At Gary and Mary West PACE, our goal is to empower seniors to be participants in their own healthcare decisions so they can remain independent through PACE at home and in their communities. Every member of our team is sensitive to the participant’s unique, evolving needs. Our program provides high-quality health care and social services that can support them on their journey and guide them through challenging times. We pride ourselves in our San Marcos senior center, and the exceptional team that is part of it, including Dr. Neha Jain Sampath.
We recently spoke with Dr. Sampath regarding her path to becoming a physician and what motivated her to join the Gary and Mary West PACE team.
What originally set you on the career path to become a physician, working specifically with seniors?
“I had asthma as a child in India and remember feeling extremely grateful to the family friend physician who came for a ‘home visit’ when I was sick as a 10-year-old and made me feel better. I remember thinking that I wanted to spend my life doing what he did! When a family member was diagnosed with diabetes in my teens, it reinforced my curiosity about the complexity of the human body and all the ways things could go wrong. After immigrating to the US as an 18-year-old, I was determined to join medicine as a career to serve disadvantaged groups in society. This was a struggle as a first-generation immigrant as I was often working 2 part-time jobs in my first 2 years in college to help supplement my family’s income. Finding support and scholarships from the honor society in my college helped me to transfer to UC Berkeley as a junior and continue my pathway towards an education in the life sciences, and eventually on to medical school at UC San Diego. While at UCSD Medical School, volunteering at their Student-Run Free Clinic Project helped reinforce my commitment to serve underserved populations. After a decade as a hospitalist who saw all comers in the hospital, I am proud to continue this mission at West PACE today to serve high complexity vulnerable elderly patients in North County San Diego.”
Who is a woman that inspires you and why?
“My aunt on my dad’s side is the first and only physician in her generation in our family and was a role model and friend to me throughout my childhood and young adulthood. She has been the one whose footsteps I tried to follow in my own journey in medicine, and whose experiences helped shape my own early choices. She also taught me to live a balanced life and prioritize family and relationships above all.”
When is a time that you felt proud in your role as a physician?
“After graduating from internal medicine residency, I took up a new job as a hospitalist, and was on my very first night call at the new hospital I had joined, when I admitted a 30-year-old for what seemed like a routine check-up for chest pain. The patient’s blood work came back abnormal within hours of admission, and his EKG changed dramatically, suspicious for a serious acute heart attack. When I called the on-call cardiologist with the details and requested an emergency evaluation, he was skeptical given the age and lack of medical history in this patient. I remember feeling defeated as a brand-new attending on her first clinical night shift and felt serious self-doubt creep up. Instead, I chose to focus on advocating for my patient and what I saw was in his best interest. I was able to convince the cardiologist to activate the emergency cath lab protocol and the patient was able to receive the urgent care that he needed to save his life.”
What do you enjoy most about working with seniors?
“All four of my grandparents played a very strong role in my life in my formative years and led me to appreciate the vital role seniors play in society with the life stories and experiences they can share for youth to learn from. During residency and as a physician, I would find myself spending more time with my ‘senior patients, listening to their stories and empathizing with some of the challenges they faced. This has come full circle in my role as PACE physician where I am able to more fully dedicate the time and effort that is needed to serve this high-needs and complex patient group. And my patients continue to teach me in so many ways!”
What is your favorite part of working at West PACE?
“The team-based approach and the strong work relationships that develop while in the service of a higher cause are my favorite part of working at West PACE. I am proud of the fact that everybody I work with is 100% just as dedicated to the shared PACE mission as I am!”
How do PACE programs help seniors and their family members?
“For all the family caregivers struggling to coordinate care for the seniors in their family and for the isolated elderly at the margins of society, I feel the PACE model offers a solution that is win-win for society and honors the desires of many seniors who want to maximize their golden years in their own homes. The PACE model also is a values-based interdisciplinary care model (as opposed to fee for service) focused on outcomes and prevention and has many valuable lessons to offer the healthcare system in the US in general.”
We are incredibly lucky to have Dr. Sampath on our team, and we know that our participants are in excellent hands under her care. With her expertise and commitment to improving the health and well-being of our seniors, we are confident that she will continue to make a positive impact on their lives for years to come.
If you or a loved one are 55 or older, live in North County San Diego, and meet state requirements for nursing home level of care, contact West PACE today to see if enrolling in our program is right for you. We can also answer any questions about the recent Medi-Cal expansion and can coordinate a tour of our center. Call 760-280-2230 or email us today.