Unconventional research, unusual journey
Date: March 4, 2011
He’s a little embarrassed to admit it, but Adil Haider remembers what made him decide at a very young age to be a trauma surgeon. It was a TV show—Trapper John M.D.—that featured as its hero a surgeon who, Haider says, “could fix everyone.” He knew instantly that he wanted to be that guy.
But Haider’s decision to focus his research on disparities in trauma outcomes took considerably longer.
After spending his early childhood in the Midwest, Haider and his family moved back to their native Pakistan in the early 1980s. There, in a country where poverty abounds and opportunities for higher education are few, he was acutely aware of how fortunate he was to have parents from educated backgrounds and the opportunity to create his own future. So, when he enrolled in the prestigious medical school at Aga Khan University—which devotes about a fifth of its curriculum to public health—he felt an obligation to do the most good for the greatest number.
He thought: “There are only so many people I’ll be able to operate on, but I can exponentially increase the number of people I can touch through public health.”
Seeking to decrease the impact of injuries—like those he would see as a trauma surgeon—he made his way to the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, where he also received a master’s degree. There, he learned the tools and techniques for analyzing data that he would later apply to outcomes research.
But he didn’t discover his niche in trauma disparities until he was completing his fellowship at Hopkins Hospital. Working with former head of trauma surgery Eddie Cornwell, current chief of trauma David Efron and others, Haider discovered that black children with traumatic brain injuries had worse outcomes than white children with equivalent injuries. That was the first of many surprising findings that he’s made since.
Hoping to expand this young field of study, in recent years Haider has been helping to train the next generation of disparities researchers through the Center for Surgery Trials and Outcomes Research, which he codirects. Through the center, public health students—who often are also medical students—are paired with surgeons who share similar research interests. Several of these students have focused on trauma disparities.
Those students, as well as two trauma-outcomes fellows from Surgery each year, are giving Haider and others some company in this budding area of study.
“The field of trauma disparities is very underdeveloped,” Haider says. “In fact, it’s in its genesis phase.”