Dr. Shetal Shah

Shetal Shah, M.D., assistant professor of Neonatal Medicine at Stony Brook University Medical Center and a Syosset resident, has authored a new book titled Passport to Illness: Voyages In and Out of Medicine, which consists of 14 distinct narratives that detail not only medical cases but personal stories, anecdotes, and relationships that doctors bring to their patients' bedsides.

Published by Cold Tree Press (2008), Passport to Illness is Dr. Shah's first memoir and second book. Passport to Illness received a five-star rating from readers in December 2008. One reviewer wrote: "People who love medicine or want to know what healthcare is like in other countries will be really interested."

Dr. Shah discusses caring for patients in different parts of the world that are vastly different from each other, ranging from heavily populated cities to desolate country areas. The summary provided on the book jacket states: "From inner-city New York to the streets of Cuba to rural towns in Kenya, Dr. Shah guides you through his unique world, where the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and the bedside of a fragile, premature infant in New York are not far apart."

The book details more than a decade of Dr. Shah's experiences working around the world. He highlights how these experiences affected him as a physician, particularly in the instance of dealing with critically ill newborns.

"Just as important as where a doctor is trained and goes to school is what experiences that doctor brings to the bedside," said Dr. Shah. "These experiences fuel the perspective, compassion and empathy American medicine tries so hard to squeeze away."

Dr. Shah was born in the United States to Indian-born physicians. His love of India permeates the book, from practicing in the same hospital his parents once practiced with, to hearing inspiriting stories of his grandfather, also a physician. Annually he travels to India to teach pediatric physicians about recent developments in neonatal care.

"In the United States, we often talk about maintaining 'professional distance.' From the first year of medical school, we are taught that to be the best possible doctor, we need to be emotionally separated from our patients so as to maintain objectivity and provide the best treatment," he said. "In the developing world, this concept doesn't exist. I beleive the best medical care is provided when you are an active member of the community you are treating and are emotionally invested in their care. As a neonatologist, this is easier for me than most because it's impossible not to love newborns, even if they are critically ill."

Board certified in Neonatal Medicine, Perinatal Medicine and Pediatrics, Dr. Shah received the American Medical Association's Young Physician Leadership Award in 2008 and the American Association of Physicians from India Young Physicians Award in 2007. He was also named by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as one of the "top innovators in medicine" in 2006 under the age of 35 years.

Dr. Shah said he is a "physician-by-influence, a writer by habit and a traveler by religion." His parents are both physicians - his father a surgeon and his mother an OB/GYN. His grandfather was a revered surgeon in Gujarat, the Indian state where his parents were born and emigrated from.

"My parents both worked extremely hard to provide my sister and me educational opportunities they never had, which is why we moved to Long Island," he said. "By osmosis I picked up the satisfaction and content they displayed every night they came home. I couldn't see myself wanting to be anything else. I was a premedical student at Princeton University where I majored in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and then went to Cornell University Medical College, earning my MD in 2000. Then I spent three years in pediatrics training at the esteemed Duke University Children's Hospital in Durham, North Carolina before returning to New York City for three more years of neonatal intensive care fellowship at New York University School of Medicine. Upon graduation I took a position as an assistant professor of Neonatal Medicine and neonatologist at the Stony Brook School of Medicine. I am board certified in neonatal medicine, perinatal medicine, and pediatrics."

Dr. Shah is a native of Great Neck and currently lives in Syosset with his wife Alpana, and children.

He credits his family with his success. "Everything I've done is because my parents worked so hard to provide me with a view that the world is filled with endless possibilities and that as a physician, you can truly do your small part in alleviating suffering," he said. "My wife is also incredibly tolerant of my wanderlust. There are not many spouses who would let their husband travel to a country they've never heard of and keep everything in a busy home together. I really see it as an expression of her love for me. Stony Brook has also been very kind in allowing me the flexibility in my patient-care schedule to work overseas."

Dr. Shah's Passport to Illness: Voyages In and Out of Medicine is available at any major bookstore as well as Logo
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