By Kevin Begos
A Doctor Goes Home
Feras Hawari returned to the Middle East with a mission to help improve health care in his home country
By Kevin Begos
Subject: Dr. Feras Hawari. Diagnosis: Homesick.
That was the shorthand for Feras Hawari’s condition in 2004. A pulmonologist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., Hawari had spent 11 happy years studying and working in the U.S. But after more than a decade abroad, he was eager to return to his hometown of Amman, Jordan, motivated to reconnect with his family and heritage—and to help Jordan during a critical period of health care growth and transition.
Hawari, 40, is now a pulmonologist and critical care specialist at the King Hussein Cancer Center in Amman, and he feels a sense of purpose in his contribution to the country’s ever-modernizing health care system. “I think part of it is because in the U.S., there are a lot of people who can contribute. When you move to Jordan, and you find how much impact you can have, you get a lot of professional satisfaction.”
For instance, patients at the King Hussein Cancer Center had been under the impression that a trip to the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) was “a death sentence,” Hawari says. “And we said, listen guys, we’re going to show you the reality that you can actually survive.” Hawari helped implement major changes in the ICU, and tracked the results. “And we showed that over the years the mortality rates really dropped nicely from 35 to 23, 22 percent. So we say listen, yes, people with cancer, they’re sicker, but we can still give them good care.”
Hawari is also proud of his efforts to establish a local smoking-cessation program, especially with the severity of the smoking problem in Jordan, where at least one-third of the population uses tobacco. According to Hawari and other health professionals, growing numbers of young people are starting to smoke, and he believes this increase will have a tremendous impact on the incidence of lung cancer and other smoking-related illnesses in about 15 to 20 years. “So if we don’t do something, it will really be a disastrous situation,” he says.
Some aspects of practicing medicine in Jordan may, at first glance, sound more appealing than some in the U.S.: Fewer lawsuits. No insurance companies guiding a doctor’s every move. But Hawari says the situation does not necessarily result in better care. “We don’t have malpractice and medical/legal laws and regulations,” he says. “And I think that’s, in a way, bad. There is no guidance and no supervision on people who are providing medical care.” Moreover, while U.S. physicians may experience pressure from the systems that American insurance companies and Medicare use to track health care resources and determine reimbursements, such systems can also drive better quality care, he believes. “There should be a balance.”