This week’s faculty spotlight shines on pediatric critical care medicine physician Karan Kumar, MD, MS. Kumar talks to us about how he first became interested in medicine after an eye-opening and heart-warming experience as a volunteer taking care of terminally-ill patients at a home hospice during his undergraduate years; his interest in utilizing health informatics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to improve the study and development of pediatric drugs; and his advice for trainees to, most importantly, be kind.
How long have you been at Duke? How did you decide to come here?
I came to Duke in July 2016 to begin a fellowship in pediatric critical care medicine. I decided to move here because it was the ideal opportunity to obtain world-class training as an intensivist, build a strong research career at Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), and set-down roots in the Triangle area with my wife. I recently transitioned to faculty in July while my wife is an anesthesiologist in the Division of Regional Anesthesiology at Duke. We are excited to grow our careers at Duke, raise our newborn daughter in the area, and call North Carolina home.
What are your responsibilities within the Division of Critical Care Medicine? What does a typical day for you look like?
My time as a faculty member is divided into three major areas: clinical research, clinical care, and education, with the former taking up the majority of my time. My research at DCRI is focused at the intersection of biostatistics, health informatics, and real-world data in order to improve the efficiency and execution of pediatric clinical drug trials. From a clinical standpoint, I am an attending physician in the Pediatric ICU and use my role to advocate for the youngest and sickest patients while also educating and training fellows and residents. I am also a mentor for the Duke Summer Training in Academic Research (STAR) program, which provides a high-quality and intensive clinical research experience to undergraduate students, high-school students and teachers. My days vary widely depending on my responsibilities and range from taking care of critically-ill children in the hospital during my clinical service time to running clinical trials, writing grants and manuscripts, and performing data analysis during my research time in downtown Durham.
How did you first get interested in medicine? What made you decide to pursue pediatric critical care medicine in particular?
I decided to pursue a career in medicine after an eye-opening and heart-warming experience as a volunteer taking care of terminally-ill patients at a home hospice during my undergraduate years. I developed an appreciation for the complexity and wide scope of medical care that exists throughout a person's life and wanted to dedicate my life to improving that care. Pediatric critical care was a natural fit for me because it allowed me to advocate for the most vulnerable patients, help families through a challenging time, and use real-time physiology to care for critically-ill children.
What’s one thing you wished more of your patients knew about pediatric critical care medicine or medicine in general?
I want families and patients who enter the intensive care unit to know that they are supported by numerous providers that work in an integrated system to deliver high-quality and effective care. The pediatric ICU can be a daunting place for any person, but even more challenging for a patient or parent. Each provider will have a different skill set that is vital to creating a holistic care plan during a patient’s stay in the ICU. Similarly, I encourage patients and families to actively engage in developing this care plan with the ICU team.
What are your specific interests in the field of pediatric critical care medicine?
My specific clinical interests within pediatric critical care medicine are acute kidney injury and fluid overload in septic shock. I am also interested in implementing EHR-based advanced risk prediction or learning health models at the bedside in order to accurately detect and prevent pediatric deterioration.
Is there any research or other special projects you are doing or plan on doing?
I am particularly interested in utilizing health informatics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to improve the study and development of pediatric drugs. I hope to accomplish this through the implementation of pragmatic clinical trials, the utilization of registry-based clinical trial simulation, the development of multi-center pediatric specific trial- and EHR-based repositories, and the electronic automation of laborious clinical trial processes.
You completed your fellowship here at Duke--do you have any advice for trainees?
My biggest advice is to be kind -- be kind to your patients, be kind to your colleagues, and be kind to yourself. Working in the pediatric intensive care unit can be challenging and emotional given the complexity of patients. Providing compassionate care can treat not only the patient’s physical ailments, but also help the patient and their family navigate this difficult period. Seamless patient care relies on exceptional teamwork which is predicated upon developing a culture of open communication and education.
What passions or hobbies do you have outside of work?
Most of my time out of work is spent with my wife and newborn daughter. It’s been incredible becoming a parent, watching my wife transition into motherhood, and experiencing the highs and lows of raising a child. We otherwise love to travel within and outside the US, try new foods and restaurants, and spend time together as a family. Being from Canada, I’m an avid hockey fan and try to catch a game whenever my hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are in town.