A Fight for Life

Shubha Kerkar wages battle against infectious disease



Ethan Kaminsky

Dr. Shubha Kerkar had no idea what awaited her when she moved to the Coachella Valley in 1991 and began working as an infectious disease specialist at Desert Regional Medical Center. In a matter of months, she was caring for more than 40 AIDS patients and managing a large infectious disease caseload. She introduced new treatment regimens and was one of the first in the area to use the antibiotic Bactrim to treat a serious bacterial infection that often strikes those with weakened immune systems.

“That’s how I became involved with the Desert AIDS Project, back when they were a two-room clinic,” Kerkar says. “This was a time when there were few choices for HIV therapy.”

Kerkar became director of infectious disease for DAP and today serves as a board member and as primary care physician for the organization. Now director of infectious diseases at Desert Regional Medical Center, Kerkar recently joined a consortium of local HIV clinicians looking to enhance treatment modalities.

A native of India, Kerkar completed her residency in internal medicine at Temple University School of Medicine and her fellowship in infectious disease at Hahnemann University Hospital, both in Philadelphia, a metropolitan area that has experienced high incidences of HIV/AIDS. “At some point, I needed to choose a specialty,” Kerkar recalls. “I felt infectious disease was calling to me. These were people of my generation who were getting sick and dying, and I could really relate to them.

“I was an intern in 1985 when anyone involved in medicine was involved in some way with HIV,” she says. “It was also a time when AIDS patients crashed and were dead before anyone could do anything.”

HIV/AIDS comprises about 50 percent of Kerkar’s caseload. In addition to her work at Desert AIDS Project and Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, she serves on the infectious disease staff of Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage and is an associate professor in pharmacology for three universities: Loma Linda University, University of Southern California, and University of the Pacific.

“There are not enough hours in the day,” Kerkar says, counting time restraints as one of her greatest challenges. “I have young children, a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old, so I deal with both the guilt and the gratification that work brings.” But she won’t give up; in fact, she and her children take karate classes together three days a week. “I absolutely love what I do."
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