Hanisha Patel, MD, Third-Year Radiology Resident

August 4, 2021
Hanisha Patel, radiology resident

I'm a total math nerd and this felt like my domain. It's almost like a puzzle.

In her first weeks of radiology residency, Hanisha Patel admits she had moments of doubt. She was in a new city and didn't know people. The learning curve was steep. She hadn't anticipated how different radiology would be from her intern year. "I thought, oh my god, did I make the right choice?" she says. "But then everybody here was so nice and helpful. I slowly realized I was crazy for thinking otherwise, and this is definitely for me."

Since then, Patel hasn't looked back, taking advantage of everything that radiology and New York City have to offer. She has collaborated on multiple research projects which were accepted at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual meetings, and she hopes to present two of them in person this year. She also helps coordinate medical student education with Dr. Pallavi Utukuri, even devoting a weekend each year to scanning cadavers for the virtual autopsy project that is now part of first-year medical students' Gross Anatomy course.

"People ask me to do things, and I don't know how to say no," she laughs.

A self-described foodie, Patel also finds time to try New York City restaurants with an informal supper club she created with some of her fellow residents. "I'm trying to make my way through the Michelin Guide but on an affordable level," she says. They recently ate at COTE Korean Steakhouse on West 22nd Street. Next, she wants to try Indian food in Jackson Heights, Queens.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Patel was born in London and moved to Florida at the age of seven. She is the first doctor in her family. "I kind of know where it came from, but I also don't know where it came from," she says, explaining that while education was important to her parents—neither of whom graduated from college—she had no plans to go into medicine as a child. Then, when she was in high school, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Patel spent much of the next year in the hospital while her mother received treatments, an experience that she now realizes had an impact. Her mother passed away one year after her diagnosis. "It makes you think about how we can find these things faster."

Patel stumbled upon radiology while she was on a pediatrics rotation at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine. "The pediatric radiologist sat down and did radiology rounds with us," she remembers. "He was showing us all these cool diagnoses, and I thought, holy crap, this is what I want to do!" 

"I'm a total math nerd and this felt like my domain. It's almost like a puzzle," she says.

She chose to train at Columbia, both for the city it's in and the breadth of pathology it offers. Six months into her first year of residency, the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City. Radiology residents were redeployed to help with everything from bedside X-rays to helping patients connect virtually with their families. "It was pretty devastating, going to the ICU and seeing multiple patients in one room and all hooked up to machines," Patel says. "They were just laying there. The machines were keeping them alive." Patel mostly worked on the floors facilitating Facetime calls, many of which were heartbreaking. "You feel out of your element for sure. I just wanted to do something to help."

Now in her third year of residency, Patel is studying for her boards and applying to abdominal imaging fellowships in New York and Atlanta, where her father lives with her stepmother and her two half-brothers.

They are still getting used to having a doctor in the family. "My father literally got an MRI of his back and didn't tell me," she laughs. "I think he just doesn't want to worry me."