INTERVIEW WITH USMAN ZAHIR, MD
What guided your decision to go into medicine and specifically, your chosen field?
Apart from medicine, I had several career interests growing up: interests in business/finance, archaeology/history, art. These non-medical interests have evolved into hobbies/side projects. Medicine, however, has always been a core interest of mine. In my family, my father and my uncle are both physicians. Although I was never pushed to pursue medicine, I had a sense from a very young age that I wanted my life to have meaning. I wanted a sense of purpose to the work I was doing. What better way of living life than serving people around me? I also had a great role model, my father, who at the age of 72 continues to practice medicine. His dedication to his profession, his ethics, honesty, and wisdom continues to inspire me. There are very few professions out there where every day you meet absolute strangers (our patients), who take time out of their schedules to see us either in the office setting or perhaps in an emergency setting at the hospital, and they’re putting their complete trust in us to help them through whatever condition that might be affecting them. It’s a privilege to have that responsibility. Every day I am excited to go to work.
I chose orthopedics and then eventually spinal surgery because in this profession, we are constantly figuring out ways to improve the quality of life of our patients – by improving their physical function. I think for people who tend to be curious – who like to solve problems and see the results of their work quickly – this profession is ideal. When I was in medical school, I was initially interested in cardiology. However, during my third and fourth year rotations, where I had to move outside of the classroom and experience working with different specialties, orthopedics appealed to me because of the variety of the work involved. We have our clinics, where we are assessing patients in the office setting. At the same time, we are constantly reviewing imaging studies, x-rays, MRIs. We also perform office-based procedures and surgical procedures. As someone who has a fear of monotony, orthopedic surgery never gets boring. Spinal surgery was a natural extension of this interest, because this is one profession that is rapidly evolving. From endoscopics, robotics, to augmented reality, spine surgery is constantly advancing with technological breakthroughs.
“As someone who has a fear of monotony, orthopedic surgery never gets boring. Spinal surgery was a natural extension of this interest, because this is one profession that is rapidly evolving.”
Have you ever been a patient, and if so, what did it teach you?
I have been a patient before, and what it taught me was that the doctor and physician relationship goes both ways. There is a responsibility on the part of the physician, and there’s also responsibility on the part of the patient to be engaged not just in the decision making process, but also in the treatment. It’s important to ask questions and to seek second opinions.
What are the most important qualities for a doctor to have?
I think the most important qualities include: being ethical, being competent, being a good listener, and being patient.
What can a patient expect when they have you as a doctor?
When a patient selects me as a physician, they can expect that I will always have their best interests in mind. Most of my patients have my cell phone number. Some may view this as over exposure, but that’s not how I practice. I practice total transparency. I am accessible, I am transparent regardless of the clinical situation.
What is the most important factor in the doctor/patient relationship and why?
Transparency. Physicians should be completely open and honest with their patients about risks and benefits with any treatment plan. The patient should also feel comfortable enough to be open and transparent as well. If the relationship starts with a weak foundation, it leads to misunderstandings and poor communication.
What makes you different from other doctors in your field?
I avoid assembly line medicine, where patients are left after a 5 minute visit. My new patient evaluations are comprehensive. I make myself available to patients after hours to review questions, even on the weekends. I am extremely accessible. As mentioned previously, most of my patients have my cell phone number. I don’t mind if they call me. For my patients who need surgery, I spend hours reviewing their case at times, even after clinic. I will spend hours reviewing imaging studies, and determining the least invasive option to treat their condition.
“There is a lot of pseudoscience on the Internet. From the questions that patients ask me in the office, I am aware that patients are doing a lot of research online. I think being able to provide a trusted, reputable source of medical information, in an easy to understand format that is not overwhelming would be appealing to patients.”
What is your favorite activity outside of work?
Traveling. When I started my practice in 2012, I made it a habit to travel frequently several times a year. This has been an extremely meaningful experience. This is especially true when visiting cities from around the world with a strong and rich history.
You recently joined the Doctorpedia team as a Founding Medical Partner. What about Doctorpedia resonates with your personal and professional mission?
Regardless of all the changes in the healthcare system, physicians are still the definitive resource for medical knowledge and information. This platform seeks to build on that core. There is a lot of pseudoscience on the Internet. From the questions that patients ask me in the office, I am aware that patients are doing a lot of research online. I think being able to provide a trusted, reputable source of medical information, in an easy to understand format that is not overwhelming would be appealing to patients.
What problems do patients face that Doctorpedia can help solve?
There are a lot of medical organizations that are involved in public policy and or education, but are extremely bureaucratic. Many medical societies are also fragmented, different specialties often just focus on themselves. A platform like Doctorpedia could help provide a space for physicians to engage with the public as true patient advocates.
What do you think about the health and wellness information and resources available online?
Most medical sites provide information but its informational overload. The information is not concise, it’s disorganized, or a laundry list of facts. Information is either too vague or too detailed. Patients have a hard time validating information. The goal would be to create a definitive site for patients to seek medical information that is easily accessible, concise, and relevant to the problems and conditions that they are searching.
If you could spend a day with any person in the world (dead or alive) – who would you choose?
What would you do for a living if you weren’t a doctor?
What were your previous roles in healthcare and what did you learn from them?
I have worked previously in a hospital setting. I have taught medical students and residents. I am now in private practice. These opportunities have allowed me to see the healthcare system from a variety of perspectives. Despite the rapid changes underway, the doctor-patient relationship will continue to remain the core of our healthcare system.
Usman Zahir, MD
Endoscopic and Minimally Invasive Spine Surgeon
Dr. Usman Zahir is a board certified orthopaedic spine surgeon proudly serving the DC, Maryland, and Virginia region. As a leading endoscopic spine specialist, he is one of the few surgeons in the region performing the procedure. Dr. Zahir is trained on three separate spinal endoscopic platforms. Dr. Zahir is a Doctorpedia Founding Medical Partner and CMO of the Spine Channel.