Member of the Month: Neela K. Patel, MD, MPH, CMD, FAAFP

San Antonio physician recently became geriatric fellow

By Samantha White
January 10, 2024

In late 2023, Neela Patel, MD, MPH, CMD, FAAFP, was inducted into the newest class of American Geriatrics Society Fellows. Her medical career began in India, where she trained in community medicine and focused on rural and underserved populations, as well as maternal patients, children, geriatric care, and holistic patient well-being. She moved to the U.S. 23 years ago to further her education, receiving a Master’s in Public Health, then working in the public health arena.

Surviving a 26-floor elevator fall made Patel pivot back to the medical field. She is now an associate professor and Chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Supportive Care in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Who inspired you to be a family physician?
My decision to become a family physician was profoundly influenced by my father, who served as my initial inspiration to enter the medical field with a specific focus on addressing the needs of underserved communities — an aspect of health care that I found deeply fulfilling. Throughout my medical school journey, Dr. M.K. Sudarshan, the retired chair of community medicine and dean of Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences, served as a mentor and role model, further shaping my commitment to community-oriented health care.

Upon arriving in the United States, my path was guided by Dr. James Kvale, a distinguished family physician and geriatrician. Dr. Kvale's mentorship played a pivotal role in steering me toward the field of family medicine, reinforcing my passion for comprehensive and patient-centered care.

What drew you to work in geriatrics?
My affinity for working in geriatrics is deeply rooted in my enduring appreciation for the wisdom shared by grandparents, a sentiment cultivated during my upbringing with them. This early exposure sparked a lasting interest in the well-being of older adults.

While my primary focus in community medicine revolved around maternal and child health, I took the initiative to establish geriatric clinics. This enabled me to provide comprehensive care to older adults, not only addressing their medical needs but also exploring their psychosocial status and overall requirements. I firmly advocate for the belief that aging is a natural and inherent aspect of life, one that transcends the need for exclusive medical intervention. Instead, I advocate for a holistic approach, emphasizing the 5Ms — Meals, Medications, Mentation, Mobility, and what Matters Most.

Integral to this philosophy is the understanding that the aging process can be enhanced through practices such as yoga and fostering an acceptance of life for what it is. Emphasizing independence and quality of life, this approach underscores the importance of acknowledging that all is well when the journey concludes on a positive note.

What do you enjoy about working in academics?
Working in academics brings me immense satisfaction due to the dynamic process of bidirectional learning. It's a unique opportunity to not only impart knowledge but also to continuously learn and adapt from the insights of colleagues, students, and evolving research. Contributing to the molding of the future health care workforce is particularly rewarding, knowing that I play a role in shaping the next generation of compassionate and skilled professionals.

The ability to engage in both learning and teaching is a privilege that academia affords. It allows me to stay abreast of the latest developments in my field while sharing my experiences and knowledge with others. Compassionate care lies at the core of my academic endeavors, as I strive to instill this value in the health care providers of tomorrow.

One of the joys of working in academics is the pursuit of answers to the myriad questions that arise in the realm of medicine and health care. It's a journey of discovery and innovation, seeking solutions that can enhance patient care and contribute to the broader body of knowledge.

Beyond the academic setting, engaging with the community is a crucial aspect of my work. Providing culturally humble care involves understanding the unique needs and perspectives of diverse populations. This not only enriches my own understanding but also ensures that our health care approaches are inclusive and effective for everyone.

In essence, the multifaceted nature of academic work, encompassing learning, teaching, compassionate care, research, and community engagement, creates a fulfilling and intellectually stimulating environment that continually inspires and motivates me.

Why do you choose to be a TAFP member?

I choose to be a member of TAFP because it provides a platform to connect with like-minded professionals who share a common mission and vision for advancing family medicine. Being part of TAFP allows me to engage with a community of health care practitioners who are dedicated to promoting the well-being of patients and advocating for the interests of family physicians.

Furthermore, TAFP offers a unique opportunity to learn from the diverse experiences and expertise of fellow professionals. The exchange of ideas and insights within this community contributes to my ongoing professional development, enriching my understanding of the complexities and nuances within the field of family medicine.

As a TAFP member, I also appreciate the chance to actively participate in shaping the future of family medicine in Texas. The collaborative efforts and shared goals within the organization provide a collective voice for advocating policies and practices that support the delivery of high-quality, patient-centered care.

Being a member of TAFP is not just about professional affiliation; it's about fostering a sense of community, continuous learning, and collective advocacy for the betterment of family medicine in the state of Texas.

What do you enjoy doing outside of medicine?
My spouse Dr. Sreedhara Akkihebbalu, (a physician by training, classical Indian dance performer and teacher, as well as an Iyengar Yoga therapist) is the encouragement and driving force in my journey. A daughter who I raised and the many grandchildren we have, keep our life fulfilled and joyful. 

I love life and embrace every day I live. Yoga allows me to connect with my inner voice that says, “Inside your heart, you know when you are right and when you are wrong. You don’t need anybody to tell you that. God is constantly having conversations with us; we just need to listen.” Classical Indian dance is an activity that helps me relax and allows me to connect with my patients and residents in independent living communities and nursing homes.

TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in TAFP News Now and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month and his or her unique approach to family medicine. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month or if you’d like to tell your own story, nominate yourself or your colleague by contacting TAFP by email at or by phone at (512) 329-8666.