Hussein Abdullatif, M.D., can credit his father’s advice for his career path.
A professor in the Division of Endocrinology in the Department of Pediatrics at the UAB School of Medicine, Abdullatif came to the United States from Jordan in 1989 to complete residency and fellowship training at Emory University. His father Darwish, a pediatrician, and mother Zeinab, an oral surgeon, had both trained at the University of Maryland in the 1960s before returning to Jordan.
“My father told me that as a doctor, I would spend my entire career continuously learning, so he said I should come to the U.S. for further training after graduating from medical school at the University of Jordan in Amman,” Abdullatif said. “I listened to my father—he was a wise man.”
Abdullatif was awarded the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award during the School of Medicine Commencement ceremony on May 19, 2013. The award is presented to one faculty member and one student who exemplify the value of humanism in delivering care to patients and their families.
“It’s a great honor. I’m very humbled that others feel I’m a humanistic doctor,” he said. “Practicing humanism in medicine is one of the most important things about being a doctor.
“I think that, as doctors, first and foremost, our job isn’t necessarily to cure people, but to make people feel better. Sometimes we can’t achieve cures, but we can be compassionate, empathetic with patients and communicate with them to improve their quality of life to the best of our ability.”
Abdullatif uses his learned techniques and skills, along with his natural compassion and empathy, to treat his pediatric patients and train new classes of future doctors studying at UAB. He says creating an unintimidating, supportive environment is equally important for working with both groups.
“I feel, as a doctor working with patients, I need to make the environment as helpful as possible for them to be as honest as they can be in communicating the most embarrassing or most private parts of their lives. Doctors can sometimes be an intimidating presence,” Abdullatif said. “As a teacher, I also need to have the students be as open as they can be in letting me see what they know, what they don’t know and where their strengths and weaknesses lie.”
When he came to UAB in 1999 after four years of private practice in Alexander City, Abdullatif realized how much he enjoyed the academic side of medicine and the contact with the med students and residents.
“I remember the year I came, there was a Halloween celebration at Children’s Hospital where everyone dressed up, and some of the staff dressed me as a member of the Village People,” he said. “Somehow that opened the residents up to listening to this new doctor.” He became part of giving feedback during the resident’s morning report, and is now clerkship director for Pediatrics, overseeing all third-and fourth-year medical students during their rotations in the department.
Abdullatif said he would like to see more humanistic elements of empathy and compassionate care incorporated into the teaching of medical students—an idea that he said he’d want to continue providing during his UAB career.
“I don’t know how things end up in life. People plan their lives with an idea of how everything will be, but it never goes the way you’ve planned and it all ends up OK,” he said. “I didn’t plan to have a career at UAB, but I am where I need to be, and I’m happy about that.”