UMHS 2020 grad Dr. Bahaa Elzein starts an Internal Medicine residency at DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital in Michigan this summer. Dr. Elzein has had quite a journey through medical school, but studying to become a doctor is not the only challenge he’s faced. He recently had a battle with COVID-19 and knows firsthand what an insidious virus it truly is, even for younger Americans.
The UMHS Endeavour spoke to Dr. Bahaa Elzein about how he always wanted to be a doctor, his strong Lebanese-American roots in the Detroit area, why he chose UMHS for medical school, how he survived the coronavirus, and more.
Dr. Bahaa Elzein & his family celebrating obtaining his Internal Medicine residency at DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital in Michigan . Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Elzein
Dr. Bahaa Elzein graduated right before the pandemic began and so he has not worked with COVID-19 patients yet but he knows all about coronavirus regardless.
“Unfortunately, I actually got COVID-19 myself and experienced the virus firsthand,” he said. “It was really a tough illness and I was lucky to fully recover. So, I really understand what all the COVID-19 patients are going through.”
What are some things students and the general public should know about COVID-19?
"Students should know that COVID-19 is definitely a real virus and something to take really seriously. It is very important you always take precautionary measures such as washing your hands thoroughly all the time, continue to practice social distancing, avoid touching your face at all costs, and to educate your friends and families to continue to do these things. The more people practice these patterns, the quicker we will be able to get back to normal times.”
Dr. Bahaa Elzein. Courtesy of Dr. Elzein
Michigan, COVID-19 & Protests
Michigan has one of the biggest problems with COVID-19 and yet there was a huge demonstration by people protesting the governor’s lockdown. What would Dr. Elzein say to people who don’t think they need to worry about COVID-19?
“I would tell these protesters that COVID-19 is 100% real and I myself went through the illness and have the positive test results to prove it,” he said. “This is not a joke and people are dying of all ages. We have 3,567 deaths as of today [April 29, 2020] in Michigan. I experienced the illness; it was the worst illness I have ever experienced in my whole entire life. I had the full pneumonia, rigors, body aches, malaise, fatigue, and a horrible dry cough. This illness is spreading like a wildfire and a protest in that manner is only going to worsen it. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is protecting the citizens of the state. The order is in place to save lives and protect the people. If we don’t take this seriously, the virus will continue to spread and the lockdown order will be in place for even longer.”
What would Dr. Elzein say to younger people under 40 who think they don’t need to worry about COVID-19?
Dr. Elzein quoted a top public health official: “This isn’t just a disease of the elderly,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergency Program, said at a press briefing in March. “There is no question that younger, healthier people experience an overall less serious disease. But a significant number of otherwise healthy adults can develop a more severe form of the disease.”
“Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, among that age 20 to 44 with coronavirus in the U.S. from Feb. 12 to March 16, 14% to 20% were hospitalized. Also, 2%-4% of those individuals required admission to the ICU.”
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Always Wanted to Become a Doctor
Dr. Elzein was born in downtown Detroit and raised in the Dearborn Heights community. The Michigan city of nearby Dearborn contains the highest concentration of Arabs outside the Middle East and is home to the largest Arab American community in the USA.
“I am Lebanese, first generation American and the proud son of immigrants,” he said.
Ever since he can remember, he always wanted to become a doctor.
“I never had any other plan,” he said. “In my house, education is the most important thing. I have always seen how respected physicians are in my community and I always looked up to them.”
Dr. Elzein attended Wayne State University in Detroit and received a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences. What made him decide to choose UMHS as opposed to U.S. or other Caribbean medical schools?
“While I was applying to medical school, I saw an advertisement for UMHS and inquired about it. I was contacted immediately and they told me they have a Michigan office. Being from Detroit I was super excited to be so close and so I attended a seminar. During the seminar, a new graduate who was a resident physician in Michigan at the time gave an amazing lecture and I was so impressed.”
A number of professors in St. Kitts and Maine were especially helpful and inspiring.
“Some of the best professors I have ever had in my life were from UMHS,” he said. “From the absolute beginning, Dr. Rodgers, Dr. Afolabi, Dr. McCracken (who is also from Dearborn, Michigan), Dr. Herrick, Dr. Mungli, Dr. Nagappa, Dr. Roy, Dr. Gowda, Dr. Kumar, Dr. Ambati and my absolute favorite, the G.O.A.T., Dr. Jalan.”
Founded Arab Student Union at UMHS
Dr. Elzein was active in extracurricular activities in St. Kitts and was president and founder of the Arab Student Union and put on such events as Faces of the World, consisting of a representative from each culture on campus. Students introduced their cultural identity to the UMHS student body to educate everyone about diversity.
Dr. Elzein has always believed in the need to educate people about different cultures and ethnicities, especially in these troubled times when there is so much divisiveness and xenophobia.
“Being a part of the clubs on campus and extracurricular activities allowed me to make amazing friends and build relationships from people all over the world,” he said. “When I founded the Arab Student Union on campus, that was my ultimate goal, to eliminate stereotypes and destroy bigotry. It is so important in medicine, to be open and try to understand all cultures. I created the organization to try and educate the student body of all cultures, so that the student body may better understand each other. “
Dr. Bahaa Elzein was quite active when he was in St. Kitts and founded the Arab Student Union. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Elzein.
Benefits of Caribbean Medical Schools
Attending a Caribbean medical school like UMHS is challenging but Dr. Elzein said he believes it was worth it.
“I definitely believe I am at an advantage because I know what it is like to be away from everything. I left my family and friends here in Michigan and I disappeared for a few years. All my distractions were in Michigan, so for me leaving to the island was the best thing I ever did in my life. I had no distractions on the island and I took advantage of the time to study and be the best person I can be. The island made me a better person and I am so thankful to have experienced that. Attending a Caribbean medical school is the reason why I succeeded and became a doctor.
UMHS gave Dr. Elzein the tools he needed to become a doctor.
“UMHS has helped me strengthen many characteristics,” he said. “One in particular is my communication skills. When I got to the island, there were people from all over the world attending the school and I learned to sharpen my communication skills by meeting and speaking to so many different backgrounds. Also, living in Saint Kitts really humbles you. You realize how spoiled we are here in the States. On the island there are no late-night CVS or Walgreens runs, no late-night McDonald’s runs, and unfortunately no Uber Eats or Door dash. Last but not least, UMHS really trained me on being a professional in every way. They taught me to always put the patient’s well-being above self-interests, which allows the patient to have greater trust and confidence in my abilities.”
UMHS professors played a big role in helping Dr. Elzein as a student and also helped him match.
“I believe UMHS professors were such strong teachers and had such unique teaching styles that it allowed me to retain more information. There were times I would round with attendings and I remembered what my basic science professors had stated in class, which helped me stand out! These small things helped me get strong letters of recommendations, which eventually lead me to matching."
Internal Medicine Residency at DMC Huron-Valley Sinai Hospital in Detroit
Dr. Elzein was pleased to learn he matched in Internal Medicine He spoke about his upcoming Internal Medicine residency at DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital in the Detroit area.
“The Detroit Medical Center (DMC) is an alliance of hospitals that encompasses over 2,000 licensed beds, 3,000 affiliated physicians and over 12,000 employees,” he said. “DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital is one of the eight hospitals/institutes composing the Detroit Medical Center. DMC is affiliated with medical schools from Wayne State University and Michigan State University. DMC has one of the largest Graduate Medical Education (GME) in the nation. There are three Internal Medicine residencies affiliated with DMC that take a total of 80 residents per year. Downtown (48 interns), Sinai-Grace (24 interns), and Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital (eight interns). Being from Detroit, I really wanted to stay home and close to my family. I was lucky enough to land a residency so close to home, where I feel most comfortable.”
What interests him the most about Internal Medicine?
“I always wanted to do Internal Medicine because it involves knowing a little bit about everything,” he said. “It is adult medicine 18 and up. It is broad and it covers all types of pathologies. Another reason why I choose Internal Medicine is because if I ever decide later that I want to specialize, then my opportunity to do so is there. Internal Medicine allows you to specialize in Cardiology, Pulmonary/Critical Care, Sports Medicine, Nephrology, Endocrinology, Infectious Disease, and much more. The list goes on and on.
In addition, Dr. Elzein also likes how broad Internal Medicine is.
“You get to see all types of pathologies and every day is something new. Also, the fact that I can specialize in so many unique fields after completing my Internal Medicine residency is also intriguing to me.”
Advice for the Residency Match
Dr. Elzein has many tips for students attending UMHS about studying and also the Match process.
“My advice to current and incoming students is to study smart, not hard. During every one of your classes in basic sciences, take every course seriously and really understand the material. If you study smart for each and every class and perform well on every block, then by the time you start to study for USMLE Step 1, you will just refresh and review everything. You won’t have to study hard. You will be studying smart. Know what is important and always recognize the high yield content. Remember, there are only 280 questions on Step 1, which tells you that they’re going to ask you the top 280 most important topics.”
Dr. Bahaa Elzein proudly displays his M.D. from UMHS. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Elzein
Goals for Residency
Dr. Elzein has many objectives for his residency.
“Some of my goals for residency are to always stay on top of my material and to always stay up to date with the new guidelines,” he said. “I plan to continue working hard and learning as many new things as I possibly can. I hope I can continue meeting new people who push me to be a better person and make me a better physician.”
Finally, he has words of wisdom for all current and future UMHS students.
“If you’re currently on the island or planning to go soon, always remember to enjoy the moment. Just know that you will look back and realize it was some of the best times of your life. Medical school goes by so quickly and by the time you know it, you’re finished and in residency. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.”
Click above or right here for a Facebook video of Dr. Bahaa Elzein and his family celebrating his graduation from UMHS and obtaining residency. Since the 2020 graduation was canceled due to the pandemic, his family honored him in a unique way.
(Top photo) UMHS 2020 graduate Dr. Bahaa Elzein starts his Internal Medicine residency at DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital in Michigan this summer. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Elzein.
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Scott is Director of Digital Content at UMHS and editor of the UMHS Endeavour blog. When he's not writing about UMHS students, faculty, events, public health, alumni and UMHS research, he writes and edits Broadway theater reviews for a website he publishes in New York City, StageZine.com.