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Vel Sivapalan, MD

Vel Sivapalan, MD

Director, Infectious Diseases Fellowship Training Program
NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem

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Teaching the Next Generation of Infectious Disease Specialists

In his Native Sri Lanka, Dr. Vel Sivapalan’s parents — both teachers — raised a squadron of international doctors: a physician sister in Canada, a physician brother in the United Kingdom, and Dr. Sivapalan himself, who has been a physician at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem since 1989, having fallen in love with the place during his residency. 

But secretly he has followed in his parents’ footsteps as a teacher: training HIV scholars in 2001 and infectious disease fellows in 2005, and serving as a formal mentor to a minority clinic fellow in 2009.

At Harlem, he is better known to his students as “Dr. Siva,” having served as Director of the hospital’s Division of Infectious Diseases’ fellowship training program since 2005. He has also been Course Director of Columbia University’s clinical infectious diseases elective as well as its major clinical year for the same stretch. Moreover, he has taught clinical medicine to third-year Columbia medical students since 1990. And since 1995, he has given an annual lecture to physician assistant students at the City University of New York’s Sophie Davis school of biomedical education. 

“The key to being a successful clinician is not just education alone,” he says. “To be a successful clinician earning the respect and confidence of the persons we interact with either being a colleague, coworker or patient is extremely important. Treating everyone with respect earns respect.”

He certainly has the respect of Dr. Maurice Wright, Harlem’s Chief Medical Officer, who says of Dr. Sivapalan: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, as an infectious disease specialist, he immersed himself completely into bedside patient care, COVID research and protocol design as well as supporting his coworkers and fellows. He is extremely hardworking and conscientious and approaches every aspect of his work with calmness, confidence, humility, competence, efficiency and a disarming smile.”

Scratch the surface of that impressive medical career and you’ll see little flexes — his quoting Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers motto of “all for one and one for all” or his Shakespearean title of a prescient oral presentation in 2019: “To Be Or Not To Be Vaccinated” — that show his parents that they taught him much more than the value of medicine. 

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