Dhaval Desai is a dedicated father, husband, son, and doctor. In his work as a caregiver and a colleague, he places a priority on the well-being of both the patient and the healthcare provider. His commitment to fostering and advocating for humanity in medicine inspired him to write a personal narrative of his experience as a frontline physician during the COVID-19 pandemic, Burning Out on the Covid Front Lines: A Doctor’s Memoir of Fatherhood, Race and Perseverance in the Pandemic. Along with sharing the story of his own struggles as a leader and healer during a time of intense pressure and uncertainty for countless doctors, nurses, and hospital workers, Dr. Desai calls attention to ongoing issues plaguing the healthcare system, including health inequality, racial injustice, an emphasis on metrics over compassion in treatment, and the alarming rate of burnout and suicide among healthcare professionals.

Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, Dhaval always wanted to be a doctor. From a young age, he felt a calling to help people. By his own account, he was an average pre-med student but persisted in following his passion. After completing his undergraduate studies at Emory University, he was accepted to medical school at the American University of the Caribbean on the beautiful island of St. Maarten. From there, he went to New York City, where he performed his clinical rotations at various community hospitals. He completed his residency at Wright State University School in Dayton, Ohio, earning board certifications in both Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.

In 2012, Dr. Desai joined the staff of Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital, where he currently serves as the Director of Hospital Medicine. He also works as a Pediatric Hospitalist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. In addition, he mentors other physicians and contributes to optimizing hospital operations as Assistant Professor of Medicine and Distinguished Physician at Emory’s School of Medicine.

At age nine, Dhaval was diagnosed with vitiligo, a progressive condition affecting pigmentation. The clash between his white skin and Indian name sometimes raises questions about his ethnicity from patients. While it can be distracting, experiencing comments about his physical appearance has made Dr. Desai more sensitive to how devoted doctors and nurses are subjected to being judged and stereotyped—whether for speaking with an accent, wearing a hijab, or their skin color—by the people entrusted to their care, and how patients are also vulnerable to being stigmatized by healthcare professionals for the same reasons. To overcome biases and harmful misunderstandings on both sides, Dr. Desai stresses the practice of empathy and honest communication in healthcare. Towards that goal, he has been a part of numerous committees and outreach programs that include Human Experience and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Recently, his focus has been on community messaging and education regarding COVID-19 and future pandemics, as well as outreach to underserved and minority communities.

Dr. Desai is the husband to another physician and the father to two young children, a daughter and a son. His son, a “pandemic baby,” was born two weeks before the country was shut down in 2020. At 14 months old, his son had two episodes of severe respiratory distress that spurred his being rushed to the emergency room. As a parent with a sick child, Dr. Desai lost his rationality as a physician and desperately needed to hear both the truth and words of reassurance from his son’s pediatrician. Months later, his mother had a serious health scare, requiring her to be helicoptered across the city for a possible procedure for a severe stroke. Fortunately, his mother did not need the surgery, and his son is thriving. Both experiences have strengthened his advocacy for the patient and his belief that medicine is fundamentally about the human experience.

As a hospital leader and physician, Dr. Desai continually puts his passion for healing and caring into practice. He firmly believes that the medical community must place a priority on empathy and compassion—not only to ensure that patients get the best possible care but also to support the wellness of frontline healthcare workers. In his conviction, incorporating humanism into medicine is vital to the future success of our nation’s healthcare system.