Please tell us a little about your background.
I grew up in Damascus, Syria, where I completed medical school. Having arrived in the United States, my next step was to complete a residency in internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati, followed by an infectious diseases fellowship in Houston at Baylor College of Medicine. I moved to Arizona for a few years and worked as a faculty member at the University of Arizona and the director of antibiotic stewardship. During my time there, I completed an MBA in healthcare management. I was recruited back to Baylor St. Luke’s to run the infection prevention and antibiotic stewardship program of the hospital. Currently, I am the medical director for infection prevention and antibiotic stewardship for CommonSpirit Health, Texas Division and the vice chair for quality improvement and innovations at the department of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
When I was a child, my mother was diagnosed with a tumor. I remember she was very anxious and afraid, particularly before the surgery. The doctor who saw my mother was very supportive, empathetic, and provided comfort to her and the rest of my family. His approach left an impact on me and led me to decide to be a doctor.
Over the past few decades, we have seen HIV, H1N1, SARS, avian flu, mad cow disease, and other pandemics. I have been intrigued by their impact on patients, their families and public health. I decided to be an infectious disease doctor so I could help prevent the spread of these infections across the world.
I have always been passionate about learning languages, going to museums, and traveling. During the pandemic, I started new hobbies like cooking, listening to audio books, and biking. These hobbies have enriched my life and gave me a different perspective on things.
What was the best piece of advice you received from a mentor during your medical and administrative career?
My mentor told me about the importance of the “Three A’s” to be a successful consultant. To be “Affable,” “Able,” and “Available.” I found these three words crucial for both being a good consultant and a good leader.
The biggest challenge without a doubt has been the COVID-19 pandemic. In the beginning, we were short of personal protective equipment and testing supplies nationwide. Little did we know about how the virus could be transmitted which had a severe impact on people fear and anxiety.
I remember that I talked to my father about it. He reminded me of my purpose, and that I should look at it as an opportunity to help others by providing leadership during that rough time. This change in perspective guided me to spearhead efforts to fight COVID-19 across our division.
What is your favorite aspect about being a healthcare leader in Houston?
What I love about Houston is that it is the most metropolitan city in the US. It is diverse socioeconomically, culturally, and religiously. This contributes to new ways of thinking, knowledge, and experiences. Furthermore, it has the biggest medical center in the world. There are many world leaders in the field of medicine, just one block away from us. This was extremely helpful when COVID-19 started, as we all shared our experiences and best practices around Texas Medical Center and the rest of the region.
What additional advice would you give to an early careerist, who would like to become a healthcare leader, like yourself?
I would recommend that they take leadership training whether with ACHE, an MBA/MHA, or other programs. I did not have much leadership training in medical school, residency, or fellowship. My friend advised me to do an MBA suggesting it would sharpen my skills and help me advance my career. Completing an MBA and taking ACHE courses were crucial for my success, as it gave me insight on how to effectively work, lead teams, and communicate both verbally and non-verbally.
-Interview by Brodus Franklin