Dr. Kavitha Bhatia Knows The Value Of Education—Now, She’s Paying It Forward

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In the spring of 2020, as the world screeched to a halt amidst the spread of Covid-19, the invaluable work of medical professionals came into sharp focus. The pandemic underscored the urgent importance of education in the medical field and increased access to medical care throughout the United States. For Dr. Kavitha Bhatia, President and Chair of the Prime Healthcare Foundation and Chief Medical Officer of Strategy at Prime Healthcare Services, the pandemic’s impact was a realignment of the corporation’s mission, a reminder of why the corporation and its affiliated foundation invest resources into medical education and rescuing struggling hospitals across the country.

Bhatia’s passion for education is deeply personal. Born in a rural village in India, her parents, Prem and Venkamma Reddy, became the first in their respective families to pursue higher education when they left to attend medical school in Vellore. Shortly after Bhatia was born, her parents left her in the care of the village community and moved to the U.S. for further medical training, hoping to achieve the quintessential American dream. Five years later, her parents moved her to Staten Island where she started public school.

“Coming to a new country, meeting parents I had never known, and not knowing the language was challenging. In school, I had no way to communicate and children would say they couldn’t understand me, that I was speaking Chinese,” Bhatia recounts in an interview. “I had to teach myself English and how to live in this new world.”

Years later, her family moved to the High Desert region in California, and Bhatia’s hard work paid off—she graduated as the president and salutatorian of her graduating class. She went on to attend the University of California, San Diego before pursuing medical school at UCLA’s School of Medicine. Meanwhile, her father, a cardiologist, went on to found Prime Healthcare Services and its flagship hospital, Desert Valley Hospital. For over two decades, Prime Healthcare purchased financially struggling hospitals, rebuilding their infrastructure and implementing state-of-the-art technology, and in 2001, the Reddy family founded the affiliated Prime Healthcare Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the mission of saving hospitals in underserved communities.

Today, Prime Healthcare Services is one of the largest private healthcare systems in the United States with 45 hospitals in over a dozen states—14 of which are owned and operated by the foundation—serving 2.6 million patients in over 600 communities.

As the President and Chair of the foundation, Bhatia is motivated to improve the lives of others by increasing opportunities. “Had it not been for education, my parents couldn’t have accomplished what they did, nor would I be here coming from the village that I did,” Bhatia states, “so we run a scholarship program to provide high school and college students scholarship funds to pursue education in healthcare.”

Scholarships are only a small part of the foundation’s far-reaching investments in medical education. In 2018, Prime Healthcare Foundation gave $60 million to establish a not-for-profit medical school, the California University of Science and Medicine (CUSM), where Bhatia acts as Founding Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees and Associate Professor in the Department of Medical Education. Now in its fifth year, the school saw its first graduating class of MD students in the spring of 2022, when Bhatia announced an additional $10 million gift from the Prime Healthcare Foundation. Established in one of the most underserved counties in the state of California, CUSM was founded with the intention to democratize medical education, utilizing a clinically integrated, global curriculum which was expressly designed to be widely shared.

The innovative curriculum has paid dividends both domestically and abroad—during the Covid-19 pandemic, the curriculum allowed the foundation to adapt their response to every region of the country in which they operate hospitals, a feat for which Bhatia earned Congressional and state recognition. The Prime Healthcare Foundation also donated lifesaving medical equipment to hospitals in India in 2021.

Amidst all of the innovation and accolades, Bhatia remains close to her roots and strives to help others achieve their goals through healthcare and education. “I think my story really speaks to the values that fundamentally differentiate this country, and it’s really all about the opportunities that I never dreamed were possible where I started out,” Bhatia states. “Now, I want others to have that same type of experience and, in turn, be able to give back.”

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