The subject of twins, particularly identical twins, often gives birth to well-meaning wit, grins, and joshing by young and old. Keith and Kevin Noorda, identical twins and gifted students in class of 2024 at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV, certainly have stories to tell of mixups and mishaps.
The Noordas say their mother, doing her best to help people figure out who was who, “color coded" her little ones as they went to school in North Las Vegas. Keith’s outfits were in greens and reds and Kevin’s blues and whites. While that coding helped family, friends, teachers, and students who were around the children quite a bit, it didn’t stop smiling first-timers from good naturedly blurting, “Look, twins. Who’s who?” as they peered into the stroller and started lengthy conversations in parking lots about the joys and challenges of twins.
Kids being kids, it isn’t surprising the Noordas decided to use it to their advantage, particularly on the tennis court. Though both were fine tennis players at Legacy High School, one served better than another, so why not have only the best server to serve when playing doubles. “No one could tell who was serving,” recalled Keith.
When they were students at Brigham Young University in Utah, Kevin wanted to play in both intramural volleyball and soccer games that were scheduled at the same time. Keith, ever the caring brother, took Keith’s place during a break in the volleyball action so Kevin could go off and play in the soccer game. “No one understood what was going on,” Keith says.
During their clinical rotations at UMC, the Noorda brothers generally didn’t have the same shifts, so each had to go to his own shift’s orientation. Those in charge, however, unaware of the twins, wondered why the same student was attending two orientations in a day. Another time, Kevin was repeatedly questioned by residents in the stairwell because they were sure they just sent him up the stairs and here he was going down the stairs.
“Keith and I are used to being mixed up, we don't even notice it all the time," Kevin says. "If people are worried about it bothering us, they shouldn’t. We stopped caring about that 23 years ago in first grade when we realized we were each individuals that people just have a hard time telling the difference between. So don't let that stop you from coming and saying hi. If you call us by the wrong name, we’ll probably just go along with it and be happy to chat with you for a minute.”
While the Noordas enjoy talking about the phenomenon of twins, make no mistake about what they think most about these days: They’re in the process of envisioning how they’re going to make a difference in the world through careers in medicine.
From afar, that the Noorda brothers, now in the fourth year of medical school, decided on the medical profession seems preordained. Three men they admire — father, J. Cal Noorda; uncle, Barry Noorda; and their late grandfather, Albert Noorda — made the practice of medicine a career.
The twins grew up loving what their father said daily before leaving for work as a primary care physician in Las Vegas: “I’m off to stamp out disease and save lives.”
Notes Kevin: “I believe my father’s statement each morning entails two important aspects of being a doctor. The first point is that a physician needs to make an active effort and participate in eliminating sickness, disease, or harmful conditions in a patient when possible. It is our job to learn how to diagnose the real issue a patient is experiencing and to then provide the patient with a solution to treat the problem. Our goal is to end sickness if possible.
"The second part of his statement, save lives, I think is a little more broad. This can include saving someone’s life through lifesaving treatment or advice, but I've interpreted this further to mean a physician makes a positive impact on a patient’s life that ultimately leads to an improved quality of life. There is more to life than just surviving. A physician facilitates this whenever possible.”
Kevin says he and his brother also have liked to hear patients speak well of their father: “I have heard from countless patients over the years when they find out my father is their doctor that my dad works hard to make sure patients feel heard and cared for. This is usually followed up with a, ‘and you better become a physician too so that you can take care of me just like you father after he retires. He is the best physician I have ever had.’”
The twins were also highly impressed when the doctors in the family saved the life of their mother after she went into anaphylactic shock following an allergic reaction to a new medication. “This event, along with my experiences shadowing, assisting patients, and teaching others have shown me how applying knowledge, using the skills of active listening, and the overarching benefits of teamwork are important to the unique role physicians play in making an impact on individuals,” Keith says.
Despite the positives the brothers saw in their own family regarding medicine, they say their father cautioned them about entering the profession without the necessary passion.
“My dad is a strong advocate for pursuing what one feels is right and being true to themselves,” Keith says. “Knowing the pressure others inadvertently place on a child to follow in their parent’s footsteps and the difficult path it is to become a physician, my dad wanted to make sure my brother and I were making the choice to pursue medicine because it’s what we wanted … He made sure we were aware of the rigor of studying in medical school … the daily stressors of living each day in the medical field.”
For the twins, what ultimately played a large role in wanting to become physicians is the difference they could make in people’s lives through medicine.
“I decided in college that I would be a physician when I got to shadow a cardiologist,” Keith says. “He would ask me questions after visiting with a patient and help me piece together the diagnosis and next step in treatment. It was exciting, seeing how all this great scientific knowledge could be applied and make a difference in a person’s life.”
Says Kevin: “I didn’t realize fully that becoming a physician was something I wanted to do until I would hear from people that my father or grandpa had helped them and what a difference they made in their lives. Then, while serving as a volunteer for two years for my religion [Church of Latter-day Saints] in Germany, having fellow volunteers often come to me to ask about various health conditions they were having, or to tell them when they needed to go to the urgent care, further solidified that I wanted to be the person that could take care of people like them when they are in need.”
Having experienced rotations in many specialties during the clinical portion of medical school, Keith is particularly interested in neurology while Kevin is interested in either internal medicine or physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R).
Keith joined a research group studying Alzheimer’s disease in college and was able to work during college at an assisted living center in Austria, where several individuals had dementia. “The brain is truly a fascinating part of our physiology," he says. "It acts as the master control of everything we do and stores our memories of who we are, but at the same time memory is such a labile thing. Every time we access a memory, we risk changing it due to different nerve pathways firing. Memory is our constant in life holding us to the past, but at the same time it changes as we change. Protecting memory helps us protect a large part of who we are.
"I hope to continue research into Alzheimer’s and work with patients suffering with dementia as part of my future practice. Although I cannot say at this point it will be a focus of my future career in neurology, I can say I feel like it’s an area I want to help others in to preserve who they are. I am hopeful for the advances we can make in understanding the Alzheimer’s disease process, ways of early diagnosis, and eventually treatment. I don't want to just sit back. I want to be part of that change.”
Kevin – like Keith, he did volunteer work for the Mormon church in Germany and worked at an Austrian assisted living center – says he imagined himself “becoming an internal medicine doctor and working in a capacity very similar to that of my father … I have seen the immense amount of good that a primary care physician can provide.
"I've often heard that internal medicine physicians are often ‘Jacks of all trades,’ and I like the idea of maintaining a good grasp on most aspects of medicine and healthcare but then being able to advise patients when they need even more specialized care … With PM&R, I really like the longitudinal aspect of care and the ability to actively work with a team to manage care. I like the idea of a collaborative work environment.
"Another big draw to the field is the focus on improving quality of life for patients. PM&R physicians work with patients who have physical impairments or disabilities and work to help them regain function, independence and mobility. I want to pursue the field where I feel that my unique talents and skill set will be best utilized to do the most good for others — Clinicals in medical school will go a long way toward helping me make a decision.”
If at all possible, the brothers would like to practice near each other in Nevada, among family and friends.
“I can honestly say that my brother is my best friend and that he is one of the best people I know,” says Kevin. “How many people get to spend their life going through most of the best and hardest stuff together with their best friend, who not only wants to do the same things as you, but also understands you better than even you do yourself sometimes? We are happy doing our own thing, and even lived several hours away from each other at one point for a decent period of time, but doing things together will never be a complaint of mine.
"For all the troubles schools have had with keeping our records straight and all the logistical problems that you normally wouldn't even think about, I would choose to do it all together again in a heartbeat. Before I got married I would often jokingly say that Keith — who truly does bring out the best in me — is my better half. Now that I am married, I still say that but add that my wife is my best half.”