Home Profile An MD, an MBA and a war

An MD, an MBA and a war

July 2013

Published in the July 2013 issue of Today’s Hospitalist

WAEL KHOULI, MD, MBA, is enjoying a career arc familiar to many hospitalists. He started working full time at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minn., in 2004, but has since been lured into management. While he still sees patients, the bulk of his day is spent working as an administrator for three HealthEast Care System hospitals.

But Dr. Khouli, who earned his executive MBA from Yale this May, is putting his business experience to a unique use: creating a database to guide supply chain management for hospitals in opposition-controlled Syria. What began as an MBA assignment took on new life during a 10-day trip to Turkey and Syria last fall. The project is part of an ongoing personal mission to help the country where he was born and raised “and where many within his extended family still live.

Last summer, Dr. Khouli began working with the Syrian American Medical Society, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that supplies funding and training to medical facilities in areas under opposition control. As part of that work, he first traveled to Turkey, then entered Syria illegally. (He let his Syrian passport expire years ago and the Turkish government allows only Syrian nationals to cross the border.)

There, Dr. Khouli visited both a field hospital and a private hospital in the Idlib province of northwestern Syria. Field hospitals have sprung up as an alternative to private hospitals, and for good reason.

“From the beginning of the uprising,” Dr. Khouli says, “the regime targeted doctors and medical providers who tried to help protesters. The field hospitals were started so protesters could be treated.” Many hospitals in opposition-controlled areas rely entirely on funding and supplies from outside organizations, like the NGO Dr. Khouli continues to work with.

The database he’s developing should create “one coordinated communication channel linking all the hospitals and the NGOs.” That’s a distinct possibility, Dr. Khouli adds, now that hospitals in most opposition-controlled areas have access to satellite Internet. And while the fighting continues to escalate, he says a structured department of health is beginning to emerge in a few provinces.

He also notes that the war has not been without personal costs. One of his cousins has been killed, while three others have been arrested and another is missing.

Dr. Khouli continues to divide his time between his administrative day job and the phone calls he makes to physicians in Syria on his way home.

“It’s almost like flipping a switch and going to that other life for a couple of hours,” says Dr. Khouli. “Then the next day, I’m back to work as if there’s nothing else happening outside.”