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A First-Hand Perspective on Patient Care

Medical students at Georgia Regents University have much to learn from – and contribute to – Shepherd Center care. Just ask Hammad Aslam.

As Hammad Aslam made the rounds with Shepherd Center attending physicians and residents this past fall, the fourth-year medical student could relate to each patient.

Not only does Hammad use a wheelchair, he is also a former Shepherd Center patient.

“I know what it’s like to be in that position,” says Hammad, a 2008 University of Georgia graduate. “I’ve been through all of the emotions, and I can relate to that patient experience.”

It’s this empathy and experience that Hammad hopes to bring to his career as a physician specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R). He’s wanted to be a physician since high school, but that hope almost ended four years ago.

Hammad had been accepted to medical school at Georgia Regents University (GRU) in Augusta, Ga. He was in Augusta with his family to look for housing when their SUV hydroplaned in the rain on the way home to Snellville, Ga., on May 23, 2009. The vehicle hit a tree, which fell on Hammad. He sustained a brain injury and T-3 complete spinal cord injury.

After spending time at University Hospital in Augusta, Hammad was transferred to Shepherd Center, where he spent three months in the hospital’s dual spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation program.

Despite the setback, Hammad’s plans to go to medical school didn’t change; they were just delayed a year as he learned to adjust to life using a wheelchair. He relaunched his quest to become a doctor in August 2010, starting at the Athens campus of GRU.

“I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else,” Hammad says of his decision to move forward with medical school. “I have a very supportive family. They knew that if I wanted it, I would do it.”

Hammad’s return to Shepherd as a med student marked the beginning of a new program between the hospital and GRU, in which medical students have an opportunity to complete a four-week rotation to learn about rehabilitation medicine as one of their electives.

“The dean of the school approached us about starting a program since GRU doesn’t have an academic training program for rehabilitation,” says John Lin, M.D., a staff physiatrist at Shepherd Center. Shepherd already has a relationship with Emory University’s School of Medicine, whose students spend a week at the center as part of their PM&R rotation. Emory’s medical residents do eight-week rotations at Shepherd.

During Hammad’s rotation, he examined patients, reported on topics and completed patient write-ups. Medical students on the rotation also have an opportunity to perform non-invasive procedures.

“I learned from my experience here that I had to always be 100 percent prepared for anything,” he says. “I also saw the value of how possessing knowledge could be used to treat the patient while also giving them hope.”

Dr. Lin sees Shepherd’s role with medical schools as fulfilling the hospital’s larger mission of promoting education.

“We’re the largest spinal cord injury rehabilitation hospital in the country,” he says. “We believe in the mission of educating the medical community and the community in general about spinal cord injuries.”

For Hammad, the experience made him even more grateful for his time at Shepherd.

 “When I was there as a med student, it made me realize how thankful I was to everyone at Shepherd Center, my parents, my friends and thankful for how far I had come. I saw the value in everything I did while in rehab.”

Written by Sara Baxter
Photography by Gary Meek
Video by Warren Cleary

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.