Journey from India leads to medical school across the street in Scranton | Education

Journey from India leads to medical school across the street in Scranton | Education


SCRANTON — Dipam Shah’s path to becoming a doctor can be measured in steps.

From his home in Midtown Apartments, he walked to Scranton High School, then to the University of Scranton. For the last four years, he has walked across the street to the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine where he earns his degree today. He is the first student to enroll in the medical college’s pathway program in high school, attend the school and then become a doctor.

His journey began 16 years ago, when his parents, Tarunkumar and Nitaben Shah, immigrated to the United States from India seeking a better education for their children.

As a new immigrant to America, he even played cricket and tennis in the open field across Pine Street from his apartment. When construction started on the medical school in 2008, Shah and his disappointed friends had to play elsewhere. The 12-year-old didn’t yet realize he would watch his future be built across the street.

“We are so proud of him,” Nitaben Shah said. “I never dreamt of him having this kind of opportunity.”

Making an impact

After Dipam Shah completed fourth grade in India, his parents gave up their jobs — his mom in social welfare and his dad in security management — and moved to New Jersey.

A family member told the Shahs about opportunities in Scranton, including a low cost of living, good schools and the chance to work at the TJ Maxx Distribution Center in Pittston Twp., which offered attractive benefits.

After a short stay in New Jersey, the family arrived in Scranton. Dipam Shah and his older sister, Dhara, enrolled in Scranton schools. The family moved into an apartment in the red-brick complex, the home to many members of immigrant or refugee communities, including Indian and Nepalese.

The siblings began translating for their parents, and Dipam Shah began accompanying members of the large Indian population at Midtown to doctor’s appointments.

There, he translated English to Gujarati and back and began to sense a disconnect between doctors and patients. While he learned the importance of preventive care and not just seeing a doctor when something is wrong, he knew that was an unfamiliar practice for many.

As a student at Scranton High School, the teen learned about the new medical college’s Regional Education Academy for Careers in Health Higher Education Initiative, more commonly known as REACH-HEI. He knew he wanted a career in science, so he decided to take the chance to learn if medicine was the right fit.

With REACH-HEI, he received help with SAT preparation and how to apply to college. He found guidance from students and doctors and spent time in labs. At the University of Scranton, where he studied biochemistry and molecular biology, he continued to receive support from REACH-HEI.

Over the last decade, more than 2,000 students have participated in REACH-HEI programs, many of them potential first-generation college students. They achieved a high school graduation rate of 100%, and more than 90% are pursuing careers in health and medicine.

Students who live across from the college, in Midtown Apartments, have gone on to become pharmacists and physical therapists.

Four years ago, Dipam Shah was the first student in the high school pipeline to gain acceptance into the medical school. Now, the 25-year-old is the first graduate.

“We’re extremely proud of him,” said Maureen Murtha, the REACH-HEI program administrator. “We feel like he’s family. He went from a shy little boy to a completely successful, focused amazing young man who is going to be an incredible doctor.”

Shah credits Murtha and Ida Castro, vice president of community engagement and chief diversity officer, with providing him with the support he needed to succeed.

“It feels great to live up to their expectations,” he said.

Dhara Shah, who studied software engineering at the University of Scranton, sees the impact her brother has made in the neighborhood.

“Kids are already looking up to him,” she said. “Having them come to him for guidance, it makes me so proud.”

Close to home

As Dipam Shah watched classmates look for places to park or heard peers speak about family living hours away, he knew he was lucky. Not everyone lives across the street from their medical school.

His grandmother, who also lives in Midtown Apartments, reminded him of his class schedule. He could leave at 7:55 for an 8 a.m. class — a journey of just a few hundred steps. He sometimes came home for lunch, and despite the grueling demands of school, always completed his chores: washing the family’s clothes and going to the grocery store.

Stacks of boxes filled with household items line the white walls inside the Shah family’s second-floor apartment. For the first time, Dipam Shah will move away next month.

“We don’t like it. We will miss him,” his mother said.

But his parents know the move — hopefully temporary — is for the best.

The new doctor will enter the internal medicine residency program at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. He wants to return to Scranton and focus on providing care to members of the community who are often overlooked, including his neighbors of the last 16 years.

Today, after he crosses the stage of the outdoor pavilion at Mount Airy Casino Resort, the next journey — one to which he can’t walk — will begin.

“It’s almost been a surreal experience,” he said. “If you have good intentions, it can always translate into a good story.”


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