Dr. Abdulaziz Al Khulaifi: cardiac surgeon shares inspiration
As the Chairman of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Department at Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Heart Hospital, Dr. Abdulaziz Al Khulaifi manages four distinct roles; clinical, administrative, research and education, but it is his work as a cardiac surgeon that brings him the highest level of contentment, he says.
For Dr. Al Khulaifi, there is a continuous thrill in knowing that someone may be able to live longer with the treatment he can provide.
Cardiac surgery is one of the most challenging disciplines in medicine, he explains. It is complex, time-consuming, and emotionally and physically demanding. A crucial part of the surgery is to connect the patient to a heart-lung machine, which is a pump and an oxygenator that completely takes over the patient’s circulatory and respiratory functions and enables the surgeon to stop the heart and operate on it.
Dr. Al Khulaifi says it was when he first learned about this process of “stopping” and “restarting” the heart, that he felt his interest ignite in cardiac surgery, leading him to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland where he completed his training. He later practiced pediatric cardiac surgery in France for a year and then general cardiac surgery in the UK for over 15 years before returning to Qatar in 2001.
During an operation, every second of every minute is important, he highlights. “You have to do the operation with all your energy, hoping to achieve results that sometimes may not even be possible, but you have to set aside each and every fear and doubt, and get on and deliver your very best,” Dr. Al Khulaifi says with conviction. Some operations may take well over 12 hours and require working at odd hours of the night.
However, it is the remarkable way in which his patients recover from surgery that Dr. Al Khulaifi says is the most rewarding part of his job. As he spends a chunk of his time with patients - from when they are first admitted to the hospital, throughout their stay and treatment, after the time they are discharged right through to when they return to the hospital for follow-ups - he says he is inspired by the courage his patients, young and old alike, display while undergoing exhausting procedures.
“When the patient shows trust in you and says: ‘Doctor, do what you can do’ – you get a real sense of bravery and obligation,” Dr. Al Khulaifi points out.
On a first interaction with Dr. Al Khulaifi, it may be difficult to believe the intense nature of his work as a striking sense of humor and an enthusiastic spirit are immediately apparent. “I want to continue seeing patients until I drop dead in the out-patient section of the hospital,” he says laughing. He is quick to explain that this is because being in the field demands an unswerving passion to serve people. “It is something that you must enjoy – you have to love what you’re doing,” he says.
This afternoon, he returns from his ward rounds to find four visitors waiting for him outside his office. He quickly attends to their concerns and admits that, even though his calendar for the week is prepared well in advance, often there is no routine day at work. In his eyes, predictability breeds boredom. “Surgeons thrive in demanding and pressurizing circumstances.”
Even though Dr. Al Khulaifi enjoys spending time with his patients, due to the nature of his position, he often finds himself running between different meetings; including clinical meetings with surgeons and cardiologists to discuss patient cases and progress made; departmental meetings that gather all department staff to discuss issues and concerns; pre-operative meetings; and meetings focused on research and education, where he has to offer administrative and managerial input.
A significant part of his job is centered on engaging in research and creating educational opportunities for his team, he says. “There are a plethora of advancements occurring around us. New forms of treatment, new medications, new laws and new licensing procedures are being introduced, all of which require a keen interest on the surgeon’s part to stay up-to-date,” Dr. Al Khulaifi says. “You must have the determination to continue to be better and learn about these advancements in order to progress,” he adds.
Since joining HMC, Dr. Al Khulaifi has been instrumental in bringing about advanced techniques in open heart cardiac surgery in Qatar, such as Left Ventricular Assist Device insertion (LVAD) and mitral valve repair.
Hamad Medical Corporation
Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is the main provider of secondary and tertiary healthcare in Qatar and one of the leading hospital providers in the Middle East.
For more than four decades, HMC has been dedicated to delivering the safest, most effective and compassionate care to all its patients.
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