Q: Where do you think your drive to create change and to challenge yourself comes from?
Dr. Hussain: My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan, and as most kids of immigrant parents can tell you, there is this natural drive instilled in you to “make it”. My parents viewed this as dedicating one’s life to doing good for others while growing roots in the U.S. and integrating into our local community. This has driven me to pursue opportunities and challenges that others might not have. From an early age, I was interested in leadership.
“Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s with the last name Hussain was an experience unto itself.”
Q: How do you think your entrepreneurial mindset has helped you on your journey to becoming a physician leader?
Dr. Hussain: When I was getting my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to start my own business. This taught me a lot about human behavior and forced me to develop my emotional intelligence early on. Now I’m able to apply these learnings to my interactions with patients and hospital stakeholders. Being able to understand quickly what motivates someone is important when you’re trying to build trust and persuade someone to listen to your ideas.
Q: How does being a member of the Asian and Pacific Islander community impact your experience as a physician?
Dr. Hussain: That’s an interesting question. The community where I grew up — in the south suburbs of Chicago — didn’t have many Asians. I was used to being the minority in that sense. But in medicine, there is a focus on recruitment of underrepresented minorities, and Asians are actually overrepresented in this field. Because of the overrepresentation within my industry and being entrenched with messaging of overrepresentation through many years of medical training, I think I didn’t fully appreciate the unique challenges that also can come with being an Asian-American.
Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s with the last name Hussain was an experience unto itself. As a kid, I was asked if Saddam Hussein was my relative almost every day. I found myself constantly explaining that it’s quite a common name like Johnson or Smith. But that context was difficult to explain to my K-12 peers in a Midwestern suburb. Few classmates had broad world views or experiences at that age. I still get comments from patients, and sometimes these are discriminatory and racist in nature. It can be startling and difficult to reconcile your feelings with the responsibility for patient care in the seconds that follow.
These types of challenging situations certainly can cause one to question their identity, but I’ve never wavered in my pride for my heritage and culture. Integrity was very important to my parents and learning to reconcile a variety of cultural identities was an important part of growing up for me. I try to bring my whole self to my practice, the variety of my professional roles within Vituity, and my personal life. That’s what drives me to take on new challenges, to keep developing new ideas and solutions, and to impact real change to the way healthcare is delivered.
“I am particularly proud of this program not only because we piloted it in my department but also because of the countless patients we’ve now helped. We’ve made sure they continue to get the care they need even though they aren’t considered ‘ours’ anymore.”
Q: What advice would you give to other API physicians who may be just starting out in this tumultuous social landscape?
Dr. Hussain: First and foremost, I would tell them to find an organization that celebrates differences and empowers them to identify and solve problems. Make sure you have a voice in patient care and in matters impacting your practice.
I recently attended a webinar hosted by CAPIE [Coalition of Asian American & Pacific Islander Empowerment], Vituity’s API resource group. In response to the rise in hate crimes, my Asian colleagues from throughout the organization were given the stage to share their stories.
In the webinar, I was very struck by the information shared, the vulnerability my API colleagues offered, and the raw emotion that came with bringing these issues to light. I had never seen API data, nor heard some of the myths shared in such a structured fashion. But much of the content was relatable to me, and afterward I joined CAPIE because I wanted to contribute. I realized there is much learning to be done, and that it starts by listening to one another’s unique experiences.
Q: You mentioned a motivation for you is the goal of transforming healthcare delivery for the better. What does this mean to you?
Dr. Hussain: It goes back to the idea of seeing a problem and being empowered to create solutions. Vituity has a culture that not only supports innovation but encourages it, and I was really drawn to that.
Let me give you an example. My colleagues and I noticed that many of the patients we discharged from the ED were struggling to find follow-up care. For instance, we discharge patients from the ED after an evaluation for chest pain, and their instructions are to see a cardiologist in 2-3 days. The patient will call the cardiologist, and maybe they can’t be seen for six weeks, or that practice won’t take their insurance. That’s where the current system falls short.
To close this gap, we worked with Vituity leadership to design a patient care navigation program. By implementing a program of care navigators to assist patients with arranging their follow-up care, we were able to demonstrate $500K in savings in the first year, while also providing higher quality care, and doing the right thing for the patient. It was very exciting to see this local pilot developed into a national program through the work of Vituity’s Innovation and Operations Team. They have the know-how to take these gems at local practices and scale them effectively across multiple health systems.
I am particularly proud of this program not only because we piloted it in my department but also because of the countless patients we’ve now helped. We’ve made sure they continue to get the care they need even though they aren’t considered “ours” anymore. Patient navigation allows me to practice medicine in a way that feels good and gives back to both patients and colleagues. Being empowered to help design and implement solutions to every-day problems encountered in clinical practice helps me feel like I am really transforming healthcare and changing the world for the better.
Q: How did you become interim CMO for your hospital during COVID-19?
Dr. Hussain: When COVID-19 first started spreading in the U.S., Vituity did an amazing job of supporting us physicians. They made it easy to stay up-to-the-minute on the latest clinical updates, with practical recommendations of how to execute in our respective settings in the face of constantly changing information. They also supported us in implementing virtual care solutions that protected both staff and patients and freed up surge capacity.
Vituity’s robust support enabled me to more effectively lead my own ED. This was noticed by hospital leadership, resulting in an opportunity to lead my hospital’s COVID response as interim CMO for COVID-19. This was a great honor, but I really attribute much of this to infrastructure provided through Vituity. Special shout out to Gregg Miller, MD, and his team, for his clinical updates through critical times of change. They consolidated complicated guidelines and research into digestible and actionable summaries.
Q: You have made quite an impact in only four years at Vituity. What lies ahead for you?
Dr. Hussain: I am enjoying my role, as it affords an ability to impact positive change for individual patients and at systems levels. I like building organizations and would look forward to continued opportunities to do this in the context of my department, health system, and Vituity. In particular, the creative component of entrepreneurship has a strong appeal, and I have appreciated that Vituity has embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation in many ways.