When you are interested in a medical career in Syria, the decision is made before your 18th birthday, according to locum tenens hospitalist Dr. Zabad. But he says his path to medicine began long before that birthday milestone.
At 13, Dr. Zabad spent time caring for his family members and going with them to various doctors’ appointments. He says his parents and several of his cousins had congenital heart disease. Witnessing their struggles and treatment left a lasting impression on him.
It was this early exposure to medicine that shaped his aspirations and propelled him toward a career as a physician, he says. Today, he serves as a locum tenens hospitalist, accepting assignments across the country with the help of Interim Physicians.
Leaving for the Big Apple
Due to Syria’s accelerated timeline for medical school, physicians encouraged shadowing senior physicians and often conducted immersion programs to introduce high school students to a career in medicine. One of Dr. Zabad’s family physicians — a cardiologist — offered him a six-week shadowing opportunity. This physician was one of the few doctors in Syria with a board certification in cardiology, and this job shadowing opportunity solidified Dr. Zabad’s desire to attend medical school.
In 2007, after his third year of medical school, Dr. Zabad began seeing patients in the hospital for more hands-on experience. During that time, a hematologist recommended a new career opportunity to him.
“One of my mentor’s colleagues ran an oncology program in Brooklyn,” explains Dr. Zabad. “The facility had one of the largest treatment programs for sickle cell disease, which we don’t see much of in Syria. He suggested I go there to round with him and learn all I could—so I did! And after rounding in New York City for six months, I began taking what we call ‘mobile clinic assignments’ in Syria where I’d travel and round in different locations.”
Dr. Zabad really enjoyed traveling, acquiring these new skills, and learning new methods of treatment.
“Medicine is medicine, and the diseases are the same. But the way we practice medicine and utilize our resources varies depending on the location. That’s always been so intriguing to me,” he muses.
From Rounding to Competing for Residency
Over the years and throughout Dr. Zabad’s rotations, he visited a mix of urban and underserved patient populations and truly enjoyed the variety of medicine in the US. So, after he graduated from Damascus University in Syria, he returned to America permanently. He began a research coordinator job at the University of Oklahoma before applying for residency.
“I had a specific checklist, and I was vying for a competitive spot,” Dr. Zabad reflects. “Like most of my peers, I wanted to land at a Level I trauma center in one of the five coveted cities—New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, or Phoenix.”
In 2016, Dr. Zabad achieved his goal and secured a spot at Masonic Medical Center in Chicago serving diverse patient populations, from the typical metropolitan patients in the city to Howard Brown’s complex case network providing critical community health access to the underserved.
“I really enjoyed the acuity of internal medicine since it has more of a direct, positive impact on the patient. And as a hospitalist, I was at first gate when the patient arrives at the hospital. Each day, I saw various of cases from simple infections to massive strokes,” he explained. “Then it was my job to establish diagnostic tools and my responsibility to figure out how to help each patient.”
During residency, Dr. Zabad’s met his mentor who spoke several languages and had worked all over the country in remote settings. His mentor inspired his interest in gaining exposure to other cultures and medical practices.
“Every time we had a weird case that nobody knew the answer to, my mentor did,” he says with a laugh. “He’d been exposed to so much from working in different places that he was a walking dictionary! And he always told us that we should take the time in our careers to travel and practice medicine in places we don’t imagine ourselves living.”
Landing on Locums
So, after completing his residency and spending a few years at Masonic, Dr. Zabad took his mentor’s advice to heart. He decided to work as a full-time locum tenens hospitalist physician and travel the world practicing medicine. Today, he holds active licenses in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Washington, and Wyoming. Dr. Zabad makes it a point to accept assignments in rural locations (often hours away from the nearest airport) with tiny populations of around 7,000 people.
“I like to think about every patient around the world as my patient. The special part of travel medicine is: You get to serve and learn from underserved populations,” Dr. Zabad says.
“It’s so much more than medical practice; it’s also about cultural and social learning, so it’s enjoyable on different levels.”
In addition to learning opportunities, locums offers the flexibility to create your schedule. And Dr. Zabad speaks to this variety and the ability to mitigate burnout.
“I appreciate the intensity of complex cases in tertiary settings, but I also enjoy traveling to rural towns where I typically deal with some older patient populations. With locums, I don’t have to choose. Depending on availability, I always try to work at different-sized facilities.” He continues, “I work about 15 shifts a month, so my ideal schedule includes 10 shifts in a big hospital and five in a more rural location. Then, I make sure I take a vacation every six or eight weeks.”
Dr. Zabad is still on the move outside of his practice environment. Although he has an apartment in Chicago, he’s only been there 10 days in the last six months. But don’t fret, he hasn’t been stuck at the hospital the entire time.
“I try to visit my family that currently lives in Turkey twice a year. But I also love traveling to Turkey whenever possible,” says Dr. Zabad. “I’ve been there about 14 times, and at this point, I know Istanbul just as well as Chicago.”
Choosing the Right Locum Tenens Agency
Over the years, Dr. Zabad has worked with several locum tenens companies. But his journey with Interim began in 2021 when he reached out to us after shortlisting several agencies to call for new geographic opportunities. That’s when he connected with his recruiter, Lauren Roberts, for the very first time.
“Every experience with Lauren is wonderful. She’s attentive, organized, and pleasant. She worked hard to understand my needs during my entry interview, and always presents my assignments accurately,” he says. “Not to mention, credentialing and traveling are always seamless. This lets me concentrate on practicing medicine, not getting entangled in all the logistics.”
Dr. Zabad explains how useful it is to have a partner for your locums journey.
“Interim is the whole package. I’ve had nothing but positive experiences because they remove all the burden from the physician. All I have to do is focus on my patients, and that’s the way it should be.”