Spotlight: Priyanka Jha, MBBS, Associate Professor

Priyanka Jha, MBSS Associate ProfessorFebruary 19, 2021

Priyanka Jha, MBBS, associate professor of clinical radiology in the Abdominal Imaging and Ultrasound Section understands time as a precious and limited gift. Dr. Jha is dedicating her journey to addressing the challenges of being a work-outside-the-home parent, advocating for women in medicine, and making a difference for the community. She actively demonstrates the importance of using our gift of time wisely, both at home and at work, a practice her mother taught early on.

Dr. Jha was born and raised in Delhi, India. “Delhi is a big city. Growing up there was a lot of fun,” recalls Dr. Jha. “The structure of the school system was pretty similar to that in the United States – one difference I enjoyed was that both educators and learners would start every morning by practicing wellness and gratefulness through prayers.” 

“Both my parents established careers in the sciences,” says Dr. Jha. “Science was such an important part of our lives growing up. My siblings and I were raised to be critical thinkers.”  Dr. Jha’s mother, Ranjana Jha, M.Sc., PhD, has been her forever role model. “My mother earned her PhD in solar physics with three children in tow. To date she is the coolest mother ever,” says Dr. Jha. “Currently, she is researching optimal designs for solar cells suitable to power cars, and pre-COVID, the lab's prototypes were taking part in solar car races!”  Following her love of the sciences, Dr. Jha attended Maulana Azad Medical College. She was extremely happy and thankful to be able to live at home during medical school.

Dr. Jha lived in the same house for 23 years until she adventured to San Francisco in 2007 as a visiting medical student in the UCSF Department of Radiology.  “After experiencing how enthusiastic everybody was and how much science was included in everyday conversation, I was amazed,” recalls Dr. Jha. “It created an environment of immense curiosity for the students and encouraged us to find answers to the unknown. The admirable collegiality that existed amongst the team members was very inspiring and motivated me to become a radiologist someday.”

Dr. Jha completed her radiology residency at UC Davis in 2014. She was delighted to return to UCSF for her postdoctoral fellowship. In 2015, Dr. Jha joined UCSF Radiology’s Abdominal Imaging and Ultrasound section as a faculty member. Dr. Jha approaches each case with the “open every case like a gift” mindset, allowing her to have the excitement and engagement of solving it like a puzzle. On clinical days, Dr. Jha can be found interpreting ultrasound, CT, and MRI images of the abdomen and pelvis. “With some of UCSF’s thought leaders, we get to participate in multidisciplinary tumor boards, endometriosis, high-risk obstetrics, and fetal treatment conferences. This has been a fabulous opportunity,” declares Dr. Jha.

Dr. Jha’s collaborative nature drew her to take part in the long-standing partnership with UCSF’s Obstetrics and Gynecology department, where radiologists are well-integrated in the patient care routine. “Early in my fellowship, I became very engaged and enthusiastic about women’s imaging, which included high-risk obstetrics and gynecology. Over a period of many years, I was able to build a trajectory in OB-GYN Imaging. Ultrasound guidance is critical for safely performing innovative procedures. I think most people may not be able to guess that as radiologists, we get to participate in fetal interventions. We also get to participate in delivery of high-risk placenta accreta cases ­– a serious medical condition where the placenta grows too deeply into the uterine wall. We help find a safe window to deliver the babies; hearing the first cry of the newborn in these cases still fills me with hope and joy every single time!”

“I find it gratifying to be able to contribute to our diversity efforts and overall radiology community,” says Dr. Jha who has recently taken on a leadership role in the department's RADWomen UCSF, a diversity and inclusion initiative advocating for women in radiology. The program has the goal of using an evidence-based approach to promote equity for women in radiology. Women make-up half of the medical student population, yet the ratio of women entering the field of radiology remains low.  Women are present at the assistant professor level, but there are few associate professors, fewer professors, and even fewer in leadership positions in medical schools in the United States. Dr. Jha observes that “There’s definitely a phenomenon of loss along the way.”

Traditionally a lot of women have taken on caregiving roles. “For women in medicine there are excessive and exaggerated demands on time,” says Dr. Jha. “The challenges of being the main source of income, gender inequity, and work life balance in medicine are factors deterring women from staying in academia and being productive.”  According to Dr. Jha a common challenge that women face is “being expected to fulfill these multiple roles successfully and still have the tiara on straight with a smile on your face.”  The aim of RADWomen UCSF is to support women by providing mentorship and sponsorship in order to address, ameliorate and allow for an equitable environment for all women at UCSF Radiology and beyond.

“Many of these challenges are here to stay, the hope is that RADWomen UCSF can provide an opportunity to help women thrive, have a gratifying career and not feel the need to choose between work and life at all times. Although our job titles and descriptions are different, in many ways our challenges of being a woman, bread winner, and caregiver are all the same,” says Dr. Jha. “RADWomen UCSF is not only for faculty and doctors. I see this as an all-encompassing experience for all women that come to work for UCSF Radiology.”

UCSF Radiology has undertaken many efforts to promote diversity and faculty wellness in recent years. “Once you’re an attending, life gets busy. Academic radiology is a marathon and the unwavering commitment from our leaders towards wellness helps affirm our investments in the success and longevity of our careers.” Dr. Jha advises self-care as an important part of wellness. “To share your knowledge with the world, you have to take little steps to make big differences. One component of wellness that has made a difference for Dr. Jha is writing for 30 minutes every day as a creative outlet. “Take care of yourself: there’s only one of you,” advises Dr. Jha.

Dr. Jha’s husband Nick works in finance technology. They have two children, Kanishk, seven years old, and Aarnika, five years old.  “Kanishk and Aarnika are extremely interested in the work their father and I do – they think of medicine as a way to help other people,” states Dr. Jha, adding that Aarnika gets up every day and exclaims, “I want to be a radiologist!”

Nick is fortunate to be able to work from home so their son Kanishk can attend school remotely.  Aarnika spends her days at one of the UCSF Childcare Centers. “I am so thankful for the UCSF childcare,” says Dr. Jha. “I am able to come to work and know my child is in a safe and age-appropriate environment, that promotes individual skill-building and socialization, while nurturing a lifetime love for learning.”  

Dr. Jha starts her day with a cup of soy latte “it’s the elixir of life for me,” she shares.  “I recently have turned into a Nespresso barista. Between my love for coffee, my husband's black Friday purchase and the pandemic, making patterns on lattes was a natural choice.” Family fun-time is spent outdoors, as Dr. Jha’s entire family loves nature and enjoys spending time hiking on the numerous trails in and around San Francisco.

“Whether it be work or personal life, we have been given the gift of time. I hope to make the most of the journey I'm sharing with those around me,” reflects Dr. Jha.  "This time that we have together is the greatest gift we have.”

By L. Delgado

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