Vikas Patel, B.A. 1996

North Carolina Dermatology Associates – Raleigh, NC

1996 Major: Religious Studies and Biology; minor in Chemistry; certificate in Jewish Studies; M.D. (2000); House Staff - Dermatology (2004)

How has being a Religion graduate from Duke helped shape you personally and/or professionally?

"In 2012, Trinity College of Arts and Science highlighted multiple alums in an initiative called Duke Alumni Major Impact where I asked to write a piece on my choice of majors. Below is my essay I wrote 10 years ago that addresses the question above. I came to Duke University pretty sure that I was going to be a biology major with an ultimate goal to continue on to medical school. My time at Duke included taking advantage of opportunities such as the Health Careers Internship Program, research assistance jobs, an independent study at the Duke Neurobiology Department, and by volunteering at a North Carolina State Mental Hospital. All of these experiences showed me the wealth of possibilities that existed in medicine and further confirmed my decision. My simple plan of being a biology major and moving onto medical school ended up taking a very big detour. During my second semester freshman year, I decide to follow several my dorm mates in attending the Duke in Israel summer program on an archaeological dig. My interest in religion grew after this this experience. When I returned to Duke, I added religion as a second major. I knew I would not have access to the resources that Duke's Department of Religion provided and decided this was an opportunity I could not miss. As I continued to take more courses in religion, I began to realize how important a role religion plays in the healing process of patients. I saw that many patients turned to religion for faith. A doctor once told me that people are a delicate balance between mind, body, and soul. I came to realize that a physician should be aware of this as they interact with their patients; and they must be careful not to upset that balance. I found the Duke in Israel program one of the best experiences I had at Duke. It allowed to me explore a field of study that I never imagined that I would pursue. My senior year, I began to be able to merge my interest in science as well as religion and the arts. A seminar course called “Religion and Medicine” was offered that explored the influence of religion in the field of medicine. I found this course a perfect combination of my two interests while at Duke. I also was able to work with John Moses, MD and the Center for Documentary Studies and doing an independent study on Medicine and Photography. A highlight of my decision to study religion was the opportunity to work on an exhibit, “Sepphoris in Galilee: crosscurrents of culture”, at the North Carolina Museum of Art with Religion Professor Eric Meyers, a co-curator on the exhibit. This exhibit highlighted the archaeological dig site that I was a part of during the Duke in Israel program. My responsibility was helping to design the “Science and Archaeology” portion of the exhibit and to collect the artifacts that we wanted to highlight. I was able to feature different scientific techniques that are used within the field of archaeology. I did continue onto medical school after graduating and explored doing a research project in extracting DNA from ancient bones found at archaeological sites. In fact my passion for religion and medicine continued into my training in dermatology where I presented an hour-long talk to the Department of Dermatology titled “An Archaeological Overview of Skin Disease and the Concept of Illness in Biblical Times.” As I have reflected back on my time at Duke, I have come to realize how invaluable my Duke experience was. I find myself telling many high school and college students of my experience at Duke and encouraging them to take advantage of studying or exploring a field that they may not have necessarily thought about. In fact, I have wondered if I were an undergraduate all over again, whether I would have dropped the biology major altogether and pursued a few other interests. A particular field of study may or may not turn into a career, but these experiences will greatly influence who you are and eventually shape your career."

What advice would you give students in Duke's Religion programs? 

"Follow your passion and interests. The four years at Duke will likely be the only time in the student's lifetime where they have access to this level of knowledge and expertise at one's fingertips. Explore fields, subjects, and topics that may be of interest regardless of one's career plans."

Vikas Patel