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Aysha H. Khoury, MD, MPH, FACP
Clinical Decision Unit Internist, Southeastern Permanente Medical
Group, Atlanta, GA
Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA
Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, GA
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people
will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made
them feel." --Maya Angelou
This quote by Maya Angelou is a source of inspiration for Dr.
Aysha Khoury, an internist who cares deeply about connecting with
patients. "My interaction with patients is what is most rewarding
to me," says Dr. Khoury, "and the best reward is someone trusting
you enough to let you know what's going on in their lives, so that
you can treat them effectively."
In her role as a Clinical Decision Unit (CDU) internist at The
Southeastern Permanente Medical Group (TSPMG) in Atlanta, Dr.
Khoury loves the amount of time she spends with patients in the CDU
setting. "We see patients who are too ill to be home, but may need
24 hours or less of evaluation and care." TSPMG's CDU is the first
outpatient 24-hour observation unit (unconnected to a hospital)
established in the state of Georgia. Typical illnesses treated in
the CDU might include congestive heart failure exacerbation, chest
pain, pneumonia, renal failure, COPD exacerbation and
Dr. Khoury believes it is essential to build a rapport with
patients. "Patients need to know that you care and that it's not
just a job." Before she begins clinical discussions, Dr. Khoury
says she always looks for a way to connect with a patient.
Sometimes it's a discussion about food, sports, or the patient's
cultural heritage. "Getting to know the patient better is helpful,"
says Dr. Khoury, "because I might discover the patient is suffering
from depression and not stomach pain."
The process of discovery is what stimulated Dr. Khoury's
interest in medicine as a child. Fascinated by what she was
learning in her 5th grade health class, Dr. Khoury says she loved
the idea that a physician is a medical detective, studying evidence
and figuring out what is wrong.
Curiosity and courage
Solving mysteries and helping others is a trait she shares with
her only sibling, her younger brother who is a police officer with
the Atlanta Police Department. Dr. Khoury laughs, "Yes, different
careers, but we both like investigating problems." Their curiosity
and desire to serve others is likely the result of their father's
Born in Toronto, Canada, to a mother from Trinidad and a father
from Sierra Leone, Dr. Khoury says it was her father who raised her
and her brother and moved them from Toronto to Atlanta when she was
8 years old. With obvious pride, Dr. Khoury says that her father's
willingness to move to a foreign country—alone, with two young
children in tow-was an act of courage that well defines him and
left an indelible mark on her. "My father," she says "is a person
of extraordinary faith and incredible humility. He taught me I
could be whatever I wanted, as long as I worked hard."
And Dr. Khoury has indeed worked hard. After graduating high
school from the prestigious Woodward Academy in Atlanta, she went
onto Georgia State University where she earned her bachelor's
degree in biology, and then onto Morehouse School of Medicine where
she received her medical degree. Dr. Khoury says she enjoyed all of
her medical clerkships and considered specializing in pediatrics;
but, when she began her medical residency in pediatrics, she says,
"I was miserable."
"I thought it was because I was an intern," says Dr. Khoury.
"Interns are supposed to be miserable, right? But then I got to
Internal Medicine, and it was extraordinary. Internal Medicine is
just so vast and intellectually stimulating," Plus, she candidly
admits, "I'm too soft-hearted. Working with sick children was too
hard for me."
After completing her residency, Dr. Khoury practiced clinical
medicine for a year, and then returned to Morehouse to earn a
master's degree in public health. "A part of me felt that clinical
outpatient practice was not going to be enough," she says, "I went
from trying to figure out what is wrong with patients, to asking,
'how can we keep whole groups of people well?'"
"It's not hard to diagnose a diabetic," says Dr. Khoury, "the
hard part is answering the questions, 'does this patient have a
safe place to exercise, access to healthy food, and enough money to
buy medication?'" Yet, despite her passion for the field of public
health, Dr. Khoury quickly returned to clinical medicine. "Frankly
speaking," she admits, "it is an extraordinary experience to help
one individual at a time. It's a really personal experience."
The tale of the advocate . . .
Dr. Khoury credits ACP Master, Jacqueline Fincher, MD, for
recruiting her into the fold of ACP. After hearing Dr. Fincher
speak on the topics of Medicare, Medicaid, and advocacy at a
medical economics course that was part of her residency program,
Dr. Khoury says she got hooked on advocacy. "I thought, here is a
way I can fight for my patients, not only as their personal
physician, but also in the political spectrum. That was very
important to me."
"Dr. Fincher really embodied for me what it is to be an
internist and what professionalism looks like outside the clinic,"
she says. Dr. Khoury became active in the ACP Georgia Chapter,
served as the Chair of its Council of Early Career Physicians, and
was named the 2011 recipient of the Chapter's Outstanding Resident
in Volunteerism and Advocacy Award. In addition to her service to
ACP, Dr. Khoury has provided medical education to teenagers and
adults, helped the Georgia Department of Public Health create
guidelines to improve emergency response efforts, and she supports
CARE, the international humanitarian organization dedicated to
As a clinical practitioner with a public health background, Dr.
Khoury is particularly impressed with the mission of groups like
CARE and Doctors without Borders. "What does it take for someone to
be healthy?" she asks, "Things like safe food, water, shelter, and
having access to education. If we can give people those building
blocks, we can improve health both nationally and
. . . and the armpit
An avid reader and fan of National Public Radio, Dr. Khoury has
a passion for subjects beyond medicine-especially culture,
politics, and history. She also enjoys hiking, practicing yoga, and
is very involved in her church; and not surprisingly, the church's
volunteer activities-efforts to help the victims of tornados and
providing assistance to the homeless.
Dr. Khoury's spirituality and love for science do not simply
co-exist—for her, they are one and the same. She vividly recalls an
experience she had as a medical student when she was cutting into
the axilla (armpit) during a dissection exercise and was so
awe-struck by the miracle of human anatomy, she announced, "for me,
this is God."
Seeing God in the human armpit might seem a bit unusual, but
hearing Dr. Khoury's enthusiasm for the science of medicine makes
it easy to imagine. "The human body is complex and fascinating,"
she says, "As you study how things work-how we walk and breathe,
our beating hearts—it is truly a remarkable and spiritual
The power of the human body and the image of God within—like Dr.
Khoury, it is a vision that leaves a lasting and memorable
February 2014 Issue of IMpact
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