By Jerry Carey
When Shiwan Shah entered UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM) in
August, he brought his study group with him from Texas. "Its
nice having my brother and sister here," Shiwan said. "Weve
always studied together and helped each other learn."
Shiwans brother, Shinil, and sister, Shilpa, didnt move from
their Houston suburb just to help their older brother cram for a biochemistry
exam. Instead, they came here as fellow first-year students at SOM. Having
three siblings enroll simultaneously is a first for the school. But thats
not the most remarkable thing about the Shahs.
At an age when most people their age are thinking about going to college
or getting a drivers license, the Shahs are busily tackling the
mysteries of medicine. Twins Shinil and Shilpa are just 16 years old,
while their older brother, Shiwan, is 17.
Theres no need to ask them about Doogie Howser, MD. The Shahs have
only heard about the show that ended its television run a decade ago.
"We never actually saw the show. We were still pretty young when
it was on, but we know what its about," said Shinil, the youngerby
a few minutesof the twins. "Weve also heard about other
students who attended medical school when they were teenagers. I think
there was one in New York who graduated when he was 18."
As children, the Shahs were mostly home-schooled. Shiwan attended public
school from kindergarten through third grade (he skipped second). Shinil
and Shilpa were in public school only through first grade. Later, they
spent two years at a private elementary school and, after completing the
requirements for high school, enrolled at Wharton County Junior College
in Texas. They actually slowed down a bit in college, earning degrees
in behavioral science from the University of Houston, Clear Lake, four
years after their college careers began.
When Warren Wallace, EdD, the associate dean for admissions at SOM, first
saw their medical school applications, he did a double- or in this case,
triple-take. "At first, I was surprised to see three applicants from
the same family," Wallace said. "Then I saw that all three had
excellent academic credentials, including very high MCAT scores. Its
exciting that these three gifted young people decided to participate in
our medical education program."
None of the three can remember a point in time when he or she decided
to become a physician. "Its just something we always wanted
to do," said Shilpa. "I think I became aware that Shinil wanted
to be a doctor before I thought about it for myself."
"Weve always liked science," Shiwan added. "Becoming
physicians gives us a chance to help people be healthy and live their
lives to the fullest."
The desire to help others runs deep in all three siblings. After graduating
from college, they spent a year working as volunteers in a hospital and
rehabilitation center in Texas. Their test scores and academic background
landed them interviews at nearly two dozen medical schools, but they were
drawn to osteopathic medicines focus on primary care and underserved
"When we went to college, we began to understand the tremendous
joys and the tremendous tragedies in the world around us," Shilpa
said. "We learned that great discoveries have not yet eliminated
vast disparities in health care. We want to make a positive difference
in the world."
After deciding on osteopathic medicine, picking the right school turned
out to be easier than the Shahs imagined. SOM was their third school visit
and they were so impressed they decided to cancel their remaining interviews.
"On our first day, we didnt know how long it would take us
to get to the campus so we left early," Shiwan explained.
"We ended up getting here at 6:30 in the morning," Shinil interjected.
"When we got here, we saw a student who was here for some early
studying," continued Shiwan. "He immediately offered his help
and even took us on an informal tour of the campus, answering any questions
"Then we met Dr. Wallace and saw that friendliness and helpfulness
seem to extend throughout the whole university family," Shilpa added.
Moving to New Jersey has presented some challenges, including adjusting
to the states notoriously aggressive drivers. Because none of the
Shahs are old enough to enter into a rental contract on their own, their
mother moved east with them. Their father, Kamal, remains back in Houston
where he works as a chemical engineer. Phone calls and e-mails keep the
family close across the 1,500 miles from south Jersey to southeast Texas.
The Shahs are growing accustomed to the curiosity others have about them.
Since enrolling, theyve been interviewed by several newspapers and
television stations. And theyve made it a point to get to know others
at the school. They met a number of students and faculty over the summer
when they worked on campus as volunteers in the molecular biology lab
of Michael Henry, PhD, and also ended up as part-time instructors for
the schools Prep program, a six-week mini-medical school for college
At SOM, the Shahs were also accepted into the Problem Based Learning
(PBL) program. Every two years, this program, developed and directed by
Andrew Pecora, DO, accepts a small group of students who follow a non-traditional
education track. There are eight students in this years group. Instead
of attending classes with a traditional lecture format, the PBL students
meet three times each week and are presented with an actual patient case
by a faculty member. The students then work together to acquire the basic
science knowledge needed to understand underlying mechanisms involved
in each case.
Like most first year students the Shahs have little time for anything
not related to school. All three seem well-prepared for the challenges
ahead of them, however. They credit their parents with teaching them about
the value and rewards of working hard to achieve goals, and they rely
on each other for support.