Voices That Transform ABIM: Dr. George M. Abraham

Voices That Transform ABIM: Dr. George M. Abraham

George M. Abraham, MD, is the incoming chair of the ABIM Infectious Disease Board, and will begin his term in July 2018. He is currently a member of the Infectious Disease Board and is board certified in Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease. He lives in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, and is Chief of Medicine at Saint Vincent Hospital, Worcester, Massachusetts, and Professor of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School.

ABIM is proud that our diverse governance boards and committees, which include practicing doctors from various backgrounds, regions, practice settings and age ranges who are committed to working with the community to enhance ABIM programs. We invite you to get to know Dr. Abraham by reading more below.

Dr. Abraham has served as a Trustee of the Massachusetts Medical Society, as President of the Worcester District Medical Society, as the Chief Medical Officer of the Central Massachusetts Independent Physician Association and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts.

He has received several awards including the Alpha Omega Alpha Volunteer Faculty Award and the Outstanding Primary Care Educator Award of the University of Massachusetts Medical School; the Leadership Award of the MA chapter of the ACP; and the Phi Lambda Sigma honorary Membership, MCPHS, Worcester, Massachusetts, among others.

His research interests include hepatitis C and B disease, travel medicine and infection control, as well as medication safety and systems improvement. He has authored several publications, abstracts and book chapters, and presented at national and international meetings.

Dr. Abraham earned his medical degrees from the Christian Medical College, India, completed his residency and chief residency at Saint Vincent Hospital, and received his master’s degree in public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Why did you want to become a physician?  I was terrible at math in school and liked the biological sciences more. That fascination led me to explore a career in medicine, and I have had no regrets since.

Can you share an interesting perspective from your medical training in India?  Medical education in India follows the British system of education and training. My medical school class had only 50 students and so we were really under the “microscope” during our training. At a time when duty hours or other restrictions didn’t exist, one learned quickly from a lot of hands-on training. Additionally, in a resource-poor country where patients paid for their care, I think I benefitted most from learning to use clinical judgment. High-end imaging and other sophisticated tests were a luxury. That training has been foundational in developing the skill to use laboratory testing/imaging as an adjunct and not a replacement for critical thinking, which I use even today in practice and in my conversations with my trainees.

Do you remember the day you earned board certification? Can you share a little about that experience? I still remember learning that I had first passed my boards. I had already done residency in India and been through the rigors of a written and a two-day bedside examination with live patients, so taking the examination in the format that was administered here was different, but more anxiety-provoking because it was a more rigorous test of my interpretive skills, my ability to piece together information, etc.  It was also a matter of pride to consider myself board certified, as an independent validation of my competence. 

What is one thing you learned about ABIM after joining a board/committee? A lot of the myths around pass rates, finances, the working of the ABIM, etc. have become much more apparent to me. During my tenure on the ABIM Infectious Disease (ID) board, I have seen the effort by ABIM to change its administration of MOC in response to diplomates, the development of a blueprint for the specialty exams and continue to learn more through conversations about how testing will change in the future as information access and delivery changes.

What goals do you have as the incoming ABIM Infectious Disease Board Chair? I hope to strengthen relationships with the ID community at large to further highlight the cognitive aspects of the specialty, work to make the process of MOC more representative of the practice settings and demands of the specialty and continue to foster the process of integrating diversity into all aspects of ABIM leadership, as has already been initiated even with my own participation.

What interested you about the field of infectious disease? The intellectual challenge and my experience working in Uganda and Kenya in the initial years of the HIV epidemic stimulated my interest in the field. (Listen to other ID Board members talk about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in a recent podcast.) While working at the Communicable Disease Center in Singapore, I reported the first case of visceral leishmaniasis in Singapore in an immigrant worker and that sealed my future interest in the world of infectious disease. 

Surgeons recently safely transplanted kidneys from donors with Hepatitis C. Can you share your thoughts on this medical breakthrough and what it means for the future of hepatitis care? My interest in hepatitis C developed over the last 20 years when it was still a primary specialty of gastroenterologists or hepatologists and very few ID physicians were involved. Over the years, I have been a part of the transition from interferon-based therapy to the direct-acting antiviral agents and have celebrated the immense successes of the new regimens in curing disease with minimal adverse effects. The recent reports of being able to cure hepatitis C in a recipient after transplantation of a positive liver is an amazing breakthrough and speaks volumes of the success of treatment, to the extent that it mirrors the Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Faster, higher, stronger), which was the title of a recent review I published on the direct-acting agents.

What is the best advice you received about being a doctor? This profession provides an opportunity to make a difference in another’s life, and therefore holds one to a higher standard of behavior, responsibility and education because someone’s life depends on the decisions we make.

What is something your colleagues may not know about you? I do choral singing as part of my wellness and lead an organization that puts up musical concerts for charitable projects around the globe.

Also, it is possible to be self-employed in clinical practice and still devote time to academic pursuits, leadership and volunteer activities. As an ABIM Board, member I’m proud to be connected to and representative of the practicing community at large.

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