Beloved Creighton professors' legacy continues through gift

Mar 14, 2022

Shashi and Subhash Bhatia say they established the Bhatia Family Endowed Chair in the Department of Psychiatry to pay back a kindness. And to pay it forward.  

Featured Testimonial About Creighton University

Subhash and Shashi Bhatia

You can never forget the places and people who have gotten you where you are. Coming to Creighton was the best thing that ever happened to us.

Shashi Bhatia

Read about Rajesh Tampi, MD, the inaugural holder of the Bhatia Endowed Chair.

* * * 

By Micah Mertes

Subhash Bhatia
Subhash Bhatia

Nearly 50 years ago, Subhash Bhatia, MD, arrived at Eppley Airfield with $8 in his pocket and no place to live. This was his first time in Omaha, and his first time in the U.S. (save for the cities of his connecting flights).

It might have been an unsettling experience were it not for the friendly man from Creighton waiting for him.

“Are you Dr. Bhatia?” asked Beverly Mead, MD.

“I am.”

“Welcome to Omaha. Welcome to Creighton.”

Mead, chair of Creighton’s psychiatry department at the time, drove Subhash to a Ramada Inn, paid for his room and had a faculty member pick him up for work the following morning. Mead would soon find the cash-strapped Subhash more permanent accommodations. Whatever he needed, Creighton provided.

“There was just no end to the goodness in Dr. Mead (who passed away in 2009),” says Shashi Bhatia, MD, who, along with her husband, retired this winter after serving more than 40 years on Creighton’s faculty. (They were both recently named professors emeriti.)

Shashi Bhatia
Shashi Bhatia

“Being Hindu and from India, we probably feel like we were related to Dr. Mead in our previous life,” Shashi says with a laugh.

The better part of a lifetime later, the Bhatias see that moment at the airport — their opening impression of Omaha, the U.S., the University — as the first in a long line of kindnesses that defined their Creighton experience.

The Bhatias say they established the Drs. Shashi and Subhash Bhatia, Bhatia Family Endowed Chair in the Department of Psychiatry to pay back that kindness. And to pay it forward.  

Subhash: “We have been so blessed, and it’s not just about hard work. It’s about the people who have changed our lives. This gift is our way of showing our gratitude.”

Shashi: “You can never forget the places and people who have gotten you where you are. Coming to Creighton was the best thing that ever happened to us.”

* * *

Before applying for a residency with Creighton, Subhash had never even heard of Omaha nor Nebraska.

He couldn’t afford to visit for his job interview. (Mead had hired him based on just his application, one reference and a phone conversation spanning 7,500 miles.)

Before Subhash’s arrival in the spring of ’74, Mead helped the Bhatias get to know their new home from afar.

Shashi (laughing): “He wrote us letters, and he sent us so much information about Nebraska.”

Beverly Mead
Beverly Mead

Mead also sent Subhash a voucher of $2,200 for his journey to Omaha. He told Subhash to use the money to take a detour through Europe. “You should stop in London and Paris; don’t be in a big hurry; this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Shashi (laughing again): “I remember thinking, ‘Who is this man? What is this Creighton? How is this possible?’”

When his journey ended, Subhash dove into his work, leading a psychiatric unit at Douglas County Hospital. He would join the Creighton faculty a few years later. Shashi would soon follow suit, first as a Creighton resident and fellow, then a Creighton professor specializing in child psychiatry.

Over the next four decades, the Bhatias would care for thousands of patients and mentor hundreds of Creighton students, residents and fellows, all toward their “mission of improving the human condition.”

Reflecting on their legacy in the field, Subhash recalls the moment he decided to become a psychiatrist.

This was back when he was in India, working as an internal medicine resident. One day, he was helping evaluate a patient with cirrhosis when a psychiatrist walked in the exam room.

“I remember this psychiatrist being so humane,” Subhash says now. “He wasn’t just concerned about the patient’s liver. He cared about the rest of the human being. That moment planted the seed that changed my life.”

In Creighton’s Department of Psychiatry, Subhash would find the perfect home to practice this kind of care focused on the whole person (and to teach so many others how to do the same).

Rajesh Tampi
Rajesh Tampi

Rajesh Tampi, MD, the inaugural holder of the Bhatia Endowed Chair, says Subhash has long been a mentor of his. Tampi arrived at Creighton only this January — coming from the Cleveland Clinic, where he served as the chief of geriatric psychiatry and the chair of psychiatry at Cleveland Clinic Akron General. But he’d been hearing great things about the University and the department from Subhash for years.

“I take the Bhatias’ love for Creighton very seriously,” Tampi says. “They have done so much for patient care, for education and for mentorship at Creighton.”

As the first holder of the chair bearing the Bhatias’ name, Tampi said, he carries forward the legacy of a couple who helped shape and shepherd Creighton’s Department of Psychiatry for more than 40 years.

Here’s a great example of just how far their reach and impact extends — Subhash even educated the Creighton medical student who would go on to become the School of Medicine’s dean.

“This has always been a strong, innovative department with some of the top teachers in the medical school,” says Robert “Bo” Dunlay, MD’81. “But even in the history of this terrific department, the Bhatias stand out as exceptional human beings.”

* * *

Subhash and Shashi first met when they were medical residents at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India. Soon after, their families arranged for them to be married.

“This is our custom, but even so, we also come from anxious, compulsive families,” Shashi says, laughing. “My younger sister needed to get married, so I needed to get married first. I told my family, whoever they choose for my husband, just make sure he’s smarter than me, he doesn’t have a bad reputation and he doesn’t talk too much.”

Subhash and Shashi married in March of ’72, when they were both still residents. They had their first child the following year, Shashi going into labor while she was on call.

There was just no maternity leave for residents, she says. Three days after giving birth, Shashi went back to work.

Education, health care and family have always aligned for the Bhatias. Mead and his wife had become their mentors/parent figures in America. The Bhatias, in turn, served as the same kind of role models for many others.

All three of the Bhatias’ own children, meanwhile, ended up attending Creighton: Shivani Bhatia, BS'95, MD'99; Sameer Bhatia, MBBS, MBA'09, MS'15; and Supriya Bhatia, MD, BA'01, who followed in her parents’ field. In 2020, Supriya became Creighton’s first full-time campus psychiatrist.

Newly retired, Subhash and Shashi want to continue their lifelong commitment to education. They’re now working to establish a foundation that supports the education of women in India.

“We both came to America with nothing but our education,” Shashi says. “My grandfather used to say this whole thing about education: ‘It’s the one thing that you can pass on to other people and no one can ever take away. No fire can burn it, no flood can drown it …’

“In our own lives, God gave us the opportunity to find a place where we can give this priceless gift to so many, and it has been our great joy.”

* * *

Nearly 50 years ago — just a few weeks before Christmas — Shashi Bhatia, MD, arrived at Eppley Airfield with her baby daughter Shivani. This was their first time in Omaha.

It might have been an unsettling experience were it not for the friendly man from Creighton waiting for them.

Subhash had arrived in Omaha six months before his wife and daughter, and he was terribly homesick for every minute of it.

During that time, he lived alone on the seventh floor of the hospital he worked at, all his meals and expenses paid for.

The only money he spent that whole time was $35, for a tape recorder and cassettes. Telephone calls to India were prohibitively expensive — $4 a minute — but he needed his young daughter to be able to hear his voice. He recorded messages for Shashi and Shivani, and he mailed the tapes back to Chandigarh.

But now the Bhatias were back together in their new home. Subhash drove them around a snow-covered Omaha.

 “I think the four seasons just bring a different dimension to life, and I love the snow,” Shashi says. “I had grown up on the footsteps of the hills looking at the Himalayas. But I had always just looked at the snow. Now I finally got to go where it is.”

Subhash took them to Creighton.

Shashi: “I still remember very clearly walking along the Mall for the first time. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, what a nice place we came to.’”

* * *

Read about Rajesh Tampi, MD, the inaugural holder of the Bhatia Endowed Chair.