Dr. Alok Patel
National Medical Communicator
Special Correspondent ABC News, Clinical Instructor of Pediatrics, Columbia University Medical Center
If you’ve ever seen Dr. Alok Patel on television, chances are good that he was casually doing something impressively acrobatic while explaining a public health issue. A natural showman, Dr. Patel uses his charisma, affability and athletic prowess to impart medical know-how in his pediatric practice, online, and through his ongoing engagement with ABC News.
Patel’s passion “sits somewhere in the venn diagram of public health communication, healthcare access, and advocacy.” He helps people to translate medical headlines and information to keep themselves and their families healthy. As one might imagine, the current COVID-19 pandemic means his work has never been more relevant.
"We have widespread inequity in this country, when it comes to access to health resources–or even the same ability to find a safe place to exercise, buy healthy food, or obtain insurance. In these “Covid-19 times,” a spotlight has been placed on deep-rooted inequity and the social determinants of health. I hope this catalyzes a much-needed discussion about how to improve health, at the prevention level, for ALL Americans, regardless of socioeconomic class."
Patel works to spread his knowledge in large part through his work at ABC News. When asked how he decided to become a TV personality, he had this to say:
"I got into medical journalism–and the television industry at large–after doing an internship at ABC News, in New York City, learning from legendary medical journalists, and having a hilarious, candid, one-on-one with Diane Sawyer. […] It’s entertainment, for sure, but its ability to captivate an audience is unparalleled. You have the ability to educate and empower millions of people in literally 30 seconds with one medical news report."
“[Ministry of Supply] has become a game changer for me, especially when I’m on the move. Being able to launder or hand-wash a suit saves me a lot of time and money, and ensures I can keep wearing these perfectly fitting suits. Additionally, the fit and movement means I can comfortably run from the hospital to an airplane to a television shoot, on the other side of the country.”
While Patel’s work in medicine and public health is well established, his love of martial arts often bleeds through into his everyday persona with a leap, a jump kick or even a one-handed handstand. We asked him what inspired this second passion:
I discovered martial arts at a young age when I first got a pair of nunchaku. I felt limitless, even though I was an 8-year-old, at the risk of self-inflicted trauma during practice. Martial arts was a way for me to express myself while developing balance, confidence, focus, and an artistic appreciation of what the human body can do. Since then, I’ve practiced and studied several martial arts, and I’m still as obsessed as I was way back then.
Given the need to move around and look good on a moment’s notice, ideally with low-maintenance staples, Patel finds our clothing to be a perfect fit for his lifestyle.
“If I drew out a ten-year-plan for my career, being an ambassador for UNICEF would be at the finish line. Our future is going to be built by today’s youngest generation. We should be collectively prioritizing their well-being and ability to thrive.”
Questions with Dr. Patel
While Dr. Patel has been endlessly busy for the past several weeks, he graciously found some time to check in with us. Here’s what we learned:
How would you describe yourself in 10 words or less?
A public health hype man, who only needed four words. Boom.
What music do you listen to?
You’re going to get a loaded answer here because depending on my mood or workflow, there’s a different genre. I’m a huge audiophile and appreciate anything with raw talent and innovation.
In one day, I’ll jump from Parov Stelar to Nirvana to Kid Koala to Rage Against the Machine to the Asteroid Galaxy Tour to Jurassic 5 to Tchaikovsky to Alice in Chains to Jacqueline Taieb.
This is not an exaggeration.
Who are your influences/role models?
Bruce Lee, Martin Scorcese, Dr. Richard Besser, John Oliver, my powerhouse wife, and my parents.
What TV shows or movies have you watched recently?
Movies: The Charade, Ip Man 4, and Heat.
TV shows: The Last Dance (which is one of best-made sports documentaries I’ve ever seen) and Ozark.
But above all, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Simpsons seasons 3-9 reruns are a mainstay in my life.
How do you take your coffee?
At home: Black with a sprinkle of licorice powder (Bought it in Stockholm, it’s revolutionary).
At a place that knows what they’re doing: Pour-over, black.
What’s your favorite place?
For everyday, my favorite place has to be New York City and as far as a place I’ve visited, it's Tibet.
What’s one place you would love to visit?
Easter Island. It’s going to happen.
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?
Shakira. Can we make this happen? No? Fine, Barack Obama.
How did you hear about Ministry of Supply?
I have a close friend, who lived in Boston, who raved about Ministry of Supply. He lived on airplanes and Amtraks and swore by the brand as a reliable “go-to” for professionals constantly on the run.
What are your favorite Ministry of Supply pieces?
[It has to be] a tie between my Indigo Heather Kinetic Blazer and my Black Velocity Suit. I’ve put the Kinetic Blazer through so much abuse over the past year and you’d never be able to tell. I’ve dressed it up and down, spilled coffee on it, folded it up and stored it in a backpack, and more. The Black Velocity Suit is the only suit I own I can comfortably do handstands, ride a bike to work or practice kicks in - that says a lot. Also, it fits me so perfectly, people have asked if it was a custom-made piece.
What have you discovered that has surprised you?
What it takes to actually be happy, or should I say how little it takes if you have the right mindset. I know CEOs, worth millions of dollars, who are miserable and others, working 9-to-5s who seem to live each day with fulfillment with an indelible zeal for life.
I also discovered the joy of playing Mario Kart on Nintendo Switch, while on a zoom call, with my high school friends. This is officially the world’s greatest “sheltered-in-place” activity.
What’s one thing you wish you had more time for?
I honestly wish I had more time to read. Audiobooks have become a staple in my life but nothing replaces a physical book.
How do you balance everything?
My wife keeps me in check and reminds me to take breaks, put the phone down, and to get organized. She has her own wedding and event planning business and I took notes from her in how to say “no” and prioritize tasks.
Recently, as I’ve gotten busier, focusing on exercise, sleep, and mental breaks has been crucial for my balance. It’s become a necessity.
Dr. Patel can be found on ABC 7 News, on Instagram @alokpatelmd, and at his website on alokpatelmd.com. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, Doctor!