'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.”

At the same time, the children gained further exposure to the medical field. They met with practitioners from different areas at casual get-togethers, and the family planned vacations around Dilip Jeste’s conference schedule, traveling to countries such as Australia and Israel.

“They set a good example that you can still raise your kids just as well and work just as hard. … When I am a working parent with kids, I will know that it is possible,” Neelum Jeste said.

For Dilip Jeste, striking that balance between work and home was not difficult because his priorities were clear. “We genuinely love our kids, and our kids come first before everything else,” he said. “Family has to come first.”

All in the Family

Just a few other medical families with UCSD ties include these practitioners:


Ajit Varki, M.D., is a Professor of Medicine and Cellular & Molecular Medicine. An internationally recognized glycobiology expert, he is also co-director of the UCSD Glycobiology Research and Training Center. He runs his research lab in collaboration with his wife, Nissi Varki, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Pathology at UCSD School of Medicine. They live in La Jolla.


Catriona Jamieson, M.D., Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology-Oncology and Director for Stem Cell Research at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. Her husband, Sheldon Morris, MD, is a physician-researcher who conducts AIDS research at UCSD's Antiretroviral Research Center. They live in La Jolla.

Extended Family:

Jack Dixon, Ph.D., is a UCSD Professor of Pharmacology, Cellular & Molecular Medicine, and Chemistry and Biochemistry. He is also vice president and chief scientific officer of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Washington, D.C. His son, Jessie, is in the M.D./Ph.D. program. Jessie's fiancée, Katie Rice, is a fourth-year medical student who was just "matched" to UCSD's OB/GYN program so she will be a resident at UC San Diego Health System in the fall. Her parents (in Seattle) are both physicians.  Dr. Dixon and his wife and Katie and Jessie live in La Jolla.


Karen Pierce, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of neurosciences and her husband, Eric Courchesne, Ph.D., Professor of Neurosciences, work together at the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence. Eric is director of the UCSD Autism Center's MRI Project on early brain development in autism, dedicated to uncovering the brain bases and genetic causes of autism. Karen is a research faculty member in the Department of Neurosciences, directs the Autism Center's MRI Project on social, emotion and language functioning in the brain in autistic infants and also directs the center's project working to characterize the clinical features of autism at 12 months of age. The couple reside in Mission Hills.



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