Cardiologist Kiran Patel envisions Indian student exchange program

Florida cardiologist Dr. Kiran Patel.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Tampa, Florida cardiologist who has given a record $200 million gift to a south Florida university, said he’s making an investment – but not the kind that will deliver any personal financial return.

“It’s an investment in humanity,” said Dr. Kiran C. Patel, whose recent gift to Nova Southeastern University in the Fort Lauderdale area has made him the largest donor in the Indian-American community. He will become the only Indian-American in the U.S. to have a medical college named after him.

He told India Abroad, however, that the donation was not designed to catapult himself to be the most high-profile Indian-American philanthropist but if it raises the bar for mainstream philanthropy, he was all for it. “There is no personal gain,” he said. “I am hoping that somebody will give and so if our gift encourages somebody else to give more or less give something, we’ve achieved our objective.”

Patel, an erstwhile president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, made his fortune by growing a struggling health maintenance organization to where it became the state’s largest Medicaid provider. He ultimately sold it for $1 billion a decade later, in 2002, and now runs two other HMOs worth more than $1 billion.

Patel said most medical schools’ geographic footprint is 20 miles around them. “But our geographic footprint is—starting in phase one — 200 miles away [in Clearwater, Florida], and in phase two, 10,000 miles away [in India].” The project has a vision, he said, “of global impact and global development.”

He envisions an exchange program between Nova Southeastern’s medical school and the medical school he hopes to set up in India. “The Indian doctors getting an exposure to modern health care in this country is a far different vision than anybody else has had so far,” he said. “This will be groundbreaking because to do a residency program in another country is a very different concept.”

Asked what drives him to such vigorous philanthropy, he said “In life, most people have the desire to do good but the challenge is the means.” He said that financially he and his wife, Pallavi, “have always been stable.” In 2009, he donated several million dollars to the University of South Florida to set up the Patel College of Global Sustainability.

“We are blessed with having three children who are healthy and very well-educated and self-sustaining. So, we are at a point in life and we have been throughout, where we felt we have adequate resources for us and so, whatever little we can do in our way to help society, then we want to do it.”

Other excerpts from the interview:

What prompted you to coalesce with Nova Southeastern University and more so to the tune of a gift of $200 million?

First, I was planning to have my own medical school in the U.S.—I had acquired the land and I was about to start that. But there are two to three major challenges in starting a medical school—first is accreditation and second is building the infrastructure. But both of these can be possible to surmount but the biggest challenge is sustaining it and getting quality education. So, I felt that if I were able to partner with Nova University, then I would have the opportunity to find the intellectual capital to run it right and that’s what I did because the medical school here has been present for the last 40 years.

So, now what they did is change the name of that medical school that had 250 students and now with the new college, an additional 150, they will have 400 students produced every year, and we will be the largest probably in the country—the Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Why osteopathic medicine?

Because of the regulatory challenges and politics. There is already a medical school in Tampa. So to create another medical college, an M.D. program in Tampa, would be a big challenge. But there was no osteopathic college of medicine and that’s why I went for that. The second thing is that by 2020, whether it is the osteopathic college or the M.D. program, they are all going to be accredited by the same organization in post-graduate medicine. So, it seems likely they are going to be on a path to be equal.

Nova Southeastern in a private university, albeit a not-for-profit university, but I am told it’s pretty expensive, particularly the medical college. So, how are you going to give the needy low-income students and the indigent an opportunity to do medicine if the fees are prohibitive? Even in the case of the Indian-American community and the Asian-American community, not all of them are affluent. Are you going to offer any scholarships or is it going to be strictly on merit?

Primarily, it will be on merit. Right now, day-to-day operations of Nova Southeastern University, I cannot influence. But, I am starting a university in India, which is called the Drs. Kiran and Pallavi Patel University, which will be in Gujarat, near Baroda and that university will have a medical school and we will be exchanging students between India and the U.S. So we will be at some point planning a medical college in India whose fee structure will be very affordable. Therefore, if some students, if they qualify, may want to go to India to get their education—just like for your knee replacement, people say, go to India, and it will be cheaper in spite of paying the airfare, we may be able to produce the student in India at a fraction of the cost in the United States.

Currently there is a dearth of doctors in the U.S., and it is predicted that there is going to be an acute shortage in 2020 as the baby boomers retire, particularly of primary-care physicians. How will your projects help alleviate the looming crisis?

This is exactly so. I believe that the gift of education is the best gift you can give to anybody and health is a close second, if not the first because you want to be healthy and you want to be educated.

By doing this project with Nova University, we will be producing 400 doctors a year and that is what’s going to create a major impact on healthcare in this country and globally.

Your gift of $200 million to Nova University is not only the biggest donation the university has ever received but also the largest philanthropic commitment by any Indian-American individual or foundation. Besides setting this record, do you believe the community has evolved into giving big and toward mainstream philanthropy where tangible gains can be counted, in this case more physicians graduating?

My answer to you is first, I don’t believe philanthropy can be measured in dollars and cents. But having said that, when your specific question of numbers come in, I want you to understand that the $50 million is a direct gift to the Nova Southeastern University. The $150 million will be to develop the campus in the Clearwater area. I have acquired 27 acres of land and this acquisition is complete to build a 325,000-square-foot building and to start two colleges there—one the Dr. Kiran Patel College of Osteopathy and the other, the Dr. Pallavi Patel College of Health Care Sciences. And, those two colleges will produce over 1,500 or more graduates, 1,000 to 1,200 in the paramedical and 400 in the medical. So, the contribution to the health care system, which has a paucity of both doctors and paramedical people is going to be huge. On top of that, imagine taking those same courses in India. In India today, there are no such courses available.

And, so, when I am talking about charitable contributions here, it is going to be such that students in India will be able to have a medical education and a paramedical education of the American standard in India and the doctors in the U.S. will have the ability to get training in India. Therefore, they will have access to a lot of patients. So, what it will be doing is fulfilling the health care needs of India and improving the talent of an American doctor and an Indian doctor because they will have the ability to get experience on both continents.

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