In the summer of 2012, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation experienced the sudden and tragic loss of one of its rising stars, Amit K. Jha, M.D. In the five years that Dr. Jha served as a physician and leader in internal medicine at PAMF’s Fremont Center, he made a tremendous impression on everyone he encountered. Whether caring for a patient, making time to answer a colleague’s question or bringing lunch to his wife, Fremont pediatrician Rupal Badani, M.D., several times a week, his generosity and gentle nature stood out in everything he did.
Consistent with the core values that differentiate PAMF, Dr. Jha exemplified compassion, keen intellect and thoughtful leadership both within and outside the internal medicine department. His many wonderful qualities continue to impact his colleagues to this day, eight years after his unexpected passing.
Remembering the Physician and Man
Upon her husband’s death, Dr. Badani was flooded with cards from patients and colleagues. Many gave her insights about him as a doctor that she hadn’t fully understood before, even as his partner of 18 years. The patients’ stories increased her appreciation for the valuable relationships patients can have with their primary care doctors — especially during difficult times, when life falls apart.
“I had pediatric patients whose parents were Amit’s patients, and they’d share their grief about his passing,” Dr. Badani says. “Their stories about the care they received showed me the powerful role of a primary care doctor, something I was experiencing with my own primary care doctor. Amit was their confidant, a wise advisor who cared for them. Some said that just seeing him or talking to him could make them feel better. My loss was their loss too.”
Dr. Jha’s colleagues shared stories with her as well. Dr. Badani recalls two in particular that captured laudable aspects of her husband’s personality, both professionally and personally. As a physician, he was observant and intuitive. A colleague in pediatrics told of how one day she passed by Dr. Jha and he asked how her neck was feeling. The pediatrician was puzzled by how he could have known anything was wrong, but then he explained that he’d seen a dent in her car when she was parking that morning. Dr. Jha figured she must have been in an accident and thought to check on her.
On a personal level, an orthopedic surgeon told Dr. Badani that Dr. Jha would frequently pass by his office carrying her lunch delivery to ensure she’d eat something. This loving gesture often inspired him to pause his day to call his own wife just to check in.
At a memorial for Dr. Jha, one colleague shared a poem in his memory that likened him to a supernova, whose light burned brightly for just a short time but with a brilliance beyond measure.
Establishing a Legacy in His Honor
Dr. Badani feels grateful to maintain strong connections with her colleagues at PAMF, where she spent 10 years before taking an administrative leadership role at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. In her new position, she works to improve the quality and delivery of care, which means not only helping patients access the support they need but also keeping doctors and staff happy and healthy.
The last eight years have given Dr. Badani time to reflect on the most appropriate way to honor her husband’s legacy. Recently, inspired by his nurturing nature, her affection for their PAMF family and her new role ensuring physicians’ well-being, she decided to create and endow the annual Amit K. Jha, M.D. Compassion and Clinical Excellence Award.
Beginning this summer, the award will honor an individual or team in the PAMF Alameda Division who delivers the highest level of care and demonstrates compassion to patients and coworkers. Dr. Badani wants to celebrate her former colleagues and recognize the amazing work that physicians and staff throughout the division do every day.
“There is a deep sense of family and belonging at PAMF,” Dr. Badani says. “Even after all these years, they have not forgotten Amit, and I find that incredible. I want to build a legacy for him that will celebrate the compassion and clinical excellence he exemplified and also focus on keeping physicians and staff well, so they can continue coming to work each day ready to care compassionately for their patients.”
Dr. Badani also sees the award as a personal thank you to all the physicians who supported her after her husband’s passing. Several of the couple’s friends and colleagues gifted her their own weeks of sabbatical so that she could be with her and Dr. Jha’s two young children during that heartbreaking time. “I was given the gift of all this time early on, and now it is my turn to give back to the physicians and leadership,” Dr. Badani reflects. “Amit’s medical knowledge and compassion were deeply wired. It means so much to create an award that encourages and celebrates those aspects in the work setting.”
But perhaps most importantly for Dr. Badani, building this legacy will help keep her husband’s spirit alive for their children, son Milan, now 13, and daughter Karina, now 11. “They are starting to ask me questions about who he was and what he was like, and these stories help create that full picture,” she says. “I want them to be part of the award process and read the submissions with me to get a better sense of who he was through the values he exemplified.”
In addition to the award, the PAMF philanthropy team aims to raise $100,000 to name the internal medicine lounge on the Fremont campus in Dr. Jha’s honor. If you are interested in participating, please contact Kathleen Jose Le at (650) 727-7111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.