For Dr. Wassam Rahman, Medicine is the Family Business

Wassam Rahman, M.D., has led the Pediatric Emergency Center for nearly 20 years. He talks about what inspired him to go into medicine, how emergency medicine has changed, and some of the lessons we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wassam Rahman, M.D., medical director of the Pediatric Emergency Center at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital
Published in Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital - Summer 2021

Wassam Rahman, M.D., comes from a family of physicians. Though his family is from India, he grew up in Kuwait where his parents were both physicians. As a child, he observed his parents working in an underprivileged village where he observed the challenges and the services they provided. This influential experience made him choose a career in medicine.

“I loved what they did,” says Rahman, medical director of the Pediatric Emergency Center (EC) at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “I guess I never saw myself doing anything else.”

He decided to follow his sister when she came to the United States for college. They attended Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania. After that, he went back overseas to attend medical school.

After graduating from Ross University School of Medicine, Rahman completed his pediatric residency training at Buffalo Children’s Hospital then was in private practice for a year and subsequently completed a fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. He was medical director at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia, before joining Johns Hopkins All Children’s in 1997.

Rahman was initially the assistant director of the EC and subsequently promoted to medical director in 2003. He is very involved in process improvement, quality of care and teaching pediatric residents at the hospital. He represents the EC on numerous committees, and also co-chairs a pediatric emergency medicine conference that provides continuing medical education to community pediatricians, emergency medicine physicians, advanced practice providers and nurses.

How did you end up working in Emergency Medicine?

During my emergency medicine rotation in medical school, I loved the intensity and challenges that seemed to fit my personality, lifestyle and what I enjoyed.

What is the biggest change you have seen in emergency medicine since you started your career?

In some ways, emergency medicine is easier today. We have more hospital support systems (IV teams, transport teams, respiratory therapy), access to specialists and data readily available to us via the electronic medical record. New innovations such as ultrasound, MRI and medications have helped provide better care.
Childhood immunizations have saved a lot of children’s lives and prevented serious diseases. I’m happy I don’t see some of the devastating diseases I saw many years ago. We also depend more on specialized pediatric nurses. They are a special breed of humans. (I’m married to one, by the way.)

The move to the new hospital in 2011 provided us with a state-of-the-art facility to care for kids. Clinicians and patients alike who come here really like it because it’s bright, open and quiet.

As medical director and division chair of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, how do you juggle your administrative responsibilities with the patient care you provide?

It’s not difficult for me. When I’m working in the EC, I don’t look at emails nor delve into other operational issues unless I need to. I just focus on the patients I’m taking care of. I have allotted administrative time to address all issues and ongoing projects. There’s a technical part of my role and there is a people part of it. Working both clinically and with my administrative duties, there is not much consistency in my schedule. So, it is important to work on work/life balancing.

How did COVID-19 affect you personally and professionally?

Our biggest challenge was managing EC patient volumes, which dropped 60%. Some of our clinicians were concerned about job security, although everyone in the EC kept working. No one could see the future of where we were going.

The drop in patient volume was caused in part by fear of coming to a medical facility. People heard on TV, “Don’t come to the ER.” People thought the EC was full of COVID patients. In our case, that was not true.

A large part of our volume are patients with common viral infections. Due to masking and physical distancing typical viral infections were not rampant over the last year. The number of influenza cases was negligible. We saw sicker patients because parents waited longer to bring kids in and only the really sick patients came to the EC.

Personally, since I was home more, I took some time to catch up on things I always wanted to achieve.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated our understanding of our immune system and society as a whole. There are a multitude of lessons learnt for all aspects of life. This is a catalyst for a better life for all of us in the future.

What is something you want patients/families to know about you?

I enjoy reading and learning about history, religion and philosophy. I have an insatiable interest in aviation. I play the guitar, bass guitar and drums. I have a strong belief that knowledge and insight into oneself helps understand and mitigate the world around you. Over the years, the most important thing for me has been the time I spend with my wife, daughter and two sons.