Dr. Farzanna Haffizulla is a practicing physician, an educator, and a nationally recognized speaker on improving cohesion among healthcare organizations and physicians. She is also an expert on work–life balance. She is a woman with a purpose, and with the intelligence, sense of self, and humor to keep her many hats on her head, often at the same time. She talks here, with PracticeUpdate, about the various roles she’s assumed and how she juggles the demands on her time. She talks as well about bias and offers straightforward advice on harnessing external resources to face it down.
PracticeUpdate: Dr. Haffizulla, will you tell us a little bit about your background and the roles you’re currently involved in?
Dr. Haffizulla: I am a very happy married mother of four, and my kids really punctuated my career throughout the course of my training as a physician.
I am the assistant dean for community and global health at Nova Southeastern University’s Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Allopathic Medicine. In that capacity, I align our community health initiatives with population health goals and ensure that we maintain alignment of resources and relationship-building that would benefit our patients, our students, and the leadership.
I own my private practice, and I still have clinical days there. I founded House Calls MD back in 2008, and, while I stopped taking new patients once I started at NSU in 2017, I still actively see patients as an internal medicine physician, board-certified here in Florida.
And, alongside those roles, since 2008, I’ve been teaching the high school seniors at American Heritage School honors organic chemistry, and many of those students have gone on to medical school and residency; some are now practicing clinicians. I see the students grow up, get married, have families; I mentor them throughout the years. So, it’s not just a one-time class, it is a longitudinal mentorship that I feel so honored to be a part of.
There are a few other things I’m involved in as well, more in terms of community involvement. I serve as a board member with the American Diabetes Association in South Florida and the March of Dimes. I’ve had a role as a physician scientist board member on an IRB—an institutional review board—for many years. This particular IRB started off as a local entity, and it was acquired by bigger companies over the years. Now it’s called Advarra IRB; we provide services across an international set of studies and sponsors. My role is to look at study designs and ensure that human subject safety is a priority, that the designs are in alignment with the scientific rigor that is necessary, and ensure that there continues to be scientific merit.
I do also serve as chief scientific officer for Haven Home Health, and I advise them on senior care and ensure that our community here in South Florida is using evidence-based medicine. Since it’s a national company, I’m involved in ensuring that there is standardization and that the clinical protocols that we have in place are evidence-based; I serve as a resource to help guide some of that information flow.
I have a voluntary role within the American Medical Women’s Association. I served as a past president, and I remain active within the organization. I’m a host with Mission Critical Health. I serve as well as host for the PracticeUpdate Oncology series, which is something that I do as time and schedules permit and as I’m invited. I enjoy that.
PracticeUpdate: How do you balance all of your roles and your personal life?
Dr. Haffizulla: I’m able to balance everything by kind of stepping back from whatever is on my plate and wherever my passion is pushing me, wherever my current goals are. Things change in real time, depending on whatever is happening in life family-wise, goal- and career-wise, and passion-wise. I may have to eliminate a couple things and add a couple of things on, but I like to view things as a Venn diagram and look for areas of overlap.
For example, sitting as a board member on the IRB has really strengthened my knowledge base in the scientific world, and I can see what’s coming down the pipeline in terms of medications, new devices, surgical techniques, different technologies, and so on. That really helps to sharpen my lens and guide me in my role as assistant dean for community and global health at NSU. It helps me as a physician as well to decide which patients will require involvement in specific clinical trials. It gives me knowledge of the resources that are available, and it, of course, strengthens my role as host on Practice Update and with Mission Critical Health, and it helps me in my role with Haven Home Health as well. So, I’ve found that one role adds strength and overlaps with the goals that I have for some of these other roles that are on my plate. It makes life more efficient and has a natural QI process built in.
Of course, one of the priorities that, for me, has been very important is to make sure that I maintain my clinical thread, that I continue to see patients and remain involved in the clinical world so I don’t lose that edge. There’s a certain level of sharpness that one brings to the table, and that connection with the community of patients is vital as is trying to make any other changes in medicine and science. It makes me a better physician educator with our medical students and with the premed students that I teach in organic chemistry.
The other thing is I find that my community engagement role, the community health role that I hold at NSU, and all the other ones that I mentioned before also give me a wonderful platform to give opportunities to the students who I mentor. So, the students I teach organic chemistry, it’s not just organic chemistry: I weave in real-world experiences. I get them involved in national leadership roles and different projects that are ongoing. I show them how what they’re learning is applicable to the real world. I even talk about understanding the mechanisms of disease and drug–drug interactions and how that plays a role in clinical medicine. So, they see beyond just the core material that they’re learning. They get to go beyond that and sharpen their innovative lens. When those lightbulbs turn on, that to me is the most exciting part of my job. I’m extremely happy when I see these students take what I’m teaching to a whole new level.
So, having said all that is just to give you an idea of how and why I either chose, said no to, or pursued specific roles—because I knew that one role would strengthen another and would not just drain time away. That being said, I do have to negotiate how I want to spend my time during the week. For example, when I was starting at NSU, I let my dean know that I’ve got all these other roles and this is the amount of time that I would be able to give. What I will do is make sure that the other days are also flexible enough so that, if something essential is going on, I’ll have enough time to shift patients around or do what I need to do to ensure that I meet this particular commitment and make sure that I can stay 150 percent committed to it. That really just involves knowing what I need to accomplish and communicating if there are any glitches in the schedule. Also, I have to be adaptable and flexible, and communicate that.
You can plan your life out like a research protocol, but there are always going to be little curve balls thrown at you. It’s how you react and adapt to those changes that make the difference in being happy with the life and the schedule that you have for yourself. But you also need to recognize that this is something that can be changed if you want it to be changed. That mindset, for me, at the forefront really helped to drive what I have on my plate, and it does not feel overwhelming at all because I’m able to, again, overlap my roles like a Venn diagram. With the many different roles I have, I sync my calendars, ensuring that I’m communicating whatever needs to change based on what might be happening in personal life, in family life, etcetera.
Then another thing that I definitely do is I make sure that my kids get involved, too. I get my children involved and my husband involved in many of the activities.