Safety events in conjunction with Marshall Medical Outreach, our team worked one-on-one with Huntington’s underserved population, discussing the importance of skin cancer prevention. We provided basic yet indispensable supplies that are often out of reach for people living without shelter or regular medical care. Experiences such as this one, in which I am able to bridge my passions for teaching and service, have been a highlight of my medical school education.
As I move on to the next chapter of my journey, I am eager to learn from and partner with a team of passionate colleagues to treat patients who are uncomfortable in their skin. I want to gain a holistic understanding of clinical presentations and their associated dermatopathology, and build expertise at determining approaches to therapeutic interventions. Undoubtedly, it’s the adolescent spirit within that inspires me — to be the dermatologist that guards the heart of the patient by recognizing and appraising the psychosocial impact of those suffering from skin conditions. Surely, the best version of my identity includes enabling another person to see and appreciate their own, and in doing so, empower them to pursue their best life with confidence.
Date Posted: Monday, May 4, 2020