Meet the Chief: Deeply Personal Experience Guided Jonathan Fialkow, M.D. to Career in Cardiology
5 min. read
Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute
Jonathan Fialkow was a senior in high school when his father suffered a life-threatening heart attack. On a ventilator and with his future uncertain, he was transferred from the local Long Island hospital to a teaching hospital in New York City.
“At one point a doctor came in and basically said to my mom, ‘Your husband’s kidneys failed, and he needs dialysis.” And he walked out,” recalls Dr. Fialkow.
While he and his mom sat frightened and in shock, they wondered if they would get answers to their many questions. About an hour later, a younger physician came in and explained that the kidneys are often stressed during a heart attack. The information was delivered with compassion ― something the teenager would never forget.
“The empathy in explaining to us and understanding us, put it in perspective,” Dr. Fialkow says. “I supposedly told my mother afterward, ‘I want to be a doctor and I want to be that kind of doctor. I want to ease people’s pain.’”
(Watch now: Meet the man at Baptist Health who’s been a driving force behind South Florida cardiac care. Video by Carol Higgins.)
Dr. Fialkow’s father spent six weeks in the hospital following his heart attack, and today, Dr. Fialkow is chief of cardiology for Baptist Health Baptist Hospital, chief medical executive for Population Health, Value and Primary Care for Baptist Health and deputy director of Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. He is also the host of Baptist HealthTalk, the health system’s popular podcast that delves into a variety of topics, from heart disease to diabetes to orthopedic injuries.
Recently, Resource sat down with Dr. Fialkow to learn more about his views on medicine and what makes him tick. Here are some excerpts from our interview.
Resource: After your father’s heart attack, how did you move from high school student to medical student?
Dr. Fialkow: I went to my guidance counselor, who told me about the six-year med program at Boston University. You complete your medical school education in six years instead of eight years. I applied and was accepted. It was pretty high pressure and a very select group. I was actually a double major, one of which was art history. Because of the accelerated nature of the program, we were prohibited from taking science electives and I had more of a liberal arts background. It’s a different way of thinking. Looking at my classmates, today we have positions that require a bit more synthesizing disparate thoughts and seeing patterns.
Resource: If you hadn’t gone into medicine, what other careers would you have considered?
Dr. Fialkow: I would have loved to have pursued some kind of art career. I love photography and a lot of family members have their houses decorated with my art. At one stage of my career, I actually made jewelry. I found it relaxing. A lot of beading and semi-precious jewels.
Resource: Your patient satisfaction scores are very high. Why do you think that is?
Dr. Fialkow: It goes back to my earlier experience and that level of empathy. You want to listen to people. It’s not just the labs. It’s not just the test result. It’s not just even their single complaint. I want to get to know them and I want them to trust me. I put myself in the patient or family member’s position. It’s daunting to come to a doctor. Doctors can spew out a lot of stuff and the patient nods and then they walk out of the office like, ‘I don’t know what was said.’
Resource: What role do patients have in making healthcare decisions?
Dr. Fialkow: You try to guide them and educate them to make the decision you think is right, but nothing is absolute. And then it’s their decision. So if someone doesn’t follow what I want because they’re afraid of medications or their friend had a bad experience, I’ll walk through that with them.
Resource: What do you enjoy about being a cardiologist?
Dr. Fialkow: It’s the specialty with the most data. We have such robust registries with information about how patients with specific conditions do. People with cardiac conditions tend to be chronic. We’re engaged with them and actually become a good resource. This is somewhat unique in the medical specialties.
Resource: You say Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute is community-focused. So, who should come here for care?
Dr. Fialkow: We want to prevent disease. We want to take people who have the early stages of disease and help them reduce their risk of ever needing some sort of surgery or procedure. Sure, we want you to come to us if you need bypass surgery or a valve procedure because we have great outcomes and empathetic care. But, ideally, let’s prevent those procedures. We are moving in that trajectory.
Resource: How does your podcast help with that goal?
Dr. Fialkow: I’ve always tried to think of ways to get information to the community and to the average person who sometimes doesn’t have a forum to ask their questions. I like talking to our guest experts and I try to represent the patient or the consumer in asking questions. I like putting the questions to them in ways that may seem simple, but actually translate into a lot of information.
Resource: How would you describe your personality?
Dr. Fialkow: Passionate. If I really think something’s important, it’s all gas, no brakes. I really want to push and educate and bring people along with me on a positive journey.
Resource: Tell us a little about your family.
Dr. Fialkow: My wife and I just celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary and we’re blessed to have three children. They all live in New York City within a few blocks of each other, which is wonderful. My mom’s 96 and still pretty sharp. There’s nothing I’d rather do than spend time with my family.
Resource: You love to travel, and you are a big sports fan. What else do you enjoy?
Dr. Fialkow: I’m just passionate about dogs. I love my golden retriever puppies. One is named Mookie and the other is named Wilson because Mookie Wilson was my favorite baseball player in the ‘80s. And I’ve always been kind of geeky. I love Japanese anime and I had a big Marvel and Star Wars comic book collection. I have a lot of little toy robots and a Godzilla collection. I also take great pride and gratification in helping others become successful.
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