Dr. Alfred Abuhamad, professor and chairman for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and associate dean for Clinical Affairs at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), didn’t originally plan on being a part of EVMS’s team. Whether it was fate or just lucky circumstance for Coastal Virginia, he found his way here, oddly enough, through an interview in Boston.
His medical education started at the American University in Beirut. He opted to do his residency at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, then stayed on for a fellowship opportunity in maternal and fetal medicine (high-risk obstetrics). From there he went to Yale New Haven for a fellowship in ultrasound and prenatal diagnosis.
“I wanted to stay in New England because my parents lived in Boston,” says Abuhamad. “So, I was looking at jobs up there, and one of the places I interviewed was at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston with a guy named Dr. Peter Heyl.” Abuhamad decided at the time that the job wasn’t a good fit for him and moved on. In the meantime, Heyl had been recruited to EVMS and, recognizing Abuhamad’s talent, told then-director, Dr. Arthur Evans, “This guy is looking for a job. Give him a call.”
So, Evans called him. “I was intrigued by what he told me, so I went to visit EVMS in January of 1992,” Abuhamad recalls. “I really liked the place, I liked the potential of what could be done there, and I saw a lot of opportunities. I came in on a Friday, called Dr. Evans on Monday and said I’ll take the job.” He moved to the area in August 1992.
Abuhamad’s contributions to maternal and fetal medicine would have undoubtedly had a major impact on the rest of the United States and even the world, no matter where he ended up. But expectant mothers in Coastal Virginia should be very happy to have direct access to him through EVMS.
In 2003, he developed software that uses multidimensional ultrasound to detect fetal heart problems early in pregnancy. Congenital heart defects are the number one cause of death from birth defects during a baby’s first year. Abuhamad’s revolutionary program is helping to reverse that.
In 2015, EVMS received a $2.7 million grant from the National Institute of Health to study placenta. The study, headed by Abuhamad, hopes to identify why some pregnancy problems are linked with the placenta and find new treatments that will help both the mothers and their babies.
These are only a few of his accomplishments to date and undoubtedly just the tip of the iceberg on what else will come.
“I have always been intrigued with the ability to connect with people and be able to help them during a very important time in their lives,” Abuhamad says. “Being a doctor is an incredible profession where you’re constantly learning and your daily work is always changing.”
He steered toward obstetrics because, as a specialty, there are so many different facets involved. “You can be a surgeon. You can be an internist. You can even be a radiologist—all within one specialty,” he says. “The more time I spend in OB/GYN, the more fascinated I am with the physiology of labor, how this incredible change happens, taking a pregnancy from its early days into delivery. I’m also fascinated by the physiology of the fetus, and I feel there is still a lot of incredible information that has yet to be gained from the practice of maternal and fetal medicine. The environment the fetus lives in has so much impact on what a person will become later in life, and that’s what really drew me to this specialty. It’s just incredible.”
With that in mind, there is no such thing as an “average day” for Abuhamad. One day he could be in the operating room, the next could be spent in the office accomplishing administrative tasks or research, and another could be doing ultrasounds on patients. However, it’s easy for him to identify what he considers to be the best part of his job.
“Taking care of patients and being with the residents and fellows,” he says. “Clearly, those two things overshadow everything else. In other words, the ability to help, to provide support, to provide guidance for people during their difficult moments and being able to mentor fellows and residents into the future. That is really the most compelling part of my day. That’s really what it is all about.”