I Am Topeka: Dr. Shekhar Challa, Kansas Medical Clinic
By SHALYN MURPHY Photo by DAVID VINCENT
These questions led him to move to Topeka in 1987 to establish his gastroenterology practice and then open the Kansas Medical Clinic in 1998, a move that has had a far-reaching impact on the health of Topekans, as well as the business community as a whole.
“I believe we have saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives with our services,” Dr. Challa said. “Whether it’s detecting esophageal cancer, colon cancer or other cancers, at the end of the day, we are saving lives.”
Thirty years ago, when Dr. Challa opened his outpatient endoscopic facility specializing in colorectal cancer screening and treating digestive tract diseases, it was the first outpatient surgery center of its kind in the Midwest. Since then, Kansas Medical Clinic has expanded beyond gastroenterology to include dermatology, pathology and plastic surgery with six Kansas locations, and employs more than 150 people.
Dr. Challa says that outpatient surgery centers, like KMC, increase convenience and allow for more personal care for patients in need of gastroenterology screenings, such as a colonoscopy, while decreasing costs and the risk of infection associated with hospitals.
Additionally, KMC has continued to offer top-of-line health care by being the first location to introduce numerous techniques and procedures in Topeka and the Midwest. The range of services offered allows Topekans significant access to medical care without leaving the city, and also draws a large number of patients from rural communities and Western Kansas.
Seeing the need for quality health professionals in Topeka and beyond has led Dr. Challa to tackle another problem. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 92 of the 105 counties in Kansas are considered medically under-served. Dr. Challa has set out to ensure that access to dermatologists is available throughout the state by increasing the number of dermatology providers in rural communities and the number of physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners trained in dermatology. KMC currently has 16 dermatologists across Kansas and is seeking to fill even the hard-to-place locations through an innovative fellowship.
“Every dermatologist wants to have a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner on staff, but they have to have experience,” Dr. Challa said. “And many practitioners want to work in dermatology. The Fellowship Program has been a great success so far and what we are doing is very unique. We are getting applications from all over the country.”
Dr. Challa’s dermatology fellowship provides hands-on experience with nationally recognized dermatologists for a year, along with a stipend and benefits. In exchange, the trainee agrees to work for KMC in an underserved Kansas community for at least three years.
Dr. Challa may be well known for his work at KMC related to endoscopic treatments, but his passion for digestive health has opened his area of focus to another need. In recent years the topic of gut health or probiotics, the good bacteria in your digestive system, has become increasingly researched, discussed and developed. Research has shown that gut flora influences health in many ways, from helping to extract energy from food and building the body’s immune system to preventing obesity and protecting against infection.
Maintaining the proper balance of good bacteria in your body can prevent gastrointestinal distress and many symptoms that may spur you to see a gastroenterologist. Seeing the need to educate and inform about the importance of gut health, in 2012 Challa authored Probiotics for Dummies and took his research, experience and expertise to market with Probulin, a line of probiotics sold in more than 4,000 stores across the country.
After completing medical school in India, Dr. Challa finished his medical training at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, and looked for a place to settle down with his wife, Jayashree, and his young daughters, Akhila and Shruti.
“I did not want to raise my girls in the city,” Dr. Challa said. “Topeka was ideal for what we wanted. I have no regrets. Topeka has been good to my family and it is my home.”
Recent involvement with the Greater Topeka Partnership has Dr. Challa excited about community organizations working together to resolve needs and encourage growth.
“I think there’s been more change in the last couple years than the whole time I’ve been in Topeka,” Dr. Challa said. “Suddenly Topeka is awake.
I am proud and happy to see what is happening in our community.”
Dr. Challa’s most recent business adventure has been the acquisition of a Med-Assist urgent care location in southwest Topeka. He serves on several local and international boards including the Greater Topeka Partnership, the Topeka Performing Arts Center, Bioscience Americas and the Osteoporosis Division of Procter & Gamble. In addition to Probiotics for Dummies, he is also the award-winning author of Winning the Hepatitis C Battle and Spurn the Burn Treat the Heat: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Acid Reflux Disease. He is also the president of Osteoporosis Services, a mobile bone density company.