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School of Medicine Columbia

Graduates focus on infectious disease as they head to residency

By Margaret Gregory, Posted May 20, 2020

Graduates of the 2020 Class from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia are preparing to head to their residency destinations at a time when there is a great deal of upheaval in the medical world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For two graduates, working with infectious diseases has been an interest that they are eager to continue following.

Focus on the Youngest Patients

Prior to beginning medical school, Nicholas Gregory, who grew up in Lexington, South Carolina, took a gap year and volunteered at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where he worked as a scribe at Children’s Specialized Hospital, a pediatric neurodevelopmental clinic. He spent time with young patients during arts-and-crafts activities and playtime to help keep them occupied while they underwent infusion treatments.

 “I loved the energy of working in a pediatric inpatient setting. I also was fascinated by how completely different pediatric diseases can be from adult medicine as well as the somewhat mysterious fevers and rashes that I witnessed during my pediatrics clerkship. I realized that I would enjoy the diagnostic challenge and learning about the interesting cases that come with pediatric infectious disease,” he says.

Gregory also credits his mentors, Anna Kathryn Burch, M.D., and Rebecca Widener, M.D., both pediatric infectious diseases specialists at Prisma Health and faculty members at the UofSC School of Medicine Columbia, with encouraging his interest in the specialty.

“It was amazing getting to work with these physicians who were not only incredible teachers of antibiotics, microbes, and pediatric pathophysiology, but also two of the warmest people that I’ve worked with,” Gregory says. “They played a big role in inspiring me to pick a career in pediatrics and infectious disease and in mentoring me throughout my third and fourth years of medical school.”

Gregory will continue his training in pediatrics at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System in Richmond, Virginia.

“My experience at CHOP was important in shaping what I will be doing,” Gregory says.

The residency will allow him to train in both internal medicine and pediatrics including experiences in substance abuse, dermatology, rheumatology, allergy, sports medicine, adolescent medicine, family HIV/AIDS care and research.

While he was in Philadelphia, Gregory also volunteered for an organization, Action Wellness, formerly called Action AIDS, which was his first exposure in working with infectious disease. The group works to enhance the lives of those living with HIV and other serious chronic illnesses by providing holistic and trauma-informed health, prevention, and supportive services. 

“I learned about the disease itself and its history, the social stigma that accompanies it and how it has now transformed, to some extent, into a disease that we can now treat as a chronic disease,” he says. “There is an unfortunately a common challenge with HIV-medication adherence in adolescents and young adults. I would like to try to help connect them to services that makes them want to utilize these services and engage in health care in a way that helps them further down the road.”

Gregory also wants to use public policy to increase access to affordable healthy food and increase opportunities for physical activity for kids. In the United States. He recognizes that the obesity epidemic contributes to the worsening of other chronic illnesses.

“I am interested in seeing how the public health aspect comes into play in determining how health experts work with government - determining how we contain a pandemic such as COVID-19, what we close and for how long,” he says.

Gregory notes that VCU’s pediatrics training program works with Virginia’s state government, allowing their residents to do work in public policy.

Family Influence

For Milan Shah, his interest in pursuing a medical career resulted from family influences. While an undergrad at the University of South Carolina, his grandfather tragically passed away following a heart attack.

“I couldn’t do anything for him, but I knew I could make a career out of it and help others get through illnesses,” Shah says.

Several of Shah’s family members work in the medical field, including cardiology and oncology, and he had the opportunity to shadow them. One of his greatest influences was his sister, Pooja Shah, Pharm.D, a 2015 graduate of the UofSC College of Pharmacy, who is now a medication management and optimization pharmacist at UNC Health. Shah had the chance to intern with his sister while she was working on an HIV/AIDS research project.

“It was interesting to see the epidemiology, understanding how to effectively treat infectious disease patients,” he says. “I love the complexity of the cases and how infectious disease is involve in critical care. It is a perfect synergistic combination for me.”

Shah has an interest in serving the community, volunteering at the Mercy Medicine Free Clinic during his third and fourth years of medical school while on rotation at the school’s Florence Regional Campus. He also volunteered through Healthy Columbia, a group focused on providing care to underserved areas in Richland County.

“We set up screenings for high blood pressure, diabetes and provided vaccinations,” he says, “and helped to provide transportation to their doctor visits.”

While the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused Shah to leave the clinical setting near the end of his final rotation in March, he says the pandemic only furthered his interest in both infectious disease and critical care.

“I have been following journal articles, listening to podcasts. I want to be prepared because this is an issue that will be affecting us for a long time,” he says. “Gaining a better understanding of the disease as I enter residency can only benefit my patients.”

Shah matched to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, and plans to pursue a fellowship in either a combination of infectious disease and critical care or pulmonology and critical care.

“Building relationships with my patients is what I enjoy about internal medicine,” he says, “and I will be able to practice the type of medicine that I find most interesting.”

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