Meet Imtiazuddin Shaik, MD, FACS, who shares his experience along the path to becoming one of the first in a new generation of surgeons, surgicalists.
Dr. Imtiaz Shaik’s family immigrated to the US from India when he was just 6 months old. Dr. Shaik grew up in Chicago and his large extended family included aunts, uncles, and older cousins, many of whom became doctors. Dr. Shaik’s father was a civil engineer. His parents encouraged Imtiaz to become a doctor, even though his father was squeamish at the sight of blood and hospitals made him very nervous. At an early age he made up his mind that he would go into medicine. Fortunately, he excelled in the sciences and was a good student. Eventually, Shaik and his sister both pursued careers in medicine. His sister trained as a pediatric ICU physician and he became a transplant surgeon.
After Dr. Shaik completed his surgical residency, he realized he wanted to specialize further. He completed a fellowship in intra-abdominal transplantation and hepatobiliary surgery at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. His life was all about his career and he lived and breathed surgery, there was not time for much else, although he did manage to eek out a social life and married his wife after his first year of fellowship. While they were dating, she observed that he was very tied to his work and it was difficult to spend time together. Dr. Shaik explained to his new bride that he was in a very competitive program and the first year was the toughest. Once fellowship was over, their life would become a bit more predictable.
Upon completing his fellowship, he accepted a position as a transplant surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at Westchester Medical Center in New York. Westchester is an 895-bed trauma and tertiary/quaternary academic medical center, located in the Hudson Valley in Valhalla, NY. However, the life of a transplant surgery is highly unpredictable and is driven by the availability of donor organs which requires two long operations. First, the surgeon goes to the site where the donor is located and harvests the organ, which often involves flying to a location. Then they fly back to the primary hospital where the recipient is waiting and prep the patient for surgery, remove the diseased organ and then transplant with the donor organ. Sometimes, Dr. Shaik would go into the hospital and not come home for two or three days at a stretch. They had their first child while living in Los Angeles and two more children were born while they were in New York. As a young mother with three young children and no family in New York, his wife was becoming very disenchanted. She did not think that lifestyle was sustainable. He started to think about his situation, which was difficult, trying to balance two things he loved dearly-his family and his work.
In 2016, Dr. Shaik’s wife was looking at one of the medical magazines sent to all doctors at home, free of charge. An ad caught her eye for a surgicalist with a schedule where you only work 26 weeks a year, with a week on and another week off. In disbelief he looked at the website listed on the ad. It looked legitimate so he called the number and ended up talking directly to the Founder and CEO, Dr. Mit Desai who happened to be in New York at the time. They arranged for an in-person interview. It turned out the position was in Orlando, Florida where Dr. Shaik’s wife was from and where his in-laws lived. The rest, as they say, is history. He accepted the job and have lived a Disney-like fairytale life ever since. Now with three children ages 6, 5, and 4, along with grandparents close by, and having every other week off, his quality of life improved had drastically improved. His children get to see their dad for a week at a time uninterrupted and the children get to spend time with their mother and grandparents. That was four years ago. Even now, Dr. Shaik must pinch himself about how his life has changed for the better in so many ways.
The work is challenging but manageable. His hepatobiliary surgical skills have been put to good use for complex liver, pancreas, biliary cancer surgeries. While he misses his academic medical center training, he notes the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine is nearby and plans an expansion. That may create an opportunity to contribute to educating future surgeons about the career path of a surgicalist. There is also an important leadership opportunity within the hospital to drive improvements in quality outcomes, reduce length of stay, and improve throughput. He and his colleagues are at the forefront of bringing Surgicalists to help educate hospital administrators about the value of dedicated surgeons available at the right place and right time for emergent, urgent, and trauma surgery.