Dr. Vijay Patel, a 2008 graduate in Religious Studies now working as Director of Dental Services at Marana Health Center, is the College of Humanities 2020 Young Professional Achievement Award recipient.
Patel graduated with honors from the University of Arizona with a B.A in Religious Studies and a B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology and says his dual background in science and humanities provided him with a broad set of skills that makes a difference in his career. After his undergraduate degrees, he completed his DMD in Dental Medicine from the Oregon Health and Science University School of Dentistry in 2012.
“Dr. Patel is a shining example of a curious double-major student whose professional achievements are the result of melding both science and humanities. As a medical provider, Dr. Patel applies both his dental skills and the skills learned in his Religious Studies major, going beyond the normal level of care to serve his patients’ needs as whole people,” says College of Humanities Dean Alain-Philippe Durand.
Patel’s role in community health center relies on skills learned in the Religious Studies major, including adaptability, communication, compassion and the ability to see a person’s health as more than merely physical well-being.
“Humanities are still part of my day-to-day experience. In dental in particular, we see patients over months and even years. It’s a relationship and we really get to know them and talk about their health and life in general,” he says.
Patel started at the University of Arizona as a Molecular and Cellular Biology major, but after taking an elective called “God, Humanity, & Science,” he continued taking Religious Studies classes and added a second major.
“Once I took that class, it struck me that there’s a bigger connection between the hard sciences and social sciences and humanities and that drew me to thinking that you don’t have to isolate your knowledge to the sciences. You can expand that out because you’ll see patients of all backgrounds, ethnicities and beliefs,” he says.
Born and raised in Phoenix, Patel was inspired for a career in healthcare by his father, an immigrant from India who works as a psychiatrist in public health.
“I kind of knew all along I’d end up in public health, but having that humanities background made it much more of an enlightening experience to go into public health and use that knowledge base to expand my horizons,” he says.
Patel says Karen Seat, Head of the Department of Religious Studies and Classics, and the late Donna Swaim were the two professors who made the most difference for him.
“They were instrumental for me taking a leap into religious studies,” he says. “I was in Donna Swaim’s office when I was getting close to graduating and she looked at me to ask where I was going to my Religious Studies master’s degree or Ph.D. I told her I was going to dental school and she was surprised and excited for me. She said she was happy that I’d embraced Religious Studies so much and that I was able to take it to another profession.”