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      East Coast Native Celebrates 10 Years at RGA

      Dr. Sunil Patel

      East Coast Native Celebrates 10 Years at RGA

      Dr. Sunil Patel has spent a decade at Rockford Gastroenterology Associates (RGA) delivering specialized gastrointestinal care for his patients, inspired by a family of doctors whose passion was helping people.

      Dr. Patel grew up in New Jersey with about 10 doctors in the family – his dad was a surgeon then a radiologist; his mother, an anesthesiologist. Their careers had a major impact on his choice to pursue medicine.

      "I grew up seeing medical journals lying around the table and hearing them talk about medicine all day, though I didn't necessarily understand what they were saying," he recalled. "I'd tag along with my parents to hospitals, so I had early exposure to the field. I saw that people had a high regard for my parents. Taking care of patients and helping people was really appealing to me."

      He graduated from Boston University in 1996 with a psychology degree and completed his medical training at New Jersey Medical School in 2001. It's during that medical training that he first became interested in working in the GI field, attracted to its combination of "disease processes and procedures."

      "The attending physicians we worked with at the time took medicine and patient care very seriously, but they also made it fun," he recalled. "The patients bring that out in us."

      He completed his Internal Medicine residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School in Boston in 2004 and a fellowship in Gastroenterology at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center/University of Massachusetts Medical School in 2007.

      A friend's invitation

      Dr. Patel met his now-wife when she was working as a nurse. She's from Ohio, so they relocated, and Dr. Patel worked for a private gastroenterology practice for a few years. And then RGA's Dr. Bob Thukral, whom Dr. Patel had worked with at Harvard, reached out about an opening in Rockford.

      "We were interns together in Boston, and we'd always thought it would be fun work together," Dr. Patel said. "When I interviewed, I saw everything he said about RGA: how great of a place it was to work with a lot of great doctors. It was a really collegial atmosphere. He was very happy, and that's what everyone wants.

      "RGA's founders put a huge emphasis on quality of life, balancing work with non-medicine interests, and that was another huge selling point for me. As was that RGA had enough physicians to care for patients in both the hospital and clinic settings. Exceptional patient care and quality of life for the staff remain priorities."

      Dr. Patel joined RGA in 2010 and continues to care for patients with a variety of GI conditions. He has a strong interest in helping individuals with liver disease, as well as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

      "I like the continuity of working with patients to help them manage these chronic conditions and developing more long-term relationships," he said.

      Research and specialties

      Dr. Patel is one of three RGA physicians who specialize in a nonsurgical banding treatment for hemorrhoids called the CRH O'Regan System. He is the director of RGA's Research Division, which actively conducts and publishes clinical research.

      In 2015, Dr. Patel developed RGA's Fecal Transplant Program and introduced this novel therapy to the Rockford area. Currently, the procedure involves the transfer of bacterial flora from a healthy donor into the GI tract of the recipient for the purpose of treating a serious bacterial infection called C. Difficile colitis.

      RGA physicians also help patients manage a variety of liver diseases, including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), diagnoses of which are on the rise. One condition that has seen many advancements is hepatitis C.

      "With hepatitis C, treatments have come so far in 10 years. The success rates are greater than 95% in some cases," he said. "Fatty liver is a big issue right now. There are a lot of potential drugs in the pipeline, but what it really boils down to for patients is lifestyle changes. We know this is challenging for individuals – it's easy to say in the office but difficult for patients to implement."

      Helping patients manage these serious chronic conditions is a big part of what RGA physicians do, though Dr. Patel said there's a common misconception that gastroenterologists just do colonoscopies. It's normal for people to feel some anxiety about any medical procedures, including those for GI issues.

      "Between the medications we use to help people feel comfortable and our staff at RGA, so many patients saying procedures were nothing like they expected," he said. "We try hard as a team to make your time at RGA – whether it's a procedure or a clinic appointment – as relaxing as possible.

      "We are a well-trained group. Our community can access care and treatment options at RGA similar to what they'd find at an academic center. We take great pride in having a well-rounded institution with doctors trained at good institutions who follow the latest literature and research."

      Away from work, Dr. Patel lives in Rockford with his wife and daughter. They enjoy family activities, socializing with friends and traveling during non-COVID times (he's been reading more than ever during this time).

      He's also an avid support of New York sports teams and enjoys watching tennis and golf.