May 03, 2019

Jehan El-Bayoumi, MD ('85): Bringing good to life

Kindness and support of mentors pay untold dividends to future learners and patients

Jehan El-Bayoumi, MD, FACP is the founder and executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Rodham Institute, which is named in honor of Dr. El-Bayoumi’s patient and friend Mrs. Dorothy E. Rodham. Dr. El-Bayoumi is a double alumna of the University of Michigan with her undergraduate (1981) and medical (1985) degrees. She is an active member of the University of Michigan Medical School alumni community, and most recently returned to Ann Arbor as one of the featured speakers at the inaugural Diversity in Medicine Conference, which was hosted and organized by current med students.

Here she answers a few questions about why she chose Michigan for her education, and how her experience her sparked a dream that became a reality.

Why did you choose to apply to U-M for your undergrad?

I am the daughter of two now retired professors from Michigan State. So for me, it was a no-brainer. I had to run away from home. That was my rebellion :) U-M was the other in-state school, but obviously quite prestigious. I lived at Alice Lloyd and got my degree in cell and molecular biology and French. The reason I took the French was because at the time there weren't that many women in upper level math and science courses. I had to balance my brain with French and French literature, which allowed me to spend a summer in La Rochelle, France. It was just a fantastic experience in undergrad.

Why did you want to go into medicine?

I was not somebody that decided on medicine since I was a toddler. I actually came to that decision when I was a junior in college. I come from a family of activists. My parents were actually part of the group that had Michigan State be the first University to divest from apartheid South Africa, and I wanted to go into medicine as a means of service, number one. It combined my love of science, languages, anthropology (my mother is an anthropologist), and social justice. I had been thinking about journalism, and decided that medicine was more for me and combined all the things I love, and I have never looked back.

Do you have any special memories from your time living in Ann Arbor?

Oh, yes, of course. Lots of special memories. I loved Ann Arbor. I lived right there at 431 Glen when I was in medical school, so I could roll out of bed, as sleep is very important to me. Angelo's was the go-to place. Because I had been there for undergrad, I could introduce my out-of-state medical school classmates to places. We would go to the Earl sometimes, and there used to be a special at the Pantry, where you could get $1 tacos. Drake's Sandwich Shop was great, and I was so sad when they closed down. They had something called The Martian Room, which was a green space upstairs with a gazillion jars of candies and chocolates, and I had the best hot chocolate there in the booths.

How would you characterize your experience as an MD student in terms of opportunities and mentorship?

First of all, Dr. Ralph Gibson was a god to us when we were in medical school. The support that you need as a medical student in general is significant, but to me as a student of color specifically, he was somebody really quite special. He was a pediatrician, so you know he was the nicest person on earth. He had a towering presence, but at the same time he was gentle and kind, always with a ready smile and encouragement. He stood out to me.

Dr. Carol Kauffman, an infectious disease faculty, I will never forget when I was a third-year medical student, it was in the middle of the night and there was a patient with pneumonia and she so patiently reviewed the Gram stain with me. She was so kind and thoughtful, and she is somebody that I modeled my own mentoring and teaching style after. As a medical educator myself, when it comes to asking students questions, the average time that faculty wait is three seconds. Of course that may feel like an eternity to a faculty member, but that's like no time for a student who may be nervous and trying to gather his or her thoughts. I just really appreciated her patience and of course her intelligence.

In that same vein, Dr. Bob Bartlett is somebody who is highly respected and internationally renowned. Again, I was a third-year student and it was the middle of the night and I was in the surgical ICU. When you're a student trying to make sense of all of these huge charts that we had at the time - this was before computers - he came down and sat next to me and started explaining everything to me and answered my questions. He was somebody that I admired and appreciated in the moment, and really helped to shape my own mentoring and teaching style.

Sort of full circle this past summer, one of my hospitalized patients was in the ICU and he was on ECMO for a total of four months. Of course ECMO is what Dr. Bartlett originally invented for babies, but this patient was on ECMO for four months and walked out of the hospital. It was a wow moment for me. Dr. Bartlett was my mentor and then I actually got to use his technology to save my patient's life. That's just amazing.

What do you think has kept you connected to Michigan throughout your career?

I'm very loyal human being, and of course being the daughter of academics, and having been both the recipient of education and an educator myself, I pay homage to all of my educators and really appreciate the incredible education that I got at Michigan. Obviously, the faculty there made just incredible impacts and informed who I am as a physician, as an educator, as a clinician and as a human being. This is what I appreciate.

What keeps me connected further is the work that is still happening. I'm so proud of Doctors of Tomorrow. It's a program that I personally support and I believe in the people they're going to help because my work is dedicated towards health equity, and workforce issues are really important. To have somebody like Dr. Finks who saw a need. He looked out into the class and saw that there were no medical students from Detroit, and said, “I've got to change that,” and then to establish this incredible program.

And of course, I'm very proud of the medical school’s leadership curriculum. It aligns with my own philosophy that I believe will help in terms of health equity and moving the needle on disparities. I believe that having this holistic, interdisciplinary, interprofessional approach is the way to look at these wicked, complex problems. Michigan is a leader and an innovator. I'm very proud to have had my time there.

You’ve mentioned in a video that the Rodham Institute was something you've thought about for decades. How did you come up with the idea?

As an undergrad I just had this idea of doing good and that need to make an impact grew as a medical student in a rotation at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit seeing disparities, and then being in the nation's capital at the height of the AIDS epidemic during my residency training, and then finally, taking care of patients from the homeless to the political elite. People in DC from the political elite really don't know anything about these huge disparities. They live here, they work here, but then they don't know anything. I felt that given my voice and as somebody who does care for all these different people and knows all these different circles, I was in a unique position to make a difference.

It's a calling for us as physicians, so I saw the Rodham Institute as something that could really, hopefully, make a dent in terms of medical education eliminating disparities and that would play a role in changing the workforce. It could have all the weight of an academic institution but connect with the community and various organizations and NGOs to create a bi-directional bridge that was respectful. We wanted the community be in the driver’s seat with their agenda, and we're really consultants to help them drive forward. That vision crystallized.

What would you say is your best advice for future physicians, especially since you are engaged with younger people who are interested in health sciences as a possible future career?

When I was program director during orientation with new interns I would say there are two things that are more important than medicine: one is your personal health and the other is your family however you define it because you wouldn't be here without them. You have to remember all of those things. Why are you doing this? Why was it important? And to think of it as a calling because when you think of it as a calling, I think that that really shifts your attitude.

Sometimes when you're training, when you're saddled with the not-so-fun administrative aspects of delivering care, it's easy to get caught up with that. But, I would say that it's like paying taxes. You want to pay the tax as quickly as possible so that you don't accrue interest, and to realize that those aspects are the tax for what we do and that we are just so lucky to have found our passions and that happens to also be in service to human beings.

My father taught me a saying that I really like -- you have to hold two simultaneous truths in your hands: one, that you're the most important person in the world; and two, that you're one of billions. Being the most important person in the world is the aspect of self-care. Being one of the billions is about modesty.

We are in a field where we can always learn. Every single day I am always learning, and to be able to combine sort of the noble aspects of our profession, which is serving human beings at an often vulnerable time, with our love for science and the intellectual aspects of medicine is incredible. Never lose sight of that honor.