The One of a Kind Leader
Mohamed H. Sayegh; an Intimate Profile
As Paracelsus, the Swiss medieval physician, said quite rightly, “medicine is not merely a science but an art. The character of the physician may act more powerfully upon the patient than the drugs employed.” This character, or a physician’s influence on the patient or his/her co-workers, makes a huge difference. This is why a medical student should improve his/her leadership skills besides learning the clinical aspects of care.
Dr. Mohamed H. Sayegh plans to write a book on leadership. “I spent the last 11 years of my life as Dean of medical school and as an executive in healthcare. I learned a lot about leadership,” he says. He is indeed an eminent leader who has served the last decade as the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Executive Vice President of Medicine and Global Strategy at the American University of Beirut (AUB), Lebanon. “After spending 22 years of my academic career as a physician-scientist, this senior-level leadership role shaped the next phase of my academic career. I was responsible for around 5,000 health care professionals,” he says.
Leaders’ performance comes into focus when the situation is of an emergency, and it is most common to be stuck in an emergency when you choose medicine as your career. Anyone who witnessed a surgery gone awry in an operating room appreciates the value of efficient leadership. In medical practice, leaders can take the group performance to higher levels of excellence at any level of the organizational chart by inspiring the staff and encouraging them. They know how to manage the team to stay on a mission in a stressful situation.
Good leadership is based on the wisdom derived from many years of actual failures and successes in the field. “Good leadership is about team formation, caring, mentoring, and creating future leaders,” Dr. Sayegh says. He thinks the essential skills a leader should possess to maximize group performance include “teamwork, functional working groups rather than rigid hierarchy, and investing in the Human Resources.”
He plans to write a book on medical leadership, with “The One of a Kind Leader” as its title, to emphasize that leadership, first of all, is about creating future leaders. It is not surprising that he likes a quote from the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson that “Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Mohamed H. Sayegh is the 10th and the last child of a large family living in Beirut. “I grew up mostly with my nephews and nieces,” he says. He was a city boy accustomed to urban lifestyle but enjoyed picnics and outings with family and friends or through school planning.
Sciences, History, and Arabic literature were his favorite subjects in school. Arabic poetry is still his favorite pastime. The white medical gown, however, was the future garment he envisaged himself in. “I grew up in a family where my older brother was a doctor. When I was young, he was in the States, and he was our idol. I always knew I wanted to be a physician but was not sure about research and discovery until later.” He says.
Mohamed H. Sayegh, following the example of his elder brother, moved to the United States after receiving a medical doctorate from the American University of Beirut in 1984. In the United States, he first completed his Internal Medicine residency at Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio by 1987, and then his clinical fellowship in Renal Medicine and Transplantation Immunology at Harvard Medical School and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston by 1990. He taught in Harvard Medical School from 1990 to 2009, where he ascended to Full Professor of Medicine and endowed a chair in Transplantation Medicine.
In the July of 2009, Dr. Sayegh returned to his alma mater, the American University of Beirut, as the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and the Vice President for Medical Affairs. Besides this, he holds many executive positions and is serving as a special advisor to several high-profile projects.
Dr. Sayegh has received many prizes, awards, and honors in the past four decades, including a mentoring award from the American Society of Transplantation in 2008. He is a member of many learned societies, such as the American Society of Transplantation, which served as its president from 2000 to 2001.
Dr. Sayegh is a prominent researcher and a world-renowned pioneer in fields concerning nephrology, organ transplantation, and transplantation immunology. “When I was doing my internal medicine residency in Cleveland, I was intrigued about research. I got interested in transplantation immunology,” he says.
Dr. Sayegh, a member of many high-impact medical journals editorial boards, has helped these fields proceed through his contributions such as journal publications, book chapters, and a few textbooks.
Dr. Sayegh is pursuing an ambitious plan in the American University of Beirut Medical Center, known as the AUBMC 2020 Vision, which has reversed the brain drain process in the last decade by bringing back more than two hundred Lebanese medical researchers from abroad.
Dr. Sayegh names his wife, Dr. Samia Khoury, as one of those persons who have the most significant influence on his career. Dr. Khoury is herself a professor at the American University of Beirut and a world expert on multiple sclerosis.
Dr. Sayegh thinks he owes much to his mentor at Harvard, the late Dr. Charles B. Carpenter (1933-2012). “Bernie had a big influence on me,” Dr. Sayegh says. Dr. Carpenter, or Bernie to those close to him, was a part of the team that performed the world’s first kidney transplant and a founding member of the American Society of Nephrology, and the American Society of Transplantation, among others. However, Dr. Carpenter, who has been described as a “true pathfinder in the field of transplantation and nephrology,” is mostly remembered as a great mentor to generations of leaders in the field – a niche Dr. Sayegh is determined to occupy.
Dr. Sayegh is a credible calm leader, one that listens patiently to those who come for advice. He is all that it takes to be a great mentor and, through the years, has trained many researchers who are now themselves leaders of renal transplants around the world. “Dr. Sayegh has shown leadership skills very early in his career. His colleagues always sought his advice and guidance. His greatest attribute is his mentorship. He has been a wonderful mentor to many people,” says Dr. Khoury.
Dr. Sayegh has made mentorship his trademark. He is the new Dr. Carpenter to the next generations. It seems the mentorship is something that can at least be caught even if it cannot be taught.