Audio Insights: Chat with the Chair: An Interview with Mohamed Salama, M.D.

In this "Chat with the Chair" podcast, William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology (DLMP) at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and President of Mayo Medical Laboratories, sits down with the new Medical Director of Mayo Medical Laboratories (MML), Mohamed Salama, M.D. The two discuss his role and career history. Connect with Dr. Morice on Twitter @moricemdphd to let him know what you would like to hear next.


William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D.: Hi, this is Bill Morice, Chair of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology here at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, also the President of Mayo Medical Laboratories, coming to you with another “Chat with the Chair” podcast. Today, I’m pleased to have with me Dr. Mohamed Salama, a recent addition to our faculty, primarily in the role of Medical Director of Mayo Medical Laboratories as well as a staff hematopathologist. So, welcome, Mohamed.

Mohamed Salama, M.D.: Thank you.

WM: First of all, as a way to let the audience get to know who you are, could you just tell us a little bit about yourself—where you are from, how long you have been in the U.S., those sorts of things?

MS: Well, first of all, thank you. I’m pleased to be here. I’m originally from Egypt. I’m a hematopathologist, and I’ve been in the United States for 20 years. I have practiced for 7 years prior to that at Cairo University. I primarily do hematopathology for my practice and am encouraged to be part of MML and DLMP at Mayo Clinic.

WM: Before you came to Mayo, you were at the University of Utah and the company ARUP, another academic center with a reference laboratory as a big part of its activities, correct?

MS: Correct. So I was at the University of Utah and ARUP reference laboratory for the last 12 years. I was on faculty at the University of Utah. I was also part of the hematopathology division there.

WM: So, we were really very fortunate to have you come and join us, and we can talk about what was appealing to you about the job in a moment here, but I think it’s important to share with everyone the genesis of the position that you now fill, and I think it’s very important for us to recognize that as Mayo Medical Laboratories reaches out to the world outside of our campuses of Arizona, Rochester, the upper Midwest, and Florida, that really what they want to interact with is a physician- and scientist-led practice and how that’s manifested in the laboratory. We came to the realization for that to really be successful and to grow, it needed dedicated physician/scientist leadership to help guide decisions that we make around that business to help guide how we grow that business in a way that’s congruent with our mission of the needs of the patient come first and the values of Mayo Clinic.

So, this was discussed with the board because typically the way that we hire physician faculty at this institution is it’s justified more based on clinical need or that the consultants have big research grants that they’re going to bring in, so to hire someone into a physician role that was really primarily focused on something that wasn’t practice and not research was kind of a new. It was definitely kind of breaking new ground for Mayo. So the position that you fill was discussed with the board because I saw it as a real risk for Mayo Medical Laboratories. We don’t want to be "just" a reference lab; we want to be Mayo Clinic in the reference laboratory market, and we needed someone like you to fill that role, but then the role itself became very important and especially for the first person who occupied it.

So, Medical Director is a new role that was endorsed by our board of governors, and having someone coming in to show that we could hire someone into a position like this that could still really be a Mayo Clinic physician but really focused on the outside world as opposed to just the Rochester campus was really important, and you’ve already managed to do that in the early days very well. So, thank you for that, number one. Number two is maybe you could just kind of talk to how your job is 25% practice and 75% for MML, which means it’s probably 50% practice and 100% for MML the way we do things around here, but I know there were lots of opportunities for you to continue to grow your career at ARUP, and it’s a great place. So, what was it in particular that was appealing about coming to Mayo Clinic and to this new role?

MS: For me, personally, it was an opportunity to really push myself out of my comfort zone. This was the primary motive. Once I came in and I started to see really what this job is about, I saw the opportunity. I saw also the environment, the transformative potential that MML had, and several of the projects that I was recruited to work on. So, I think, as a whole, it’s very hard at the beginning, and we all know that with a move across the country to a new job, there are always risks that you lose some of the things that maybe you are used to. Twelve years is a long time to be in the same job. The University of Utah and ARUP are excellent organizations; they are actually perfect organizations. So, I know I took a lot of risks, but also I knew I took this with a very stable organization. At the end of the day, really, I knew that I couldn't be wrong.

WM: What are some of the things that you’ve been involved with since you’ve been here? I mean, I think the question that a lot of people had as we posted this position was, you know, what’s going to keep the person busy for that 75%? It was difficult because there’s so much going on, and we wanted to make sure we kind of tailored it to the aptitudes of the person who took the role, but clearly there’s a lot to do here. So, could you just kind of speak to, in your first few months here, what the experience has been like working in in DLMP and MML and what some of the big things are that you’ve been working on?

MS: Well, really, it felt like drinking from the fire hose! But, in fact, it was fantastic in a way. I have enjoyed every minute. I enjoy the practice; I enjoy my colleagues in the practice both in the Division of Hematopathology and outside. I really enjoy working with division chairs and other consultants. On the MML side, I have really been impressed, and I continue to be impressed every day. Even now, with the level of the administrative team, the management, and the transformative, creative projects . . . one of the major areas that really I think is going to make a leap, or MML will make a leap in the field, is the value-based concept and the paradigm shift we have from the fee-for-service to the value-based service. I have really been learning the business in layers in the last five months at MML. At the same time, I have been working with the practice, with the different members of the practice, and basically having this two-way street of communications between the practice and MML. It's been working very well.

WM: Excellent. That was something that I have really been passionate about in my time in this role as both the department chair, chair of the academic department, as well as the president of the reference laboratory business, is to make sure that we see ourselves as part of the same team. And teamwork requires really open communications, honest communication, and open-mindedness and not ego-driven. You’ve really embodied all of those things and really helped us. Your addition has been great to build and continue building that team, and that two-way "both sides of the street" sort of communication style that you have has been fantastic.

So, maybe in closing then, the other thing I’d like to kind of just touch on a little is some of the work that we’ve been doing on the innovation side, and I know that’s something that seems to come naturally to you, in just talking to you and seeing the activities that you’ve done in your career, which are impressive already, and then what you’ve started to do since you’ve been here. When I met with Mayo's CEO and President Dr. John Noseworthy when I took this job, he challenged me as to what I thought it really took to continue to make our department as well as MML thrive. MML is just basically taking our department and making it available to the outside world. My view is that people look to Mayo Clinic to innovate but in a different sort of way, in that we’re almost like trusted innovation. A lot of people can come up with new stuff in health care, but when Mayo Clinic comes up with new ideas in health care, you really want to adopt it because it’s from Mayo Clinic, and you can trust it. But the flip side is, I sometimes wonder if we’re seen as truly innovative. You mentioned stable, which is great, but we also want to be seen as more cutting-edge and innovative, and I just wonder what your thoughts are in terms of kind of accurately or appropriately emphasized innovation, if I’m on the right track, in terms of thinking that way. What is your impression of Mayo Clinic as an innovative organization since you’ve been here, coming from the outside?

MS: I think the term innovation in my mind is how we transform doing things in a new way or in a different way to expand our ability to perform services in the field, for our patients, for the community, and also to prosper for MML and Mayo Clinic, which supports our academic, research, and clinical shields. Absolutely, without a doubt, this has been done in every single aspect I have seen at Mayo Clinic. Mayo Medical Laboratories does it very well. DLMP does it very well. The consultants do it very well, and leadership in every aspect that I have seen, they do it very well. MML is an impressive organization, and Mayo's DLMP is an impressive department. We may be moving at some point slower but steadier, and we have more influence than any other entity that I have seen in my career.

WM: Wow, those are encouraging words, and so I appreciate your honesty and that perspective for sure. In closing, I just want to again thank you for joining the staff. You’ve been a huge addition to Mayo Clinic already in your brief time here, and it’s something that I feel particularly gratified by. It's great that Mayo Clinic is still the kind of place that can attract someone of your caliber. I thank you for spending a little time with us today just to give us the scoop on who you are and what you’ve been doing since you’ve been here. Thank you very much, Mohamed.

MS: Thank you.

William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D. (@moricemdphd)

William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D.

William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D., is the Chair of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology (DLMP) at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and President of Mayo Medical Laboratories. Dr. Morice received his M.D./Ph.D. degrees from the Mayo Graduate School in 1993 and completed his subsequent pathology residency and hematopathology fellowship at Mayo Clinic.