Member of the Month: Mahdi Awwad, MD
Academic family physician excels in teaching, maternal-child health, and full-spectrum care
By Kate Alfano
Mahdi Awwad, MD, is an assistant professor in family and community medicine with the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas where he also serves as Maternity Care and Women’s Health Curriculum Leader. He was awarded a medical degree by St. Matthews University School of Medicine, completed a family medicine residency and was chief resident at MetroHealth Medical Center, and completed a rural maternal-child health fellowship at West Virginia University. Awwad has received numerous awards, particularly in residency, and is passionate about full-spectrum family medicine, research, and contraceptive care.
Do you teach medical students or residents, or both?
I’ve always been in the realm of teaching both residents and medical students in my current position and even in fellowship. At UT Southwestern, we teach students in the clinic and hospital setting. We also have 15 incoming residents per year, so across three years and split into two tracks we are teaching 45 residents through a curriculum of lectures and workshops. We have gotten great response from the workshops in particular, which help residents hone their skills. And there are always research opportunities for medical students and residents, to get them involved in research they’re passionate about.
This year we matched the highest amount of incoming students from UT Southwestern than the prior years. That’s very important: UT Southwestern is a great establishment with many great option for residency. It’s important to know family medicine can compete with other desired specialties.
Who or what inspired you to become a physician?
I come from a family that has had very minimal exposure to the medical field. My maternal uncle was a full-spectrum primary care physician overseas and made a great impact in our hometown where he practiced. He laid a great foundation there. But here in the States, I really didn’t have any mentors to help get me through applying for medical school, the interview process, or test preparation. For me it was a learn-as-you’re-going process. The lack of medical professionals in my family was honestly the inspiration to go into the field.
That definitely also motivated me to be a mentor to others. Maybe not in medical school, but in residency and fellowship, I always knew that I would go back to an academic setting and be a mentor to others. I wanted to show them a different face of medicine, to humanize it.
My mentors through residency, fellowship and faculty have definitely been some of the most amazing people to work with and learn from. I continue to keep those relationships alive, as they are vital to our growth.
What draws you to academics?
Academics does allow me to have a lifestyle with my family, that’s the most important thing. And I enjoy my experience with residents and medical students. Teaching keeps me fresh on my toes, keeps me fresh with hands-on experiences and procedures, and opens up great ongoing relationships nationally. Especially considering the rates of burnout among physicians, when you’re part of an academic setting, you’re not alone in practicing medicine. Your co-faculty members are in the same boat as you are. Also seeing our residents grow, move on to their own fellowships and go into practice or join as academic faculty, those are very rewarding things we get to see. It’ an understatement to say academics is time consuming and not easy, but it very important and I can’t see myself leaving it.
Why did you choose to pursue your fellowship in rural maternal-child health?
When I went into family medicine, I was naïve and understood all of family medicine to be full-spectrum family medicine. Being able to take care of the mom, baby, dad, grandparents — that’s the reason I went into family medicine. It only made sense to me that I was going to go into full-spectrum family medicine. During residency in Cleveland, I received plenty of great experience in obstetrics but I felt I still needed a fellowship to increase my surgical knowledge and boost my education and confidence level in providing maternal care, especially when and how to perform an emergency delivery. Dallas alone has a very limited number of family physicians providing obstetrical care and delivering. At one point, being the only family physician delivering in Dallas was fairly isolating but that is the reason we go into academics. We are here to help train the family physicians of the future.
Briefly describe a “peak experience” from your career.
The biggest peak experience was when I started at UTSW after completing residency and fellowship, and finally being able to provide that full-spectrum approach with maternal and newborn care as a faculty member. To have patients trust in me and my decision-making for them, their children, and their complete family, is an amazing honor. I never take that for granted.
What gives you the most joy in your day-to-day professional life?
The biggest joy is to be able to practice the full spectrum of family medicine. Some say you become faculty and set your clinic how you like it. My life has always been sporadic and I like to keep it sporadic: Between different rooms at any one time I could have a newborn visit, an obstetric patient, a colposcopy, diabetes management, a teenager struggling with contraception, a family discussion about end-of-life care. It’s truly from the birth to the grave as far as care goes; there’s very few limitations in what I see in the clinic. That goes back to my peak experiences, practicing full spectrum with the least amount of limitations.
How do you envision medical education changing in the next decade or more?
I believe medical education in the future is going to lean more toward a larger focus in primary and preventative care. The U.S. has plenty of “medical deserts” that limit the care of patients in those areas and we will need more emphasis on family medicine practicing a larger spectrum of care for those populations.
What do you enjoy doing outside of medicine?
I’m typically hanging out with my family, wife and two boys, ages 5 and 3. The kids are definitely at the age where they keep us plenty busy. Whenever I’m not doing anything in clinic or academics, we’re LEGO building, gardening, biking, soccer games — anything that involves the kiddos.
TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in TAFP News Now and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month and his or her unique approach to family medicine. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month or if you’d like to tell your own story, nominate yourself or your colleague by contacting TAFP by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (512) 329-8666. View past Members of the Month here.