Dhenu Patel awarded Van Vessem Memorial Scholarship

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First-year Florida State University College of Medicine student Dhenu Patel has had a clear vision for her career path for years. Now, the Tallahassee native and FSU undergraduate double-major has one less obstacle in her path.

Patel is the recipient of the 2024 Nancy Van Vessem, M.D. Memorial Scholarship, presented annually to medical student(s) through a scholarship endowment created by Capital Health Plan. She will receive $40,000 annually for the duration of her medical education in exchange for agreeing to practice internal medicine or outpatient geriatrics in Leon, Gadsden, Wakulla, Jefferson, Calhoun, Liberty or Franklin counties, equal to the number of years she receives the scholarship.

“I know I really want to practice internal medicine,” Patel said. “I always knew I wanted to do some type of primary care, and I feel that [internal medicine] is one of broadest ones … I grew up here and my parents and family are here. I know I want to stay close by and probably practice in Tallahassee in the future.”

The Van Vessem Memorial Scholarship honors the local health care and community leader who lost her life in a 2018 shooting at a Tallahassee yoga studio. An internist and chief medical officer at Capital Health Plan for more than two decades, Van Vessem was an early faculty member at the College of Medicine and one of its first clerkship directors in internal medicine.
She was an advocate for the new medical school and its mission to produce physicians practicing patient-centered health care, especially through service to elder, rural, minority and other underserved populations. Those characteristics are relatable to Patel, who in her scholarship application wrote:

“My passion for internal medicine stems from a desire to provide comprehensive and personalized care to individuals and foster lasting relationships with patients and families … I aim to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to address the diverse health care needs of the community in Leon County. Like many other regions, we face an increasing burden of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular conditions and respiratory disorders. Therefore, training in internal medicine can equip me with the tools to address these prevalent health issues and make a meaningful contribution to the well-being of my community.”

Entrenched in community-oriented service dating to her days as a student at the Maclay School, Patel has volunteered locally with the Hispanic migrant farmer and Asian communities, as well as local clinics and hospitals. She furthered those experiences as an undergraduate at Florida State, majoring in public health and exercise physiology and as a member of the College of Medicine’s Honors Medical Scholars Society (HMSS) and the university’s Presidential Scholars Program.

Her HMSS volunteer and community outreach experiences included working at Kearney Center, which serves the homeless; helping at the Second Harvest Food Bank and the Panhandle Migrant Education Program; and mentoring students in SSTRIDE, a College of Medicine outreach program that identifies and nurtures middle and high school students from underrepresented populations.  Patel also participated in research at the College of Medicine, completing an honors research thesis. In addition, she worked as a medical assistant and capitalized on multiple shadowing experiences.

The daughter of Yami and Paresh Patel, M.D., a Tallahassee oncologist, she was exposed to medicine at a young age.

“I just knew I wanted to have a career where I could serve other people and I think health service is really important,” she said. “I always liked school and science was my thing, but medicine is both science and caring for other people. It’s service and academics together.”

Patel credits Anthony Speights, M.D. and Elizabeth Foster, Ph.D., co-directors of HMSS, for convincing her that pursuing her medical education at the College of Medicine was the right fit.

“Coming from a medical family and understanding how medicine works, that set her up from the beginning,” Speights said. “Dhenu has really been a part of the medical school even from high school days. She actually went through the Summer Institute between 11th and 12th grade. Having that connection and being part of outreach programs has really given her unique insight into what our medical school is all about…

“When you look at it from the spectrum of what the medical school does and how our outreach programs work, she’s actually lived exactly what we want her to do.”

Added Foster:

“She is incredibly selfless and giving. Her heart and mind belong in medicine and her future patients will love being under her care.”

And caring for those in the community where she was raised aligns perfectly with the Van Vessem scholarship requirements.

“This scholarship will not only support my educational journey, but also allow me to give back to the community that has shaped me,” Patel wrote in her application letter. “I am confident that my unique background, academic achievements, and unwavering commitment make me the ideal candidate for this scholarship and, ultimately, a future internal medicine physician serving the vibrant community of Leon County.”

Patel is the seventh recipient of the Van Vessem Memorial Scholarship since it was established in 2021.

Nancy Van Vessem, M.D. Memorial Scholarship Recipients
2021    Jimmy Brown, M.D.
2022    Jodi Wilson (M.D. Class of 2024)
2022    John Parker (M.D. Class of 2025)
2022    Sean Wimberley (M.D. Class of 2025)
2023    Dillon Buckley (M.D. Class of 2026)
2023    Benjamin Linkous (M.D. Class of 2026)
2024    Dhenu Patel (M.D. Class of 2027)