'Is there a doctor in the house?' There will be four at the Jeste Family residence in La Jolla!

From left: Kiran with dad, Richard Spurling (who holds an MBA and is a tennis pro), Dr. Sonali Jeste, Dr. Dilip Jeste, Neelum Jeste, Nischal Spurling and Dr. Shafali Jeste (Spurling). Courtesy
From left: Kiran with dad, Richard Spurling (who holds an MBA and is a tennis pro), Dr. Sonali Jeste, Dr. Dilip Jeste, Neelum Jeste, Nischal Spurling and Dr. Shafali Jeste (Spurling). Courtesy

By John Guigayoma

As UCSD medical student Neelum Jeste’s hands tore through the envelope that would fling her across the country for the next three years, her mother was by her side. Jeste had applied to some 20 schools, interviewed at 13, and after months of waiting, she and 127 of her peers discovered their residency placements March 17 at UCSD on what is known as Match Day, a nationwide ceremony that determines the next step toward a hopeful doctor’s career.

But for the Jeste family, this milestone was one of many in the medical field. Dr. Dilip Jeste, Neelum’s father and a UCSD research psychiatrist, was announced as the president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association on March 14, just days before Match Day. At 38,000 members worldwide, the APA holds the title of the world’s largest psychiatric organization, according to its website.

Dr. Sonali Jeste, the mother who stood by as her daughter opened the fateful envelope, is a child psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente Medical Care. The Jeste’s older daughter, Shafali, an M.D., is on faculty at UCLA as a child neurologist. The family has lived in La Jolla for 25 years.

As for her Match Day results, Neelum Jeste said she was happy with her placement, Washington University at St. Louis, a Missouri school with strong clinical training, ample funding for research, and abundant opportunities in global health.

The decision to pursue medicine came not from the assertion of her parents, but rather from paying witness to their interest in medicine throughout her childhood. Dinner conversations covered homework problems and tennis practice as much as research breakthroughs and hospital anecdotes.

“A lot of kids I know who are children of physicians, I see them NOT wanting to do anything in medicine,” Neelum Jeste said, recalling how some parents would express their dissatisfaction with their jobs. “(My parents) come home and they are happy and they love talking about their jobs.”

Said Dilip Jeste of his daughters’ decisions to enter medicine, “For both, we are proud of the fact that they have their own minds and make their own decisions. This is the main goal as parents, to make sure they are happy. It is something they have to decide.”

The family’s affinity toward medicine began with the Jeste parents, who began their studies in India. Dilip Jeste was born to a middle-class family from the state of Bombay and is the first physician in his family, he said.

Among the titles he holds at the university are Estelle and Edgar Levi Chair in Aging, and Director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research. With a strong interest in geriatric psychiatric research, Jeste made advancements in the treatment of late-onset schizophrenia.

But with two parents in the medical field, the Jeste children witnessed their parents juggle the schedules of physicians with the challenges of parenthood. Between being on call and attending conferences, mother sent cupcakes for class parties and father attended every tennis match.

“My profession is very important to me, and I was not going to give that up,” Sonali Jeste said. “But I was also wanted to know that my kids knew their mom was here.”

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