Service to others drives 2022 Humanity in Medicine Award recipient
Annuradha Bhandari, MD
Sept. 30, 2022 -- From a young age, Annuradha Bhandari, MD, was taught by her parents to live a life of service and spirituality. The Sanskrit word seva means selfless service, serving others in such a way you don't expect anything back in return. It has served as a foundation for the way she practices medicine.
"I don't feel the need to go to temple or a church or a place of worship," she said. "Each and every day, this institution is my church and service to my patients is my way of prayer. I'm just grateful to be able to worship this way.
"The values my parents gave me have translated into the very core of why I love doing what I do, and I'm forever grateful for the way they raised me."
On Friday evening, that career of service was honored when Dr. Bhandari became the 42nd recipient of the Paul S. Rhoads Humanity in Medicine Award.
Named after its first honoree in 1983 -- the late Paul S. Rhoades, MD -- the Humanity in Medicine Award honors the memory of Dr. Rhoads for his service to patients and medicine. He was the founding director of Reid Health's Medical Education Department and helped organize the hospice program and the Wayne County adult clinic for the indigent.
Dr. Bhandari's selection for the award was announced at an annual medical staff appreciation and new physician reception in Richmond. Nominations were solicited from patients, physicians, and healthcare workers.
"This award has been really hard for me to digest. I have a hard time understanding being rewarded for something you just love to do," she said.
"It may sound like lip service, but I genuinely feel I have received so much more from this community than I could ever give back, so for me, there's not pride there's gratitude."
The daughter of immigrants -- her mother from the Fiji Islands and her father from India -- Dr. Bhandari was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Her parents came from humble beginnings and taught her the value of hard work and the ethics of putting your all into whatever you do.
"My mom instilled in me a life grounded in spirituality and that I should see that spiritual force in every person. Everyone deserves an equal amount of respect because in them is that higher power," Dr. Bhandari said.
"I don't feel the need to go to temple or a church or a place of worship. Each and every day, this institution is my church and service to my patients is my way of prayer. I'm just grateful to be able to worship this way. The values my parents gave me have translated into the very core of why I love doing what I do, and I'm forever grateful for the way they raised me." -- Annuradha Bhandari, MD
Her father impressed upon her the opportunity she had to not only make a life for herself but one that would change the history of her family.
"There's a very poignant moment in my life that has carried me through any challenge but also any moment of celebration," she said. "He said, 'Coming from very little, I had dreams as a young man and I think your mother had those too, but we had to put those away because we had more important things like survival and coming up in a new country and raising you all.
'Now I see the things you do, and I hear these stories of your experiences. I don't want you to think they are just yours. They're not just yours. You come from me and your mother, so these moments you are living, they're my moments, too. I live through your eyes. Everything you see, everything you do, every patient you touch, every person you talk to that's my dreams coming true, too."
Dr. Bhandari earned her medical degree from the Medical University of the Americas in Saint Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies. From there, she joined the Internal Medicine Residency Program at Detroit Medical Center - Sinai Grace Hospital in Detroit, Mich. After completing the program, she stayed on to serve a year as chief medical resident with responsibilities that included administrative tasks and teaching staff.
It was her passion for teaching that played a role in her coming to Reid Health in 2014, although there was a family connection, too.
Then-soon-to-be husband Aman Bakshi's parents were living in Richmond, and Aman's father -- Surinder Bakshi, MD -- was an anesthesiologist at Reid. The first Christmas after getting engaged, the couple came to Richmond to visit Aman's family, and Dr. Bakshi began his recruiting pitch.
"He said, I think you'll like it here,' but I wasn't ready at that time," Dr. Bhandari said. "After we were married and were expecting our first child, he pressed harder and mentioned Reid was thinking about starting a residency program."
At the time, Dr. Bhandari was doing her chief year with the residency program in Detroit, and the idea of getting to start a program from the ground up appealed to her.
"It was exciting to be able to contribute to starting a residency program from its inception and witness a monumental event in which a community hospital is now not just a community hospital but a teaching hospital," she said.
That experience would prove useful later as Dr. Bhandari would go on to play leadership roles in the establishment of Reid's nationally recognized perioperative clinic and in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a special respiratory clinic that went from idea to reality in a matter of a couple days. All of it accomplished while she continued her own primary care practice.
"As an innovator, as a leader, as a spokesperson for the medical staff, as a clinician, and as a very talented individual, this is somebody who in her own right has established herself in the medical staff with credibility and has continued to excel and look for ways in which she could make her mark, and she has," said Craig Kinyon, Reid Health President/CEO.
Dr. Bhandari's co-workers praise her love of teaching and the team mentality she brings to her practices.
"She has a passion for teaching. I don't think I'll ever be able to repay the education I received over the last eight years with her," said Brittany Colley, Clinical Lead for Reid Health Primary & Specialty Care - Connersville. "I'm beyond thankful and blessed for having that because I know so many don't get that opportunity."
"She has a passion for teaching. I don't think I'll ever be able to repay the education I received over the last eight years with her. I'm beyond thankful and blessed for having that because I know so many don't get that opportunity." -- Brittany Colley, Clinical Lead for Reid Health Primary & Specialty Care - Connersville
When she's not working, Dr. Bhandari and Aman enjoy going to concerts and comedy shows. They and their two children -- Nadia and Brij -- are big fans of the Indiana Pacers. But more than anything else, Dr. Bhandari enjoys being a mother.
"I love being a mom, and I love being a wife, and I love being a daughter. I'm enjoying all those roles in my life," she said.
"I'm really grateful toward my husband. I think it would be really difficult to do all the things I do day to day without his support and my mother-in-law's support. Behind any person who has the ability to do the many roles I have, there's a whole group of people who are in support of them."
Front and center in everything Dr. Bhandari does at Reid Health is her patients.
"That moment when I walk into the room is sacred to me," she said. "My patients are just so kind. They are so nice to me. We have fantastic relationships, and over the years not only have I been given the privilege of helping them with their health goals, but we share our life events with each other. They know me at a very personal level, and that is just such a beautiful relationship. I'm so blessed to have the most special and amazing patients."
It's the ability to make those kinds of connections with others that makes Dr. Bhandari an ideal recipient for this award, according to her co-workers.
"She is completely devoted to her responsibilities as a physician. She takes that so seriously. Patients come first for her. The organization comes first for her. She invests so much of her own personal time in committees and programs. She's just an all-around wonderful person," said Emily Klein, Specialty Care Service Line Director for Reid Health.
"She is the epitome of this award," said Billie Kester, Reid Health Vice President for Continuum of Care. "She has heart in everything she does, and she's probably one of the most compassionate people I know, so the Humanity in Medicine Award couldn't go to a better person."