Dr Samantha Hill in white coatIt’s well known that the experiences we encounter at a young age shape who we become as adults. For Dr. Samantha Hill, growing up in the Atlanta area opened her eyes to the disparities and stigmas in reproductive and HIV health that needed to be addressed. However, to attend to these issues, Hill knew she needed to leave the South.

Following her graduation from undergraduate studies at Duke University, Dr. Hill took a position at the National Institutes of Health to get exposure to research and help her decide if she wanted to pursue a dual M.D./PhD degree. After deciding to pursue an M.D. degree at Morehouse School of Medicine, Hill returned to the city where her passion took hold—bringing her observations and training with her. 

She later completed her pediatric residency in Philadelphia and Delaware at Thomas Jefferson University/ A.I. duPont Hospital for Children. Upon completion, Hill enrolled in the UAB School of Medicine’s Adolescent Medicine Fellowship Program. During that time, Dr. Hill recognized the benefit that having a Masters of Public Health in Maternal & Child Health Care Policy and Leadership could have on her ability to change the world at a policy level (which she completed in 2019).

When asked to reflect on moments that reaffirmed her decision to become a doctor, Hill recalled seeing community members living with HIV struggle through things such as drug abuse and chronic illnesses. In one particular example, a pre-teen mentee of Dr. Hill had parents succumb to HIV (though she was negative). Forced to live with her aunt, this child was subject to her family’s fear and misinformation of HIV. Most noticeably, their feelings were made apparent through the lack of physical contact they were willing to have with her. Hill knew through preventative care, education, and management, she could make life easier for children.

In an average week, Dr. Hill spends most of her time in research—studying ways to improve the lives of adolescents and teens living with HIV or using pre-exposure prophylaxis—and the rest of her time in the clinic, providing sexual health, reproductive and HIV care, and mentoring students. The extent of Hill’s mentorship varies from medical school to students at Carver High School—a program called MCH HOPES (Maternal and Child Health, Health Opportunities and Partnership for Educational Success) that she co-created and co-runs with colleagues Vinetra King, PhD and Adrianne Marbury.

Pediatrics & COVID-19

As a pediatric physician, Hill is in a unique position to watch her patients grow through adolescence. From hearing about what they want to be when they grow up to guiding them through the complexity of their teenage years, she becomes a part of their lives and a trusted advisor to their family. Her role is invaluable to families during the COVID-19 crisis.

With the current state of affairs, much of people’s attention has turned to COVID-19 news and, as a result, the populations affected most heavily by this pandemic. However, to get a much-needed holistic view of how these unprecedented times have impacted our communities, Dr. Samantha Hill shares her perspective in pediatrics during these past couple of months (March-April 2020).

With all the media attention on COVID-19, it’s easy for misinformation and myths to spread like wildfire in a community. And, if this information is incorrect, it could be life-threatening. To help her patients filter through, Dr. Hill spends time answering questions and helping families understand the information they see in the news—or as she calls it “speaking in English.” These conversations can range from topics such as treatment options to preventative measures.

From what is known currently about COVID-19, children are more likely to be asymptomatic—posing its own set of unique risks to the child and community. Kids often exhibit slightly different and less severe symptoms than adults. The CDC has reported COVID-19 signs in children are cold-like symptoms, runny nose, cough, fever, and even vomiting or diarrhea.
To parents, especially with young children, these symptoms can be scary and may cause some families to avoid their routinely scheduled preventative care visits. As a result, there are concerns in the pediatric community over a resurgence of previously cured diseases due to a fear of in-person immunization visits.

In-Person Visits

To address these fears and safely direct patients, Dr. Hill’s clinic (operating within Children’s of Alabama) has created a new set of rules. For people still needing in-person visits, appointments are limited to patient +1. This stipulation has the greatest impact on families who only have one vehicle or travel long-distances to attend appointments for various family members. Upon arrival, patients will be moved immediately to an exam room. This process minimizes the potential spread in waiting rooms and helps visitors maintain social distancing.

Telehealth

For those who can be seen via telehealth, updates have been made to better serve the increase of virtual visits. As an adolescent interdisciplinary clinic, Dr. Hill’s clinic is responsible for multiple aspects of a child’s wellbeing. From dieticians and psychiatrists to primary and reproductive care, doctors such as Hill have to be extra mindful of how they manage patients.

For example, children dealing with mental health issues might be more sensitive to the additional stressors and uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. These feelings could potentially trigger suicidal ideations. When having a telehealth session, doctors must ensure these kinds of cases are directed to the correct person with continuity.

Additionally, another issue pediatric physicians and other professionals in the medical community are facing is an increase in domestic violence cases. During telehealth calls, providers have to be conscious of the patient’s surroundings—asking questions such as, “Are you in a safe space?” or “Can you get to an Emergency Room?” Answers to questions such as these will determine how the physician handles communications and follow up.

Using all Resources

Throughout her training, Dr. Hill fell in love with several specialties—trauma surgery and OBGYN, to name a couple. This passion for medicine has helped her embrace fields such as psychiatry and therapy when considering the patient’s overall needs. With the current circumstances of COVID-19, paired with the interdisciplinary nature of Hill’s clinic, primary care physicians must be prepared to navigate through difficult situations and know when to bring in another specialist who can assist.

A Return to Normal

As the world tries to reestablish normalcy, there will inevitably be changes in the way we (the world) do things based on this experience. When looking at the immediate future, there’s a lot of uncertainty. For kids and their parents, questions such as, “When are we going back to school?” or “Who is going to watch the kids?” might be on people’s list. Dr. Hill reminds us that, “We would be doing ourselves a disservice to say kids don’t have COVID-19. Most of the young people in Alabama who have been living with COVID-19 are asymptomatic—so we don’t know.”

This uncertainty can be problematic when attempting to return to “normal.” And, while Dr. Hill can’t tell what the future will hold, she explains that including adolescents in COVID-19 research and expanding testing to those who are potentially asymptomatic will be a critical step in controlling outcomes.

For now, Hill’s advice to kids is, “Take care of your mental health and make it your priority. You can do this by finding something fun to do and staying connected with friends or family from a distance.” Dr. Hill manages her mental health by listening to gospel music and exercising. She can even be found running or doing CrossFit (while following social distancing guidelines) 6 days a week! She advises parents, “Give yourself a break and a pat on the back.” Hill adds, “Use this time to build or re-build your relationship with your kids. If you need to get out, get out—go for a walk.”


If you’re experiencing any of the issues mentioned in this article, please use one of the following resources.

Domestic Violence

• Visit City of Birmingham’s Domestic Violence page if you’re in danger and have no place to stay; or,
• call the Crisis Health Center at 205-323-7782

Suicidal Thoughts

• Please call the Psychiatric Intake Response Center or PIRC at 1-800-273-8255 immediately