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A powerful personal experience led U of T’s top student to value the importance of patient care

U of T Scarborough Principal Bruce Kidd and Mihil Patel, this year’s recipient of the John Black Aird award for the top graduating student at U of T. He also received the Governor General’s Silver Medal, awarded to the student with the highest marks among all U of T science students (Photo by Ken Jones)

It was during a trip to India in 2012 to visit his dying grandmother that Mihilkumar (Mihil) Patel began to fully grasp the significance of practicing medicine. 

“In the village where my family is originally from, a doctor is vitally important and is admired because they can have such a positive impact on people’s lives,” he says.

“If it wasn’t for the amazing care my grandmother received I wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye to her one last time. After witnessing that first hand, I knew it was something I wanted to do."

After crossing the steps of convocation hall to receive his honours bachelor degree of science with his fellow U of T Scarborough graduates, Patel aims to follow his passion by applying to medical school this fall. 

Patel, 21, who graduated with an honours bachelor of science degree, is this year’s recipient of the John Black Aird award for the top student at U of T. He will also receive the Governor General’s Silver Medal, awarded to the graduating student with the highest marks among all U of T science students.

It's the fourth year in a row that a student from U of T Scarborough has received the award for top student at U of T.

“When I got a phone call that I would be receiving these awards I was really surprised and wasn’t sure what to say,” says Patel, who was on his way to his part-time job as a tutor when he first heard the news.

“I’m very happy and at the same time humbled by it because I’ve never experienced an honour quite like this.” 

Patel is a long-time resident of Scarborough and went to high school at Woburn Collegiate Institute near Markham and Ellesmere, just down the road from U of T Scarborough. 

He was attracted to the campus because of the neuroscience program, a discipline that combines his love of many different areas of math and science. 

“I’m very interested in cognition, specifically exploring how people perceive things that are happening in the natural world around them,” he says.

Among his many academic experiences as an undergraduate Patel values his research opportunities above all else. He worked in the behavioral neuroscience lab under Assistant Professor Rutsuko Ito where he looked at the effects of cocaine on fear-based behavior as part of his thesis. 

“Mihil had been known amongst his peers as a bit of a 'genius', and true enough, I was able to see this first hand when he became the first student ever to score a 100% in the multiple choice section of a notoriously difficult midterm in one of my courses,” says Rutsuko. 

“He’s truly an exceptional and well-rounded student, and the awards are very well deserved. We will miss having him in our lab.” 

Patel is currently working in Assistant Professor Jonathan Cant’s cognitive psychology lab doing research on visual scene perception.

“What I appreciate about the labs I worked in at UTSC is that you get to try everything – running experiments, analyzing data, writing reports – it’s diverse training that you may not get elsewhere,” says Patel.  

In addition to tutoring high school students in math and physics, he’s also developing a mobile app that will help people identify potential injuries so they can take action in preventing further injury or infection, and to identify whether they need to seek medical treatment.

Patel also dedicated much of his spare time as an undergrad volunteering at the Rouge Valley Centenary Hospital. He first began as a ‘pathfinder’, a volunteer that helps direct patients to where they need to go when they arrive at the hospital. He then went on to help in caring for patients with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s. 

“I learned a lot about being patient and caring, but also the importance of treating Alzheimer’s patients as people, with the respect they deserve,” he says.

“Compassion can go a long way, so I tried to make sure they were as comfortable as possible, to gain their trust but also know when to pull back and let them do certain things on their own. I feel that people need to feel that element of dignity, no matter how sick they are.”

Patel says he hopes to bring all the lessons he’s learned about patient care with him on the next leg of his journey in becoming a doctor.        


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