Emad Hakemi, MD, MSc
From Cook County Hospital to Columbia, this interventional cardiology fellow has exemplified both skill and hard work, according to Ajay Kirtane.
Emad Hakemi, MD, MSc, is currently completing a 1-year fellowship in interventional cardiology at Columbia University Medical Center (New York, NY). Born in Syria, Hakemi grew up in the United Arab Emirates and finished his medical schooling at the Ain Shams University School of Medicine (Cairo, Egypt). He came to the United States to train in internal medicine and general cardiology at the John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County (Chicago, IL), where he also served as chief fellow. Hakemi simultaneously completed a master’s degree in clinical research at Rush University (Chicago, IL). He is passionate about both learning and teaching, and plans to further his training next year in a dedicated CHIP fellowship. Eventually, Hakemi would like to end up working in an academic setting, where he can pursue a balance of clinical duties, procedures, teaching, and research while also spending time with his wife and two daughters.
Why did you decide to pursue interventional cardiology?
My father is an architect and my mother is a mathematician, so our family doesn’t have much of a medical background. For college, I went to Egypt, where I spent almost 8 years, and I decided to come to the US to train further in medicine. During my residency and fellowship training years at Cook County Hospital, I encountered complex cardiac cases that initially drove my attention toward the whole field of interventional cardiology. I wanted to be part of a dynamic field that required technical skills in addition to sound clinical judgment.
What has been your most meaningful clinical experience thus far?
During my fellowship, I really enjoyed working in clinics, which I admit is not something usually mentioned by a lot of trainees. But those patients were my own dedicated patients—I followed them for years. I had some really great relationships to the point that I would get thank you cards and sometimes presents, and I still have some patients texting or emailing me about random topics. It’s one of the things I really took away from my training in Chicago. Doing the right procedure on the right person really makes a difference. The patient even recognizes that you are not there just to do procedures but actually trying to help—it’s all about the understanding and knowledge of the patient's condition that helps you make the right decision with the patient.
Personally, the relationships I forged with patients who I saw in clinic helped me teach my kids what I do and why it’s important. I have two daughters, aged 5 and 2 years. They don’t really understand why I’m away from home all the time. So when the opportunity arises to explain something, I always take it and start showing them the thank you cards and talking to them about what I do at work and how I help people.
What is the best piece of advice your mentor has given you?
I’m lucky to have always been surrounded by great people giving me good advice and encouragement, so I am blessed about that. One piece of advice I’ve been gifted is to keep asking questions and never think twice about asking one. If you ask questions, you’re protected from making a mistake. This advice is often challenging to take, especially in your interventional year, because you want to prove yourself. But at the end of the day, it’s all about patient care, safety, and efficiency.
What are you most looking forward to after you finish training?
They say that after completing a certain number of cases as a fellow, the learning curve of training plateaus and it doesn’t start rising again until you become an attending and start making decisions on your own. Now if I’m challenged by a complex case, there’s someone to suggest what to do. Once I’m on my own, things really start getting different. I’m looking forward to that, but I'm also trying to prepare for that moment as much as I can. At the end of the day, I hope that I can simply help my patients.
If you weren’t a physician, what else could you see yourself doing and why?
I could see myself happy being an architect like my dad. They have a good lifestyle, and they are always out there in their work and seeing their ideas come to life. As a child, I enjoyed going with my dad to see the projects he was building and pretend to help out, especially if my mom did not want to handle us. It was always fun.
What his nominator, Ajay Kirtane, MD, SM (NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center), says:
Emad in some ways does not represent the typical applicant to Columbia, but when we read through his application, there were just these gems of information about him. Every applicant has good letters, but he had some really unique ones sent on his behalf. Even his chief of cardiology at Cook County Hospital called us, and when we spoke, he remarked that he’d never made a call like this in 30 years but was making it because Emad was “a special one.” In the cath lab, he’s hardworking and always smiling. It’s always just a pleasure to be around colleagues like that. We spend so much time together that you want to be sure that in addition to being clinically or technically great or being good with patients that fellows have a good attitude, and he certainly exemplifies that. I’m a firm believer that success is not just about how smart you are or where you trained. Those things can help, but what really differentiates people in the end is their ability to really work hard and work through adversity. It’s clear that's not something everyone succeeds with, but when people have done that, to me it says a lot about an individual and serves as a barometer of their future success.
*To nominate a stellar cardiology fellow for the Featured Fellow section of TCTMD’s Fellows Forum, click here.