Physician Spotlight: Sammy Khatib, MD

February 1, 2023
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Sammy Khatib portrait

Sammy Khatib, a fellowship trained cardiologist and electrophysiologist at Ochsner Health, was born in Michigan to Syrian immigrants. His mother, a hematopathologist, and his father, an infectious disease specialist, raised two boys in an environment focused on medicine.  The dinner table conversation always centered around cases of the day, and his parents would challenge them to think critically. His father (and mentor) drilled into their heads that effort and attitude – not necessarily innate ability – were the differentiators that enabled one to work through just about anything in life.    

Khatib was always drawn to cardiology because of its complexities and the promise of innovations on the horizon.  He was fascinated with the pace of change in the field. He was in awe of the logic and beauty of the cardiovascular anatomy. He finished undergraduate training at Wayne State University, residency at Georgetown, and fellowship training at the Washington DC VA Medical Center and University of Florida, Gainesville.

Fast forward, decades later. Khatib is a practicing electrophysiologist and head of Cardiology for the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute for Ochsner Health. He’s also section head of the Electrophysiology department. He says he spends two-thirds of his time practicing medicine, and one-third in his leadership role... though some days, he chuckles, “feels like 75/75!”

“I genuinely love being a physician. But being a leader is vastly different. Good leadership is actually a departure from how we were trained as physicians,” reflects Khatib. “We were taught a rather autocratic style: we were raised to be the expert. But in leadership, we can’t solve every problem, nor should we. Sometimes we don’t necessarily have the answers. But it’s our job to ask the right questions… to support the team around us… to empower them… to unlock their brilliance to find solutions that work best for the team, and best for our patients… to share in the decision-making process.”

Perhaps that discernment, as a physician leader, explains (at least in part) the success behind his teams’ efforts over the years to embrace healthcare transformation. “The healthcare trajectory has reached an unsustainable point. The note on overutilization in the past has come due,” he claims.  

To illustrate, he gave the example of his father-in-law who received yearly stress echocardiograms from his local cardiologist. This was despite multiple negative tests, no prior history of coronary artery disease, and being low risk. He was running half marathons without problems. But in his son-in-law’s eyes, more problematic was his father-in-law’s happiness to receive the unnecessary testing every year.

“We cannot sustain this kind of unnecessary, overutilization of care.  We will go over a cliff,” asserts Khatib.

Under Khatib’s leadership, the Ochsner Health heart and vascular team has worked diligently to identify and shift the indicators that impact care efficiencies, cost, quality and outcomes the most.  Rates of same day discharges in the Cath and Electrophysiology departments have favorably skyrocketed in the last several years, averaging between 90% and 100% across the board. His teams reduced risk-adjusted mortality (RAMI) by 59% over 3 quarters in 2022. Expected versus observed mortalities decreased nearly 2% over that same time period. It’s not a coincidence that patient experience scores hover in the 90’s, with some consistently at 100.  The results? The right care, at the right time, in the right place… with happier patients, and happier clinical teams delivering highly reliable, more affordable care.

“This is a transformation, going from volume to value. It’s a change in everyone’s mindset. And it’s a privilege to be a leader forging the change,” commented Khatib.  “As a physician, the one-on-one care we provide and experience with the patient is special. And at Ochsner Health Network, knowing the work we are doing is reaching hundreds of thousands… well, that’s really special. I feel tremendous gratitude for that --- it feeds the fire on tough days.”

When asked if he ever feels burned out, Khatib says, “Without a doubt. It happens from time to time. When you are doing something complex, something difficult, with conflicting objectives and factors that you do not control, burnout is inevitable. For me, I have found Ochsner really helpful in offering tools to deal with personal burnout.”

He has learned that the first step is internally recognizing patterns of thinking and response that result in warning signals, or even certain actions. That recognition within can lead to making a decision to manage the burnout.  For Khatib, he takes time to enjoy his friends and family. He and his wife Gina, a retired teacher and native of Costa Rica, have one daughter, Carolina (16) who attends Sacred Heart. To zone out, he dives into his hobbies (reading and exercise) and takes small breaks to help reframe and re-energize.  

His all-time favorite reads are on the lives of Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt and Malcolm X.  The common denominator among the three? They each had major challenges in their lives, but they overcame them and converted them into strengths. “They were all about action, constantly moving, doing and changing - not just thinkers,” Khatib points out.  And while quite controversial, he admits his fascination with the story of Malcolm X. “He worked with great passion and purpose, but initially, he was going about his work in all the wrong ways. Then he evolved spiritually, genuinely tried to change, and unfortunately died while trying.”

Perhaps Khatib identifies with (and appreciates) the journey of continuous self-improvement in his own life. He shared that “being a physician leader is often challenging, but it’s good.  I love challenging myself. Not only has it made me a better physician, it has made me a better father, husband, and friend.” Khatib is now reading “A Compass to Fulfillment” by Kazuo Inamori, a Japanese industrialist and management leader who became a Buddhist monk and infused his work with spirituality. Sounds like Khatib’s own compass to fulfillment is indeed pointing true north.

Follow Dr Khatib on Doximity, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Dr. Khatib and his father
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