MHP Alumni Spotlight: 10 Questions with Prerak D. Shah, MD, FACS – Class of 1996 JHMP

What is your academic background/clinical interests?                                                                                  

Dr. Prerak Shah, MHP Alumni, with MHP Class of 2023 after Special Session

Sometimes discovering who and what you want to be in life results in some unexpected turns. After graduating from UF College of Medicine (COM) in 1996, I chose to pursue a career in Pediatrics and started this journey in Chicago as a Pediatric Resident at Northwestern University. Soon after, I decided to change career paths and completed a five-year residency in Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. For the past 15 years, I remain with my first ever job and practice as a partner at New England Ear, Nose, Throat & Facial Plastic Surgery. I have developed a special focus and expertise in Endocrine Surgery and Head & Neck Surgical Oncology, which has allowed me to fully exercise the art and science of medicine and always remain humbled by the strength and courage of my patients. I have fostered my interest in teaching and mentoring by joining the medical staff at the Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary (MEEI) and by serving as Clinical Instructor at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

What led you to pursue a career in medicine?

There are usually many factors that help identify one’s ideal career path. From early on, I kept hearing about the stereotype of first-generation Indian-American students who were often given the binary option of a life in engineering or a life in medicine. What did I do? I chose to major in Biomedical Engineering and made plans to pursue a career in medicine as well. It felt safe and felt like the right thing to do. In all honesty, it was not until later in college that I learned what it means to be a doctor. Through various volunteer opportunities, I began to experience and appreciate the genuine fulfillment that comes with helping those in need and enhancing the lives of others with my direct actions. At its core, this is what being a doctor is all about. Even to this day, it is this same feeling that keeps me excited about coming to work every morning. Every patient becomes an opportunity to become a part of someone’s life, a part of their family and a part of their story. It is a power and gift that can oftentimes be humbling and overwhelming yet simultaneously be unbelievably rewarding and gratifying. It was this self-discovery process during college of learning who I was as a person and what was my purpose that ultimately shaped my decision of becoming a doctor.

What interested you in the MHP (formerly JHMP)?

I was quite familiar with the Junior Honors Medical Program (JHMP) early in my freshman year at UF as my older sister was already accepted to the program and was soon to be a future member of the UF COM Class of 1994. I was fortunate to see firsthand the advantages of this program through her experience not only during the transitional year but also through the course of medical school. Once I made the decision to become a doctor, it became clear that the JHMP offered the best opportunity for me to not only prepare for the rigors of medical school but to also acquire skills and experience that still prove useful today in my current professional life.

Can you tell us 1-2 things that you took away from the MHP?

I think many people mistakenly view JHMP as a program that saves a year of undergraduate studies or that guarantees admission to medical school prior to taking the MCAT. It is so much more than that. The value of early exposure to the educational seminars and interactions with UF COM medical and research faculty, learning invaluable skills of critically analyzing evidence-based medical literature, developing presentation skills, and educating your peers cannot be understated. Even two decades later, I can trace back the roots of some of my current presenting skills and analytic thinking to our sessions in the old Communicore and ARB building with my fellow eleven JHMP students. One thing I was literally able to take away from JHMP is that among the 12 of us who are part of the Class of 1996, Cara Marshall and myself have been practicing at the same hospital in Massachusetts since 1996…nearly 1300 miles from Gainesville.

Professionally, what are you most proud of?

My father dedicated his life to a career in research and education as a professor in Chemical Engineering at the University of Florida. He always mentions how rewarding teaching students has been over the past decades. When I joined the medical staff at MEEI and faculty at HMS, it was a new endeavor for me and it did not take me long to enjoy the process of sharing some of my knowledge and experience with our fellows, residents and medical students. Over the years, I have been able to build long-term relationships with many of these trainees and students which has given me a brief glimpse of the life my father has described over the years. I am most proud of the fact that I have been able to develop my abilities as an instructor and a mentor while establishing these valuable relationships in my professional life, which in turn has allowed me to follow in the footsteps of one of my greatest inspirations.

If there is anything that you could do differently, what might that be?

I took the convoluted route through residency training starting in a Pediatrics residency at Northwestern University in Chicago prior to changing and matching in an Otolaryngology residency in Boston. I learned countless amazing things during those two years and became very comfortable handling any medical issue affecting newborns to teens. This of course was invaluable as a future father of three boys and certainly cut down on the number of trips we needed to take to our own Pediatrician. In retrospect, I could have saved two years of residency by directly going straight into an Otolaryngology residency from medical school. More importantly, I could have avoided those sleepless and stress-filled on-call nights over those two years and all the subsequent grey hairs.

What advice would you give current MHP students?                                                     

I think whenever you are given a unique opportunity like the MHP it is paramount to take full advantage of everything the program has to offer. The MHP should be viewed as an incredible journey and potentially transformational experience and, less so, as a noteworthy accomplishment or accolade. My advice would be simple: Take advantage of all of the opportunities sitting right there in front of you. Learn from everyone you meet during the program. Ask questions. Get out of your comfort zone. Capitalize on the resources that have been given to you. And most importantly, cherish the experience – you will be drawing from it for the rest of your professional life.

Can you tell us one fun fact about yourself?

When I was interviewing for Pediatrics residencies, the only reason I added Northwestern University to my list of programs was so I could spend the week with my good friend who lives in Chicago. About a week prior to my interview, my friend called me and said, “Prerak – I met the perfect girl for you. You have to call her and take her out.” Despite my initial reluctance to call, he persisted and eventually Salina and I went out on a blind date during that visit. Interestingly it was -20 degrees that weekend in Chicago. Needless to say, the date went pretty well as it not only resulted in me changing the top choice on my rank list to Northwestern, but also led to us getting married later that year and we recently celebrated the 22nd anniversary of that now infamous blind date!

What do you do for fun/hobbies?

For someone who was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida and who did not get to see snow until my high school years, it is a little perplexing how I have now become obsessed with skiing. Initially I was taken to a ski resort in Vermont by one of my partners as a survival tactic to get me through the harsh New England winters. Now I ski over 40 days/year and look forward to the winter, powder dumps and flying out west to ski. I have also developed a passion for photography over the years and have been successfully competing in many regional and national competitions. I was so thrilled to have one of my photographs be presented as part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

It was very kind of you to donate to the MHP Fund. What inspired you to give?

The JHMP had an incredibly pervasive impact on my personal and professional life. It is certainly understandable that I would want to give back to something that has given so much to me. My hope is this fund will continue to support our students and their mission to be the best student doctors they can be. In the short amount of time (or not so short…I guess) since I was there, the resources and facilities of the medical school are cutting edge and truly modernized. These funds will be directed to strengthening our greatest asset – our students and future physicians who will continue to positively represent the MHP, our medical center and our University for years to come.