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Friend of the Nest – Alok

February 6, 2019

We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Dr. Alok Patel, who served as a Tu Nidito volunteer from 2005-2012 while he was a medical student at the University of Arizona. Alok credits his volunteer work at Tu Nidito for changing his approach with patients and people in general. Today, Alok is a clinical instructor of Pediatrics at Columbia Children’s Hospital in New York, a faculty physician at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, a medical producer at CNN, and a freelance media correspondent and host. 

For more information about volunteering at Tu Nidito visit our website or contact katie@tunidito.org.

  1. What inspired you to donate your time to supporting Tu Nidito’s mission?

I first started volunteering at Tu Nidito thanks to a college mentor who taught me that practicing medicine was not simply diagnoses and happy outcomes.

I was a junior in undergrad at the University of Arizona and, similar to every other idealistic pre-medical student, I told people my reason for pursuing medicine was because “I loved science and wanted to help people.”

My mentor, Dr. Thomas Lindell heard this sentiment and asked me “can you handle all the difficult aspects of medicine?” He pushed me to better understand the entire scope of medicine – not just the glorified stories but the  coping, grief, and the emotional conversations that actually make up a large part of medicine. Aspiring physicians, as I was learning, needed to hone their interpersonal skills just as much as their basic science knowledge. He told me about Tu Nidito and within a couple weeks I started my orientation.

That was way back in November 2005. When I started, I was a student stressed about organic chemistry and unsure about what I was doing. Fast forward to my last day, June 2012, and I was confidently able to tell everyone that Tu Nidito forever changed my approach with patients and people in general.

  1. How has your experience volunteering with Tu Nidito influenced your life?

I made this joke on my last day as a volunteer: “Tu Nidito taught me how to actively listen and hear people out. In other words, how to be a much better boyfriend.”

Jest aside, my time at Tu Nidito taught me how to let people tell their story, without judgement and without offering unsolicited advice. Doctors and other healthcare professionals are programmed to try and “fix” problems and offer a response to every woe. In some cases, especially with grieving, people need to be heard. People deserve a trusted environment to speak freely and be encouraged to explore their own emotions.

I first learned how to do this in “Family Ties” when I would chat with teenagers, juggling a diagnosis and the very real drama of high school. My teens used to openly tell they didn’t want to hear a professional try and give them an answer; they all just wanted to let out their raw, unfiltered thoughts in a safe place.

Those experiences, with those vibrant and brave teens, taught how to better appreciate every patient’s mental process. Sometimes, it’s wholly appropriate for a doctor to hang up the stethoscope, not speak, and actively listen.  As a pediatrician, I employ this tool I honed from emotional nights at Tu Nidito, almost every day.

Also, my boyfriend joke wasn’t totally baseless. My wife, who puts up with all my antics, openly admits that my active listening skills are on point.

  1. Any words of wisdom you would like to share for those interested in getting involved with Tu Nidito?

There are some aspects of healing and care that transcend medical textbooks. The therapy found within the Tu Nidito walls are a perfect example. Regardless of your path, forming a sincere human connection with someone who is facing a serious illness or who has an ill family member, will mature you and enhance your ability to connect. And that’s a selfish motive.

I’ll never forget one vibrant sixteen year-old who told me that while undergoing chemotherapy, Tu Nidito was her safe haven and the only place where she felt like she had control.

Tu Nidito changes lives for both volunteers and the courageous families. Don’t hesitate – get involved!

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