From Riley fellow to the front lines of COVID

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Dr. Samina Bhumbra: “Not a lot of people get that experience – a training apprenticeship during a pandemic.”

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

Dr. Samina Bhumbra read a lot of Agatha Christie books when she was a child. She loved to get lost in a mystery and put on her detective hat to look for clues.

With parents who were both physicians, however, it was only a matter of time before she found medicine. Still, one of the things she loves about her job is that she gets to solve puzzles every day.

Dr. Bhumbra and Dr. Ben Gray smile for a selfie

Dr. Bhumbra, a native of northwest Ohio and graduate of the University of Toledo College of Medicine, did her residency at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, along with her husband, Dr. Ben Gray. He now works in neuroradiology at the IU Health Neuroscience Center.

She followed residency with a fellowship in the Ryan White Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Global Health at Riley, graduating in July, and now serves as an associate medical director of infection prevention.

And what a time to be on the front lines in infectious diseases.

“Not a lot of people get that experience – a training apprenticeship during a pandemic,” Dr. Bhumbra said.

The coronavirus has been a steep learning curve for everyone, herself included.


“But even with the craziness of the pandemic, I don’t feel alone in going up against the force,” she said. “One of the positives of having done fellowship here and transitioned to faculty was that I got to work with Dr. John Christenson (medical director of infection prevention) a lot and be present for many of the COVID planning meetings for infection prevention at Riley.”

Being exposed to that level of discussion and planning helped her not only adjust to her new role as faculty but also helped her understand the priorities within IU Health and Riley when it comes to the safety of patients and team members, she said.

Dr. Bhumbra and her German Shepherd outside

Collaborating with physicians in her own department, including Dr. Christenson, division chief Dr. Chandy John, epidemiologist and infection prevention director Adam Karcz, and pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. James Wood, as well as team members throughout the hospital, she has learned how best to treat pediatric patients who come in with COVID and the related phenomenon of MIS-C (multisystem inflammatory syndrome).

“We’ve been able to build our approach in evaluating, diagnosing and treating with the help of rheumatology and cardiology and the emergency department and the PICU,” she said, adding that the Pathology Lab’s ability to quickly diversify and acquire rapid testing for COVID and its antibodies has been invaluable.

Karcz has worked with Dr. Bhumbra since her fellowship days and was pleased when she moved into one of the associate medical director roles for infection prevention.

“When COVID hit, Samina really did a great job of taking on some of the work of myself and Dr. Christenson from a leadership standpoint. She jumped in with both feet,” he said. “She grasps things quickly and is not afraid to make decisions.”

Yet, she is also approachable and does a good job of explaining things to colleagues, patients and families, he said, adding, “She’s young in her career, but she will teach as she also is being taught. She is a great addition to the team.”

284,000 DEAD IN THE U.S.

Like most of her colleagues, Dr. Bhumbra never imagined working amid a pandemic, especially one that has been so deadly in the United States, with more than 284,000 fatalities reported in nine months alone.

Dr. Bhumbra stands outside with a mask on

And while living up to high expectations personally and professionally can be daunting, she is grateful for the support of her work family and her home family, including her trusty German Shepherd, Cairo.

“He reminds me that there’s more to life than just the pandemic. He has his own needs,” she laughed.

As a clinical assistant professor, Dr. Bhumbra wears many hats, but she particularly enjoys seeing patients both in the clinic and on the units.

“I enjoy working with people and hearing their stories.”

Those stories may include battles with any number of illnesses, including tuberculosis and other fungal infections, osteomyelitis (bone infections), Kawasaki disease (a rare condition that causes inflammation in the walls of some blood vessels), central nervous system infections, even chickenpox. And now, of course, COVID-19.

“The breadth of our services is what keeps things interesting and makes infectious disease what it is,” she said. “One of the biggest rewards with infectious disease is a lot of kids do get better and bounce back. Being able to see that happen is always really satisfying.”

While Riley hasn’t seen the same scale of hospitalizations with COVID as the adult side has, the infectious disease team has been proactive from the beginning, preparing plans for diagnosis and treatment as early as possible and adapting those plans as more is learned about the illness.

“At the beginning there was a lot of uncertainty that pushed us to prepare that much more. It drove us to figure out the answers sooner and prepare plans faster. As the pandemic has gone on, we have learned a lot of things.”


One of the key takeaways, she said, is that PPE (personal protective equipment) works if worn correctly.

“Being able to provide a level of reassurance for team members about how to protect themselves and protect patients is big,” she said. “The other thing we are doing is educating our parents in how to protect their children, even those without COVID. It’s important to reinforce that masking really matters, handwashing matters, social distancing matters.”

While news of the vaccine provides hope, it doesn’t mean we can stop doing any of the things listed above, she said.

“It’s going to still take some time for everybody to be protected.”

Away from the hospital, she still wears her doctor hat when advising friends, family and others to continue taking precautions.

“COVID is not something that went away like some people thought it would. Dr. (Anthony) Fauci obviously has been an advocate for trying to mitigate the pandemic as much as he can, but you have to have support, you have to have good role models in high places who are there in front of the cameras to provide that reinforcement,” she said.

“I know people are hurting from an economic standpoint and I wish we could do more. If there’s one thing this pandemic has revealed, it’s that so many things are interdependent – healthcare, our economy, our kids going to school – nothing is siloed. Everything depends on the other for the whole machine to go and for us to progress as a society.”

“I’m hopeful that with the vaccine, as it becomes more readily available, we can get our kids back to school because teachers will be protected. I’m hopeful that will allow parents to return to work and help our economy recover. But without addressing the pandemic for what it is, we can’t move forward.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,