2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Aatif M. Husain, Duke University (Fuqua)

Aatif M. Husain

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

Age: 53 years

“Never say NO, always trying to get better.”

Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC

Family Members: Sarwat (wife), Aamer (son – 17), Aayaz (son – 14)

Fun fact about yourself: Graduated from medical school at age 21, haven’t been back to school since… until now!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Undergraduate: Punjab University, Pakistan – BS; Graduate: Rawalpindi Medical College, Pakistan – MBBS (MD)

Where are you currently working? Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology

Treasurer, International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology

Chair, Guidelines and Assessments Committee, American Epilepsy Society

Co-chair, Clinical Neurophysiology Maintenance of Certification Examination Committee, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Past President, American Clinical Neurophysiology Society, 2014-2015

Past Chair, American Board of EEG and EP Technologists, 2005-2007

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? While in business school, I am most proud of a personal Professional Development Plan (PDP) that I was able to put together for myself in the Leadership and Development class. With the teaching from Professor Angelica Leigh and a professional coach, I was able to scrutinize my own leadership style – the strengths and opportunities. Putting together a plan to develop certain areas of leadership has been an enlightening experience. I have already started to implement some of those changes and have noticed improvements already. I am looking forward to continued evolution in my leadership as I institute more of the changes of my PDP.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In my professional career, I am most proud of the mentorship I have been able to give my junior colleagues and trainees. For 20 years, I served as the Program Director for the Clinical Neurophysiology and Sleep Medicine fellowship programs at Duke University Medical Center. I was responsible for training over 100 young physicians in their chosen subspecialty. I also set up an observership for international physicians and scientists to come to Duke University Medical Center to learn specialized techniques that they could use in their own countries. Doctors from Singapore, Australia, Egypt, Pakistan, UAE, Brazil, Mexico, China, Korea and Spain have benefited from this program. My greatest joy is meeting these individuals at conferences and hearing about how their time at Duke was transformative.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I have to pick two! In Term 1, Professor Jim Anton was fantastic! I was very concerned about Managerial Economics as my brother is an Economist, and I never understood anything he did! Professor Anton made this class incredibly intuitive and easy to understand. I even looked forward to his homework assignments, as they really helped solidify concepts. In Term 2, I had an absolute blast in Professor Qi Chen’s Managerial Accounting class! His pre-class music (handpicked for the case we were going to talk about) and conversational style made learning easy. In one class, he even dressed up as Donald Trump, ready to “Fire” either the Purchasing, Production or Sales Managers! Trying to present arguments justifying why my team should not be fired was so much fun and a great learning experience!

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? There were so many reasons for me to choose the Fuqua School of Business. The Weekend Executive MBA format at Fuqua was particularly attractive for me. Spending quality time at the school one weekend a month and having the option to come in once a month for a Saturday lecture series was ideal while I continued working as an academic neurologist. I’m very interested in healthcare management, and Fuqua’s Health Sector Management program met my needs perfectly. Finally, Fuqua’s world class reputation and proximity (a 15-minute walk from my office at Duke University Medical Center), made this my first and only choice for an MBA!

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? There are so many remarkable lessons I have learned already that I can apply to my work as a physician leader. I knew I would learn a lot about the business of medicine, but I was surprised how much I learned about leadership and what it takes to be an effective leader. Duke Health and the medical center are undergoing one of the most remarkable changea in their history. Of course, this has caused a lot of concern and anxiety among the providers. Having learned about leadership through change, I have become a key faculty member helping the Department Chair practice effective change leadership.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? September 2020, the start of my Executive MBA, was a particularly challenging time. At the start of the term, I realized I knew little about the courses I was taking (such as Financial Accounting and Managerial Economics) and would have to work hard to understand them. At the medical center, we were realizing that COVID-19 was here to stay. Along with that, we were facing financial uncertainty in medicine, a profession that so far had been immune to downturns in the economy. Leading a large division in my department, I was responsible for motivating my colleagues to adapt to new ways of practicing medicine and working harder given the economic concerns. Simultaneously, a nonprofit professional medical society, for which I am Treasurer, was in the process of moving its headquarters from Vancouver, Canada to Washington, DC. This process potentially involved travelling to Vancouver and convincing regional authorities of the value of moving the organization (and millions of dollars) to Washington, DC. Meanwhile, my sons had started grades 11 and 8, both critical grades, in the middle of a pandemic, with most classes being done from home. The need to be a dad was never greater!

Thankfully things worked out amazingly well. My teammates were incredible; we worked as a team to master our Term 1 courses. Members of my division at work were able to see my vision for getting through the pandemic and stepped up to be more productive in their clinical and research activities. Authorities in Canada shut down the border with the U.S. and stopped all nonessential travel. I was able to complete transition paperwork for the nonprofit organization remotely and successfully migrated the organization to the U.S. Meanwhile, my always supportive wife, realizing my overcommitted state, was able to help our boys navigate online learning. Thankfully, both of them are very conscientious, technologically savvy (perhaps too much!) and took well to Zoom learning. With so much support from my teammates, colleagues at work and elsewhere, and my loving family, even this seemingly insurmountable challenge was well navigated.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? “I’m too old to do this!” Regardless of one’s age, going back to school is always a daunting task; one that makes people wonder if they can still make it in a classroom and learn new things. This is certainly something I thought about and something well-meaning colleagues pointed out to me as well. I can attest that while going back to school has its challenges and forces one to reprioritize things, it is not only do-able, but is an amazing experience. Unlike the first go around, going back to school is a much more conscious decision; one made because of a deep desire to do it. This makes it a cherished experience.

What was your biggest regret in business school? That I did not do it sooner! I have learned so much; and I have realized that there are so many things I could have done better in the past. In more practical terms, I regret that the Executive MBA program is as short as it is. Towards the end of each term, I wish we had a few more classes so that we could learn a little more about a given topic

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I must recognize my MBA team of five wonderful colleagues: Luke Hacherl, Kyle Kramer, Kori Lutenbacher, Ren Modernell, and Scott Purucker. This is my first time working in teams in school. I did not realize how much I would learn from my teammates! They bring such a wealth of experiences and diversity to the team, and they never cease to amaze me with their wit, humor, and intellect. There were so many times that I looked at an assignment, wondering where to start. There was always someone who was willing to help and guide the rest of us. And you never knew who would be the one to lead; each was as likely as the other to take charge. It really was the best team I could have asked for!

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? Fuqua’s Weekend Executive MBA program is very thoughtfully designed. It combines the perfect amount of on-campus learning with remote education. It allows for getting to know the professors and classmates, yet allows one to continue a busy job and maintain a personal life. Part-time programs take much longer and the camaraderie with colleagues is often lacking. Online programs lack the practical experiences and the opportunities to have meaningful one-on-one and face-to-face conversations with colleagues and professors. Of course, the changes forced by the pandemic have affected some of these advantages, but the Fuqua administration has pivoted nicely to still retain many of the virtues of the Executive MBA program.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I would like to continue my growth as a physician leader. I am currently the Chief, Division of Epilepsy, Sleep and Clinical Neurophysiology in the Department of Neurology, Duke University Medical Center. With an MBA, I hope to be able to become a more effective leader and help position my department and medical center for the always-changing American healthcare landscape. With these experiences, I hope my sphere of responsibility will continue to increase and new opportunities will present themselves. As I embark on these new and exciting endeavors, I will still always want to do what I am most passionate about – providing high quality, effective neurological care to those most vulnerable among us.

What made Aatif such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“I always enjoy interacting with Aatif. Not only is he very articulate in his thinking, but he thinks broadly. He is able to relate his thoughts closely to his work experience as Chief of the Division of Epilepsy, Sleep and Clinical Neurophysiology at Duke’s Medical Center.

In particular, he is able to connect what he learns in class to his real experience as a physician, providing a unique perspective within the program. Aatif also works really hard and constantly seeks feedback, which is especially important in the unprecedented circumstances students have faced this year. All these traits make him an excellent addition to the cohort – It was a pleasure having him in my class.”

Professor Xu Jiang
Duke’s Fuqua School of Business


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