“Our vision at SSMC is to be the leading integrated healthcare destination for complex and seriously ill patients.”
In this exclusive interview, Dr. Naser Ammash, CEO of Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC), delves into his professional journey, the operational ethos of SSMC, and the future of healthcare innovation.
Can you tell us about your journey to becoming the CEO of Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City?
My journey began as a cardiologist, with my entire training in the United States, culminating at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in 1994. Since joining the Mayo staff, my career has spanned over almost 29 years, encompassing roles as a physician, educator, and researcher. My initial primary goal was to become a Professor at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine which I did in 2010. I gradually took on leadership roles, starting in 2008, eventually becoming the chair of the cardiovascular practice at Mayo Clinic in 2014. My path to becoming a CEO was unplanned. It came as a great opportunity in 2019. I initially aspired merely to excel in the field of academic cardiology. My administrative skills were honed on the job, reflecting a natural progression through various leadership roles at Mayo, an institution known to develop leaders in Healthcare.
How do you balance your roles as a practitioner and a manager?
Balancing these roles is vital, particularly in a physician-led organization like Mayo Clinic, which influenced my approach at Mayo Clinic Rochester and at SSMC in Abu Dhabi. In my prior administrative positions, I had maintained a significant portion of my time dedicated to patient care, teaching, and research. I believe being a practicing physician has made me a better leader, as my decisions are always grounded in what is best for our patients which is our primary value. The ability to blend clinical and administrative perspectives is crucial in managing a large healthcare institution. Currently, as a CEO at SSMC, my time is fully committed to leading and managing SSMC without any clinical responsibilities though I have continued to teach and provide expert opinion as needed.
Do you believe that a medical background contributes to better managerial work in healthcare?
Absolutely. In healthcare management, especially in a patient-first setting like ours, understanding the clinical aspect of patients’ needs is crucial, especially in relation to quality of care and the importance of education, research and innovation. I say this without forgetting the importance of the other domains in healthcare delivery especially service delivery and financial sustainability. Our leadership model at SSMC, which we’ve adapted from Mayo, involves a dyad-triad leadership model based on partnership between physician leaders and administrative and nursing colleagues. This ensures a comprehensive approach to how we lead and manage the organization, balancing clinical needs with operational- business needs while executing on the strategic plan. It underscores the value of partnership, complimentary skillsets, interconnected disciplines in achieving the best outcomes for patients, staff and the organization.
What is the vision driving Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City?
Our vision at SSMC is to develop a destination medical center specialized in treating complex and seriously ill patients. This was identified as a critical need by Abu Dhabi healthcare leaders. We aim to be the most integrated healthcare destination, with 46 specialties working in unison. Our approach is patient-centric, ensuring that team-based care is provided to each patient. This integrated practice model, derived from Mayo Clinic’s ethos, is fundamental to our operations.
How does SSMC contribute to strengthening the healthcare sector in the UAE?
SSMC fills a vital gap in the region’s healthcare industry, particularly in providing complex care for patients who would otherwise seek treatment abroad. Our focus is on multi-disciplinary care across all age groups, from neonates to adults. This not only serves the immediate health needs of our community but also contributes to the overall sustainability of healthcare in the UAE. Our goal is to bring the excellence in service and quality, associated with Mayo Clinic, to patients here, close to where they live, reducing the need for overseas medical travel. The most important goal of our team is to bring trust into the quality of care delivered and generate loyalty to SSMC in Abu Dhabi.
What differentiates SSMC from other medical institutions in the region?
SSMC stands apart through unique services like our burn unit, the only one in the nation, our role as a trauma center for Abu Dhabi, but most importantly our model of care with a multidisciplinary approach where there is a clear and strong integration between all 46 clinical specialties to take care of one patient at a time supported by the nonclinical teams. Our connection with Mayo Clinic brings expertise and excellence to the UAE with optimal Mayo physical presence on SSMC ground, and a strong focus on education and research, making us a three-shield institution. Our governance model, emphasizing partnership, shared responsibilities toward our patients and stakeholder, while being grounded by our values are equally important. All of these elements, together with our business model, we believe are our differentiators.
Can you elaborate on the patient experience at SSMC?
Patient experience is a cornerstone of SSMC. We aspire to blend top-notch and trusted medical care with great hospitality and a “Category of One” service. Our hospital is a state-of-the-art, beautiful facility, but what truly sets us apart is our commitment to service of excellence. This is not the responsibility of the “patient experience“ team but everyone who works at SSMC. Training our team members in an empathic and holistic approach to healthcare, focusing on the body, mind, and soul, are integral to our strategy. Our patient satisfaction scores have been steadily improving, a testament to our successful approach. This is an excellent example of the shared responsibility toward our patients that we have been able to create in the past two to three years.
Is there a follow-up system for patients after they return home?
Yes, post-discharge care is a critical component of our patient experience to monitor their response to treatment or follow up on additional testing. Nurses from our inpatient units follow up with patients to ensure their well-being. We also have many physicians who do that, as that connectivity to patients is very important. Beyond this, we are establishing disease registries to monitor long-term outcomes and publish those in peer-reviewed journals. These registries are crucial for demonstrating SSMC’s added value proposition we bring to Abu Dhabi while also conducting meaningful research to continually improve patient care and outcome.
What initiatives are in place for medical education and professional development at SSMC?
Education is a key pillar for SSMC. We knew since our inception in 2020 that without the strongest and most developed education shield, we will not be able to accomplish our mission. Accordingly, we created the framework where continuous learning is inserted in everyday activities, and have intentionally developed five education centers focusing on various aspects of medical education, from undergraduate to continuous professional development. We collaborate with local and international like-minded universities, and our educational efforts extend to training foreign students as well. Our aim is to educate and train the next generation of healthcare professionals and leaders who are familiar with our model of care and healthcare delivery while promoting workforce sustainability in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. In 2023, we had close to 600 learners among us across all domains – another testament to a very well-executed strategy by an outstanding education team.
What has been the main contribution of Mayo Clinic to SSMC?
Mayo Clinic’s influence pervades every aspect of SSMC. From the multidisciplinary integrated medical practice model supported by education and research, to our governance as a physician-led institution in partnership with administration, to our focus on quality of care, “Category of One” service guided by our common primary value of putting the needs of our patients first. Mayo Clinic’s ethos is integral to our operations. Their 159 -year legacy in healthcare excellence significantly shapes our approach to service delivery, quality, and innovation guided by our common values.
What are your thoughts on the integration of AI in healthcare?
Machine learning and AI have revolutionized healthcare. They have demonstrated the ability to make us work “smarter”, enhancing efficiency along the different domains of the value chain of healthcare delivery with a great potential to improve job satisfaction and work experience, not to forget AI’s ability in early disease detection, and acceleration of innovative technologies and treatment and enhancing medical education. In my opinion, it’s important to remember that Artificial Intelligence (AI) complements the human element in healthcare delivery. The human touch in our approach to care delivery, empathic communication, and direct patient interaction remain crucial components of patient care and what patients are looking for.
Can you share insights into SSMC’s future projects and plans?
Our future projects are aligned with our strategic plan to be the premier destination for complex and seriously ill patient care. We continue to execute very well on SSMC’s multi-year plan with continued primary focus on trusted quality, service excellence, education, research and sustainability which for us has three dimensions; environmental , workforce-social and financial sustainability.