FIT September Spotlight: Heval Mohamed Kelli, MD

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Each month, the ACC On-Call For FITs Newsletter highlights the achievements of one FIT. The Section would like to recognize Heval Mohamed Kelli, MD, an FIT at Emory University in Atlanta. In this interview, Kelli describes his involvement with the ACC, career goals, research interests and advice for new cardiovascular FITs.

What are your plans after completing your preventive cardiology fellowship?
My plan is to work in underserved communities and focus on the prevention of cardiovascular disease through education, clinical practice and research. It would be ideal to stay at an academic center to continue my research interests in cardiovascular disease and socioeconomic status while mentoring and educating medical students, residents and fellows. While building a strong foundation for clinical practice and education, I will also continue advocating for underserved Americans and uniting our country through education, health and presence in these communities.

What do you enjoy doing outside of cardiology?
Cardiology is a profession that extends beyond the clinical practice. I found a passion for healing the heart of our country by serving the underserved and advocating for improving education and health in their communities. I lived in these areas as a newly arrived refugee in the U.S. and have been blessed to go from barely scraping by as a refugee washing dishes across the street from Emory University to being one of their cardiology fellows. My success is the result of others being there for me and mentoring me along the way. Now, it is my duty to build the same network and foundation for others who want to pursue their dreams. In addition to my advocacy work, I enjoy cooking Kurdish food and visiting refugee families with my wife, Kazeen, who recently finished her cardiology fellowship. We are trying to exercise more because the only disadvantage of being friends with refugees is gaining weight. They are excellent cooks and very generous. We enjoy a lot of delicious feasts.

Tell us about the Young Physicians Initiative (YPI) and how you came about your role as a founder and executive director.
The concept of the YPI started in 2016 based on my life journey and the power of being present in underserved communities. I remember being invited to speak at my former high school in Clarkston where I first attended when I arrived as refugee in September 2001. Clarkston is an underserved city with a population of mainly minorities and refugees. Our neighbors were hardworking, blue-collar people. Doctors and professionals did not live in our neighborhood. I only spoke to the students for 10 minutes about my journey and experience as a doctor. I left my email on my slides after my talk. On the very same night, I received many emails from high school students in the audience sharing their struggles and challenges of pursuing a career in medicine. Most of them did not believe that they could be doctors. Why? They do not know any doctors and had no access to them as mentors. One young lady shared with me that after hearing my talk, she decided to believe in her lost dream of becoming a cardiologist. As a result of that night, I realized that my presence of 10 minutes inspired those students.

I decided to approach the mayor of Clarkston, Ted Terry, and the school transition specialist, Ms. Hall, and we piloted a pre-medical program focused on inspiring high school students from underserved backgrounds to go into medicine. I wanted to bring our presence to communities where students do not have access to medical professionals. At the same time, a first-year medical student, Hannah Williams, approached me about her passion to serve. We built a curriculum under the guidance of my lifelong mentor, Omar Mahmoud Lattouf, MD, PhD, FACC. We created a program that is easy to implement through a sustainable and innovative approach. The program focuses on bringing the fun of medicine to the classroom by going through medical cases just like rounds in residency training, teaching about the medical school application process and bringing inspirational medical speakers to the students. The sessions are only one hour, once a month during after-school activities throughout the academic year. Each high school is led by two medical students who work with the school administrators to coordinate the YPI sessions. We are expanding to our fourth high school with a team of over 10 medical students. Georgia State University is collaborating with us on bringing YPI to their undergraduate pre-med students. YPI is a simple program that can be implemented in any school across the nation as it is sustainable and has a powerful impact on the community.

How do you approach a work-life balance?
It is all about making choices and finding meaning in your life. My community service and advocacy motivate me to be a better cardiologist every day. When I volunteer in a free clinic or help someone take a step closer to their dreams, I wake up with a purpose to do the same for my patients in my clinical practice. Being a physician is a lifestyle that needs to be nurtured and renewed with love and support.

Who do you consider to be mentors?
Mentorship is an expanding constellation of people who provide you the necessary motivation and guidance toward achieving your goals. My first mentor was my mother, who dedicated herself to my brother and me to achieve our dreams of becoming doctors. She taught me the essential basics of medicine even before I began thinking about it. She educated us about treating people the way you want your family to be treated. Throughout my journey, I was blessed to meet people who invested their time and efforts to help me with my goals. Hard work and intelligence are necessary, but the support of others is the essential component of success. Mentorship is based on someone believing in your success even when sometimes you doubt it, just like my experience with Lattouf – a world-renowned heart surgeon who reached out to me when I was in my sophomore year at Georgia State University. I was struggling with learning English and supporting my parents, so the dream of becoming a doctor was an illusion rather than reality. He guided me through it and today I am in the position to discuss cases with him.

Mentorship is an evolving platform of support that expands over time. Georgia State University provided me the foundation for learning and confidence in pursuing my dream during my undergraduate studies. Morehouse School of Medicine nurtured my compassion for service and serving the underserved as a medical student which expanded during my internal medicine residency training at Emory University. The Emory cardiology fellowship provided the excellent support and education in my clinical and academic training in cardiology. I remember the helpful guidance by our Emory fellowship director Robbie Williams, MD, during the application process. He took the time to be there and provide necessary support to be ready for fellowship. As a Katz Foundation Fellow in preventive cardiology and a research fellow on the METRIC NIH funded grant, I was fortunate to have amazing research mentors such as Arshed A. Quyyumi, MD, FACC; Viola Vaccarino, PhD, MD; and Laurence S. Sperling, MD, FACC, who dedicated their expertise, wisdom and passion toward advancing my research career. It is also important to remember that your co-fellows are also your mentors and provide you the needed energy and support during training. For example, my research co-fellows, Muhammad Hammadah, MD, and Ayman S. Tahhan, MD, were always available to advance my research skills and projects. My first senior fellow, Nikoloz Koshkelashvili, MD, was dedicated to my learning and always remained patient during my progress in my first month of clinicals. In the end, success is the cumulative result of indirect and direct acts of support and kindness from the people around you.

Are you working on any of ACC's committees?
I was inspired when I heard about the ACC Diversity and Inclusion Initiative and one of its objectives of focusing on a deep pipeline of recruiting underrepresented minorities in medicine and cardiology. This task force combines my passion for mentorship and being present in underserved communities. I am excited to work closely with role models such as Pamela S. Douglas, MD, MACC, and Kim Allan Williams Sr., MD, MACC, and look forward to collaborating and presenting components of the YPI curriculum and pipeline recruiting strategy to the Task Force.

How did you become involved with the ACC?
I have been attending various conferences and trainings hosted by the ACC for a while now. Many of its members are mentors of mine and they always encourage me to be involved with the ACC. The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force allowed me to focus my passion for education, service and mentorship in one direction.

What is your message for FITs who are interested in getting involved with activities of the ACC?
The ACC provides the necessary support and platform to excel as a cardiologist while building the foundation to be a leader in our communities. I have been very fortunate to find my passion for mentorship and service in the ACC.

This article was authored by Sena Kilic, MD, editor-in-chief of the ACC On-Call For FITs Newsletter.