INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER CONTI, MD
What guided your decision to go into medicine and specifically, your chosen field?
This is a very interesting story because medicine was not my first choice. I was a zoology major at Howard University and my plan was to become a field zoologist. I was able to spend summers in Panama and Costa Rica as a research assistant at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). I was studying howler monkeys in the cloud forests of Central America. But one of my preceptors was an MD, PhD and asked me to join him at his ‘free clinic’ in Panama City. I said, ‘sure’, thinking it was a veterinary clinic. I got there and soon realized that it was a ‘people clinic’ – but I absolutely loved it. When I got back to school, I shifted my focus to going to medical school.
“When I find myself, tired, frustrated, or over-worked, I re-center by reminding myself of my own experiences and how they were positively shaped by the doctors, nurses, and others who were involved in my care.”
Have you ever been a patient, and if so, what did it teach you?
I have been a patient twice as an adult. Once after tearing my ACL and having knee surgery. More recently, I was hospitalized for gastroenteritis and dehydration. Both experiences revealed just how terrifying the experience can be and how absolutely vulnerable you feel. It affirmed for me just how incredibly humbling it is to have been given the opportunity to impact lives in such a personal way. It reminded me of just how many fears and barriers patients must often overcome just to make it to the doctor and how our responses not only shape that experience, but every subsequent experience. When I find myself, tired, frustrated, or over-worked, I re-center by reminding myself of my own experiences and how they were positively shaped by the doctors, nurses, and others who were involved in my care.
What are the most important qualities for a doctor to have?
Doctors should always remain connected to their desire to ‘help’. At a most basic level, physicians are ‘helpers’. The word ‘doctor’ is derived from the Latin word, ‘doceo’ meaning ‘to teach.’ So I guess the next quality would be to remain committed to teaching people. Beyond helping and teaching, doctors must also be excellent listeners, because it is the ability to ‘listen’ to both spoken and unspoken clues that help physicians establish optimal partnerships with patients. Contrary to what healthcare seems to have become, the dynamic between patient and physician – in my mind – is best described as a partnership, with each element bringing valuable skills and experiences. When working optimally, an effective patient-physician partnership is a powerful thing that improves both health and wellness.
What can a patient expect when they have you as a doctor?
I hope that they see someone who is willing to work with them to achieve health and wellness goals. I work hard to create a ‘safe-space’ where dialogue about often extremely personal subjects can occur. I’d like to think of the ‘space’ that I work to create as a ‘no judgment zone’; where dialogue can be open and honest. I hope that my patients leave an encounter confident in my competence but understanding that I am in no way perfect. Sometimes in my effort to be honest, I will tell patients that I do not have the answers that they may be seeking, which I believe further strengthens the partnership by building trust. And finally, I really do try to treat every patient like I would treat a member of my own family. Cliché-sounding, I know, but true!
The most important aspect of doctor/patient partnership is trust – followed closely by respect and communication. The patient brings a knowledge of self as well as often clearly-established health and wellness goals. Because this knowledge of self shapes who the patient is and their goals frame their priorities, they must be appreciated and respected. The clinician brings a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and clinical experiences that must also be acknowledged. This partnership requires a willingness to seek balance over conflict. For so long, the dynamic was unbalanced, and patients were often left powerless, frustrated and distanced from their goals or the clinical care they needed; while physicians often found themselves disillusioned having labeled patients as ‘non-compliant. The patient-physician partnership should not draw battle-lines in the sand between two people who must work together to achieve optimal health and wellness. Instead, each entity must recognize the value of the other in order to work synergistically. When the patient-physician partnership is working, it is truly a beautiful thing.
“There is nothing like Doctorpedia on the planet, and we are just scratching the surface regarding where Doctorpedia can go and the information that it can provide to people everywhere who are longing to become more engaged, informed, and empowered about their personal health and wellness.”
You wear many hats – you are an emergency medicine physician, team physician for the US Soccer Federation, and a pastor! How have each of these roles impacted your worldview?
I have been blessed to have had many clinical experiences and opportunities throughout my professional career. These experiences have enabled me to have profoundly impactful clinical and patient care experiences. I have witnessed unimaginable tragedy while also seeing absolute miracles first-hand. I have met some of the most interesting and incredible patients, family members, and support staff; as well as some absolutely brilliant clinicians. I have had the chance to lead great people as a civilian and in a combat zone. I have been blessed to serve under some extraordinary leaders and mentors. And I have traveled the world with amazingly talented soccer players—even representing my country as a Team Physician at a FIFA World Cup. All of this has taught me that there is a huge and exciting world out there, with diverse people, who at their core are ‘good’ people who want to do the right thing. I have learned that we all have far more in common than our differences. And I am certain that I would not be the physician, pastor, father, husband or friend that I am, were it not for this awesome journey that God has allowed me to take over the last 20 years as a physician. I am truly blessed and can’t wait to see what God has in store for the next 20 years of this already incredible journey.
Doctorpedia is awesome and I am humbled that the braintrust behind it feels that I can contribute on many levels. My hope is that the world continues to realize just how powerful this credible and reliable health resource is. There is nothing like Doctorpedia on the planet, and we are just scratching the surface regarding where Doctorpedia can go and the information that it can provide to people everywhere who are longing to become more engaged, informed, and empowered about their personal health and wellness.
What is your favorite activity outside of work?
I have been a lifelong soccer player, so I love to play soccer even now. But my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE activity outside of work is ‘anything family’. I love spending time with my wife Tracey (family physician) and our seven children. Watching them grow and navigate the world is as awesome as it is fascinating. If we could afford for me to be a stay-at-home dad, I would do it in a heartbeat! Because I can’t do that, I treasure every moment at home – which is why these last 8 weeks have been strangely enjoyable because of the amount of time I have been able to spend at home.
If you could spend a day with any person in the world (dead or alive) – who would you choose?
As a physician, I would love to spend the day with Imhotep. He was a multi-genius, an architect, engineer and physician. In fact, Sir William Osler, one of the founders of Johns Hopkins hospital called Imhotep ‘the first figure of a physician to stand out from antiquity’. To spend a day with someone with such an awesomely brilliant mind would be amazing, especially when you consider that what he and his contemporaries were able to accomplish and discover, was done 2000 years before the birth of Christ; without any of our modern technology or supersonic access to information.
“Facts are fuel and I believe that Doctorpedia is a ‘fact factory’. It is like having 24/7 access to a sub-specialty clinic at the tips of your fingers.”
What would you do for a living if you weren’t a doctor?
I come from a family of teachers. If I weren’t a physician, and I didn’t pursue my original interest in field biology, I would absolutely be a teacher—probably elementary school like my dad and my sister. I could also see myself as a full-time soccer coach, which in essence, is teaching, of sorts!
You recently joined the Doctorpedia team as a Founding Medical Partner. What about Doctorpedia resonates with your personal and professional mission?
I ‘live’ the belief that to be a doctor is to be a teacher. The word ‘teach’ or ‘educate’ is derived from the word ‘educare’ meaning ‘to bring forth from within’. In other words, doctors are skilled teachers who, through establishing meaningful partnerships with patients, are able to teach people to access and harness resources for health, wellness and healing that are often already inside of them. The fuel that drives the relationship, the dynamic, and the dialogue is information. Not just information but trusted, reliable, easily accessible information from credible individuals who are expert in their respective fields. Facts are fuel, and I believe that Doctorpedia is a ‘fact factory’. It is like having 24/7 access to a sub-specialty clinic at the tips of your fingers. The Doctorpedia mission and vision are squarely in my professional ‘wheelhouse’, especially now that I am at a stage in my professional career where my thoughts have shifted to legacy and impact beyond patient care and beside teaching of residents and students. I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of such an incredibly powerful and impactful tool at such an early stage of its genesis. I can’t wait to see Doctorpedia’s ‘next’ and am humbled to have the opportunity to play an active role.
What problems do physicians and patients face that Doctorpedia can help solve?
Physicians are confronted with a tech-savvy generation of patients who often seek out information and resources that are not credible and often dangerous. Doctorpedia is a solution for that problem. As Doctorpedia continues to grow, I envision very few facets of health and wellness for which Doctorpedia won’t be able to provide the most credible and evidence-based information. I also believe that as we look to develop clinical telehealth solutions within the Doctorpedia brand, that many physicians may find Doctorpedia’s clinical platform to be an affordable and trusted telehealth workspace that allows providers to remain focused on clinical care. Patients need information they can understand from clinical experts whom they can trust. They need a platform that is always available and accessible with a flow of information that is easy to follow and navigate.
The credibility of health and wellness information unfortunately varies from idiotic to expert. Unfortunately, through the power of the internet, idiots can often very easily masquerade as experts; often to the detriment of patients. Doctorpedia aims to solve that problem; aspiring to be the ‘amazon’ of health information; the ‘go to’ resource for people globally who are looking for the information that they need in terms they can understand, from sources they can consistently trust.
Faith and healthcare might seem to be at odds for some people – how do you believe they can co-exist and even be complementary to one another?
Like so many providers and patients, I have tightly coiled my faith into all that I am and all that I do. Evidence suggests that similar numbers of patients and providers pray and participate in other forms of ‘organized religious activity’ on a weekly basis. This suggests that faith and health & wellness are logically complementary and not antagonistic. Ironically, only a very few patient-physician encounters incorporate or even discuss the faith ‘elephant’ in the room. My hope is that the faith channel will strike a chord with both patients and clinicians; giving each group the confidence to introduce this core concept in the patient-physician dynamic. Incorporating faith-beliefs and practices into this dynamic, I believe, has therapeutic value for both patients who are seeking a faith-science connection, and providers who are seeking faith-guidance to help them navigate the awesome responsibility and burden of being entrusted with the care of someone else.
What were your previous roles in healthcare and what did you learn from them?
Within the specialty of emergency medicine, I have served as a clerkship director, EMS medical director and department chair/medical director. I have served as a US Air Force Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT) physician in Afghanistan, and as a Team Physician for our US National soccer team player pools. This has affirmed for me that there are limitless possibilities for those interested in medicine and desiring to serve. It inspires me to share with those colleagues who are earlier in their careers, residents in training or even those just starting medical school, that you are limited by your own creativity and desire and that the canvass of your professional journey is yours to paint. And no matter how the ‘painting’ starts, you can always make a course correction.
“Unfortunately, through the power of the internet, idiots can often very easily masquerade as experts; often to the detriment of patients. Doctorpedia aims to solve that problem, aspiring to be the ‘amazon’ of health information; the ‘go to’ resource for people globally who are looking for the information that they need in terms they can understand – from sources they can consistently trust.”
You snapped into action during the COVID-19 pandemic and produced dozens of videos about a range of important topics. Your videos have been spread via social media and have accumulated millions of views in just one week! What does it mean to you to reach so many people?
It is truly humbling to think that millions of people have found what I have to say useful – especially at a time of such struggle and uncertainty. As a man of science, I am honored that Doctorpedia has found my work product to meet the Doctorpedia standard of credibility and excellence. As a pastor and man of strong faith, I believe that the sum total of my varied life-experiences has prepared, equipped and positioned me to be used to be a change-agent as well as a source of encouragement.
Christopher Conti, MD
Emergency Medicine Physician
Dr. Conti is a Doctorpedia Founding Medical Partner and Chief Medical Officer for the Sports and Faith channels. In addition to being a practicing Sports Concussion and Emergency Medicine Physician, Dr. Conti has served as a Critical Care Air Transport Physician for the United States Air Force, the team physician for the US Soccer Federation, and is the lead pastor at Emmanuel Pittsburgh.