By: Egi Canie (Loyola Junior)
Getting into medical school is a big deal. However, getting into five medical schools is extraordinary.
Raj Patel (21) is a Molecular Biology senior at Loyola University Chicago. His family immigrated from India in 1996, and shortly after started their own business in Schaumburg, IL. Life and school for Patel were not always easy, as he and his family faced many challenges on their road to success.
When Patel was a sophomore in high school, his family’s business filed for bankruptcy. During this time in his life, Patel had moved 3 different times and transferred to 3 different schools.
During this hardship, Patel faced racial abuse from his peers. They commented on his bad grades by calling him “a dumb Indian.”
Moreover, the effects of moving added pressure from his family’s business failing, forcing Patel to get a part time job to help pay for family expenses and his sister’s university costs. His grades tanked because of these added responsibilities.
However, Raj didn’t quit.
Patel got into weightlifting, which allowed him to gain control of his emotions and, more importantly, his confidence. Patel wanted to challenge himself. He did so by forcing himself to change his mindset, adopting healthier habits, and being closer to his God. In his senior year of high school, Patel graduated at the top of his class.
Patel declined to share which medical schools he got accepted into due to the fact that he wants to surprise his family. But trust me, they’re big.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Raj Patel to talk to him about his life and his future endeavors. Below is the transcript from our conversation.
*Interview has been edited for length and clarity
RogersEdgeReporter: Who are you?
PATEL: I would say I am a person for others. I think that’s where my identity lies. You know, I could say I’m Raj Patel, but at the end of the day, I care for others. I truly strive to be a person for others. If that means to get in my comfort zone for someone, I will totally do that. That goes for the medical field, business field, anything you’re doing in your life. I think it’s important to be an innovator for other people and to think about others through their lens of life.
RER: What were the circumstances around high school? How different is that from you today?
PATEL: In high school I generally felt like a nobody. I had a hard time finding friends, and even teachers that I related with. I experienced a lot of bullying in high school, so that really affected how I felt about myself. And, when we lost the family store, my sister was actually in university at that time, so I got a part time job to help pay for my sister’s tuition. And you know, as a high schooler, I didn’t have any skills like time management or anything like that, so my grades took a huge hit.
Nobody knew what was happening in my life. So even though I was doing something at an early age, like supporting my family, supporting my sister, nobody knew that. I tried to talk to my high school teacher one time about my circumstance and just kind of shifted into my performance in the class. She then told me, “Science is not for you.” That made me think medicine was not for me.
Senior year in high school, I got into weightlifting a lot and that’s where my confidence was built. You know, having people come up to me for advice for nutrition is what really got me into health.
RER: What led you to overcome this tough time in high school?
PATEL: Going into senior year, I honestly found faith in Jesus. And personally, for me, as a student of faith, that’s where I found purpose. That’s where I found how to cope. Throughout this time, I felt like I wasn’t accepted. Yet, Jesus says, “I love you.” And to me, at that moment, my life, I was like, “You know what, somebody’s actually told me, they love me.” And that allowed me to understand that if someone loves me, that means I need to love myself.
I’m not afraid to take risks. I’m not afraid to say what I want. And I don’t live for human validation anymore.
RER: What has been the hardest part of your journey?
PATEL: The hardest thing for me was to listen to my body and take a break. It was like those 50 to 60 hours of research scribing tutoring studying for the MCAT, all those hours just pulled together. I’ve learned that sometimes in life, it’s okay not to have a balance. Just because you want to go after something, you know, I mean, to get the ball rolling, but there are times where you need to prioritize your other stuff in life. So for me, I’m working on this. I don’t know when to tell myself to take a break because I’m very fast paced.
God took six days to make everything, you know? On the seventh day, he did something. He rested. On the sixth day, he made us, and that tells me that God has the ability to make amazing human beings, creations that can do so many extraordinary things, and yet he took a break. I can take a break too. Rest is important.
RER: What do you hope others gain from hearing your story?
PATEL: I would say that at the end of the day, it’s great to have friends, it’s great to have family, and they can believe in you, you know, but if you don’t believe in yourself, nothing’s gonna happen. I didn’t believe in myself and that didn’t take me anywhere. I just want people to understand that circumstances are hard. But sometimes it’s good to have rain and dirt. Because plants need rain and dirt to grow. Too much sunshine can kill a plant, so if you see rain and dirt, don’t shy away from it. It’s there for a reason.