During the past 20 years, she has traveled throughout the US and 16 other countries to provide care and calm in the wake of disaster.

“I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism before attending medical school, and I always knew I wanted to do something different with my medical degree,” Khanna says. “My training enabled me to combine medicine and media and report from all over the world during my humanitarian work.” On top of all that, she maintains a private occupational medicine practice and is a supervisory physician for hyperbaric oxygen services.

At first, she directed her training toward a career as a corporate medical director. Then, in 1999, she was inspired into action by a news report calling for medical volunteers to help screen refugees coming to the US after the armed conflict in Kosovo led to a mass expulsion of Kosovar Albanians. 

“My work and personal lifestyle make it possible for me to get up and go,” Khanna says.  Volunteering is more complicated than people imagine, she adds, cautioning individual volunteers against just showing up after a disaster with good intentions. She has become adept at navigating various government and nongovernmental entities to provide her with housing, food, and safety and security measures that can help maximize her ability to apply her medical skills wherever she goes.

Born in India (her name, Prerna, means “inspiration” in Hindi) and raised in Chicago, she is one of four children of Indian immigrants. Her father, a civil engineer, and mother, a special education teacher, socialized with other professional Indian immigrants and prioritized education, putting three of their children through medical school and one through business school. Their struggles as first-generation Americans meant experiencing racial discrimination, which instilled in Khanna a deep respect for diversity and different cultures. It is fitting that she received her UCSF Campaign Alumni Award in “The Compassionate” category.

“Doctors have the privilege of taking care of people in their most vulnerable states, and they give us their implicit trust,” Khanna says. “Under those circumstances, compassion is a fundamental obligation of care.”

The UCSF Campaign Alumni Awards, inaugurated in 2018, recognized 12 outstanding UCSF alumni for work that aligns with the three grand challenges of UCSF: The Campaign

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