Ashish Shah, M.D., M.B.A., says his parents had the life spectrum covered. Dad was a neonatologist working with newborns. Mom was a forensic pathologist performing autopsies in the medical examiner’s office.
Shah thought he wanted to go into medicine, but he explored his options. In high school, he volunteered at a hospital, transporting patients and lab samples, attending education sessions and doing other tasks. In college, he dabbled in politics, interning with a U.S. senator. He also worked in a research lab, exploring both clinical and basic research.
“What I realized in all of my activities is that I enjoy being with people, and I enjoy making a difference, so I think both of those two needs put me more toward medicine because it allowed me to interact with families, interact with people, peers, the community and it allowed me to make a difference,” says Shah, now medical director of patient safety and quality in the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Shah recently talked about his career, how he came to Johns Hopkins All Children’s and a hidden talent.
How did you come to specialize in pediatric cardiology?
As I completed medical school, I initially thought I was going into hematology-oncology. But within a few months of starting pediatric residency, I realized that it wasn't really for me. I realized I'm an adrenaline junkie. I liked high acuity, I liked quick results and I enjoyed physiology, the functions of the body and its parts.
I thought I might be a critical care physician, but then suddenly I discovered cardiology. Cardiology gave me the physiology. It gave me the emotional reward of the long-term relationship with the families. It also let me go into any part of the hospital — the intensive care units, the Emergency Center etc. It gave me so many opportunities to be a part of patients’ lives.
When most people think of doctors who work on the heart, they think of the heart surgeon. How do you explain what a cardiologist does?
I tell them I'm the person who guides you on your journey. I set your child up for success before surgery and continue to maintain your child's highest level of quality of life after surgery.
You and some colleagues were honored through the Johns Hopkins Medicine Clinical Awards for developing the heart “Flight Plan.” Tell us about that.
The flight plan concept has been in the literature for a few years and has been adopted at a few places. Similar to a plane taking off and landing, the idea is to try to analyze what things along the way you need to have a safe journey for all those people on a plane. There are different pieces that go into that. It's understanding and reflecting on the systems that are designed to prevent human error from occurring.
So, using that model applied to medicine, we analyze everyone who helps get the patients into, through and out of the operating room, and help them recover. We have a meeting every week where we analyze these systems and how we performed. It gives us nearly real-time opportunities to analyze and adjust systems so they are working well. It makes our team better, our Heart Institute better and leads to better care for our patients.
You’re medical director for patient safety and quality in the Heart Institute. In addition to the flight plan, what other things are you doing for patient safety?
We obviously monitor our safety outcomes based on the Solutions for Patient Safety, or SPS. That's the national-level data. The hospital helps filter that to us. We're constantly reviewing what we did well, whether we are showing consistent good processes and how are the patients actually faring?
From the quality improvement piece of it, I look at the different areas within the Heart Institute and I try to motivate each part. I look at all of those different wings of ours, and I say can each of us do a project to help advance the care of patients, not just maintain a status quo. What can we do to improve? Interestingly, there are many published benchmarks in pediatric cardiology and we use them to help us understand our outcomes.
You mentioned your parents, who immigrated from Mumbai, India, in 1971 as role models. Aside from going into medicine, how do you try to follow their lead?
I look at the things that my father did in his career as a parent, the sacrifices he made, the tools he gave me to be successful as an individual in a community and then also being a successful parent and a successful physician. I try to try to mimic things like that.
What’s something people would find surprising about you?
I enjoy dancing. I didn't know I was a good dancer until I arrived at college. I participated in my first South Asian American cultural show. The organizers requested, “We need more guys in the shows.” I said, “I'll do it.” At one of the practices, one of the choreographers came over to me and mentioned: “Do you know you can dance really well?” I personally took the complement and participated in organized cultures and amateur Hip-Hop dance shows throughout my college career.
Do you have a favorite style of dance?
I actually enjoy the ones where the speed of the music is fast paced. I also like watching large groups of people moving in sync. I'm always amazed by people who can dance fast. Pretty much any musical rhythm from around the world that is fast suits me.
Aside from dancing, what do you do to take your mind off work?
I just enjoy being a dad. When caring for other peoples’ loved ones, it takes away from our personal time. So, my “me time” is just being engaged with my wife and kids. We travel. We take day trips. Explore various cultural events in Tampa or around the Bay area. We try to do activities as a family.