Trinity School of Medicine has always prided itself on the strength and ambition of its students. So many future physicians come our way looking for something new; whether that's a unique learning environment built on support and a strong relationship with the faculty, a curriculum with an emphasis on clinical skills and service to patients, or just a true opportunity to live up to their potential.
In this latest edition of our alumni spotlight, meet Dr. Gabriel Labbad. Read about attending Trinity, the opportunities and perspectives he gained from his time there, and his journey from computer science to OB/GYN, and the cutting edge of medical informatics.
What brought you to medicine?
It wasn't a typical path. I started programming at the age of 10 and computers have been a passion ever since. After a 6-year professional career in Information Technology (IT), I returned to school to complete my professional degree. I went to the American University of Beirut and initially planned to pursue a degree in computer science. However, at AUB, I found myself more interested in medicine and philosophy. I pursued philosophy as a major along with pre-med and computer science courses as a path to medical school. The programs were great; it's a spectacular school. Although I performed well in pre-med courses and on the MCAT, I wasn’t sure becoming a doctor was in the cards for me. I always thought of medicine as a noble and challenging profession, requiring years and years of hard work, discipline and dedication; Candidly, I was worried I just couldn’t cut it. I was very fortunate to find my way to Trinity, with faculty members who took me under their wing, mentored me and encouraged me at each step in my career.
I planned to attend the AUB School of Medicine, but twelve days after my undergraduate commencement, war broke out. This was in 2006, and unfortunately, things did not stabilize as I had hoped. When I began my search for medical schools in the United States, I found that I was "out of cycle" as far as domestic deadlines were concerned. Luckily, Trinity was in its first year and still accepting applications. I was in the inaugural class, and honestly, at first, I thought, "I’ll spend a semester on the island see what it’s like." Very quickly though, I realized that the faculty and administration were very supportive, they knew what they were doing, and ultimately, they gave me the kind of mentoring I really needed. Trinity reminded me of my time in undergrad and that was very important to me. My time at AUB helped me focus and grow in great ways at an incredible school. To experience the same feeling again at Trinity was a precious thing. Ultimately, I stayed at Trinity, got a great education, did well on my board exams, and matched right out of Trinity’s inaugural class.
Speaking frankly, I received an education I don’t think I would have gotten somewhere else. Trinity is small, the St. Vincent community is very welcoming, and there's no red tape. The administration hears students out and addresses issues like only a small school can. I actually went back after my sub-internship in OB/GYN and did volunteer work on the island. All in, I delivered 12 babies on St. Vincent pre-residency, did a handful of episiotomy repairs, and had the privilege of assisting in minor and some major surgeries. Prior to leaving St. Vincent again, I had the honor of standing first assist for 5 tubal ligations, 2 cervical conizations, and a c-section. In addition, I also had the opportunity to stand as second assist on a myomectomy and even a bilateral mastectomy. It was incredible, real work and all prior to residency. Trinity was really good for that.
How did it feel heading back to the US for your clerkship years?
As you know, I was in the first class, so we were unsure what to expect, but once we got to our rotations, I felt very well prepared. The clinical fifth term on campus is amazing, so by the time we got to rotations we had a great technical aptitude for the work, more than most students we met from other schools. Trinity was such a new school back then, we kept waiting for something to not quite work out, but it always did. Everything we were promised as that charter class, the school delivered.
Are you still in touch with your classmates from Trinity?
Yes! Very much so. I did my Intern year in New York, where I was diagnosed with leukemia at the start. I was about to quit, really. During that difficult time I found support from my classmates and mentors at Trinity, which I really appreciate. I spent a year and a half between chemotherapy and recovery, ended up going back, and completing residency in New Jersey at Hackensack Meridian. After some work in private practice, I applied for a fellowship in Clinical Informatics at Case Western Reserve University, which is based clinically out of MetroHealth in Cleveland. We have a lot of Trinity students that have come through Cleveland. Speaking of which, I just ran into Dr. Jeni Young a couple of days ago who is here completing her residency in diagnostic radiology and continuing to a fellowship in Interventional radiology. We are a small school within the small world of the medical community. It’s nice to see such strong showing and support from our students.
My two references to Case Western were actually Trinity grads. First, Dr. Adrian Garcia was actually my roommate in Chicago during clinical rotations. He'd graduated from the med-peds program at Metro. The other was Dr. Lauren Blue, who did her prelim year in OB/GYN also at Metrohealth before transitioning to Akron for the rest of her training. The chairman knew her and he called her to ask about me. To her credit, she said, "Yes I know Gabriel! He was a year ahead of me and was my boards tutor! Hire him!"
The Trinity support network is growing and it's incredible. The school is so small, it's not just, "Oh, the school is okay because of this other person." You can ask about someone and nine times out of ten, you've actually studied together. They know your work ethic, your study habits, your passion for patients. It's great.
What about informatics caught your attention?
Informatics is where I fit in and can make meaningful contributions. It combines my background in IT with my passion for medicine. I genuinely believe in the fundamental theorem of informatics – I believe that a human combined with an information resource is more effective than that human working alone. It’s my job to make sure the information resources used by patients, doctors, and researchers are accurate, functional, and above all always focused on the needs of humans utilizing them. Working in informatics is two jobs at once, because you are still very active in the specialty of your primary training, in my case that is OB/GYN, but also you add-on this extra layer of responsibility that involves working with the people, processes, and platforms that we use to do our jobs in this era – that includes things like our electronic medical record (EMR) systems, hospital workflows, and the myriad of ways our doctors and patients interact with the information systems they have to use – be it an app on their phone, a large research database, or something as common as an RFID badge.
I find that in my job I not only get to help patients, but I also get to help other physicians help their patients, help researchers get the data they need to answer an important question, and help the entire system increase in value.
On the work itself, my time is split between what I call “informatics housekeeping” and “academic projects.” With housekeeping, we interface with other physicians in our specialty and make sure the EMR works the way it should and build-in any features that our respective departments might need for their day-to-day tasks. The academics through my fellowship institution and volunteer work with the American College of Obstetricans and Gynecologists (ACOG) are exciting. The goal with our academic work is to affect change within the community and hospital system. My personal interests currently involve obstetric informatics, quality metrics, interoperability, modeling shareable clinical pathways, and community interventions to reduce infant mortality. That's where I feel my work will do the most good.
The tech industry is increasing its involvement with healthcare and I feel that influence can only be a good one. MyChart, HealthKit, CareEverywhere and the myriad of other healthcare apps out there - are bridging the divide between end-users, physicians, researchers, and disparate healthcare systems. This technology is changing the culture of care. I find that informatics sits beautifully at this intersection between technology and healthcare – I expect rewarding things to happen for everyone from patient to payer in the years to come.
What would you say to current Trinity students?
Figure out your passions early. The sooner the better and follow them to their end. There’s so much to do in medicine. The earlier you find that passion and pursue it relentlessly, the happier you will be.
Going abroad to study isn't for everyone, but if it is for you? If you can adapt and focus? It’s so enriching, there's nothing like it in the world. Trinity students spend two years of their life in a gorgeous part of the world that many people spend a lot of money to see, and they get to do it as a student, on a budget. They get to live like a local while focusing like never before, removed from the distractions that they might feel held them back before they came to Trinity.
It’s amazing, the friends, the people, the patients, you don’t get that anywhere else! You will see and do things in Milton Cato you will never have access to at home – things that just don’t exist elsewhere anymore. It's a tremendous learning opportunity that many of my peers will never have. If that sounds like something you want or need, trust me, go for it.