Five Questions with Alumnus Hani Kuttab
Interview by Daria Zelen
- What is your current position, and how did you get to where you are today?
After completing my undergraduate degrees at the University of Illinois (BA in Communication and BS in Molecular & Cellular Biology), I ventured on to medical school at the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University, Chicago. I then completed my residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Chicago, where I served as Chief Resident in my final year. In 2019, I moved to Madison, Wisconsin to complete a 1-year fellowship in Advanced Emergency Medicine Ultrasonography, which ultimately led me to my career in academic emergency medicine at the University. I am now beginning my third year as faculty at Madison, and my position is Assistant Professor at the Berbee-Walsh Department of Emergency Medicine. I also hold the position of a Flight Physician for Med Flight at the University. My day-to-day consists of working shifts as a physician in the emergency department and teaching medical students and residents the applications of point-of-care ultrasound (not just babies) in the diagnosis and management of patients.
- What has been your proudest achievement?
This is a tough one! It's hard to pinpoint one exact achievement. I think my proudest achievement is just being present in the position that I am in today. Going directly from high school to undergraduate to medical school to residency to fellowship to faculty wasn't an easy feat, especially training in the era of COVID-19. I'm lucky that I was able to make it to the finish line without any major hiccups, which isn't the case for most people. I'm grateful to my many mentors (and friends) who helped support and guide me along the way.
- What aspects of your education as a communication student have been the most beneficial to your career?
Emergency medicine is a world filled with uncertainty-- that is, in fact, what brings most patients into the emergency department. Patients are often seeking reassurance and validation for the things that they are experiencing. There are many other facets to communication in the emergency department-- like quickly building trust, breaking bad news, or communicating with other healthcare providers. So, I would say that I use the things I learned as a communication student every single day. I am especially grateful to have focused training in interpersonal and health communication. I vividly remember taking Dr. Brian Quick's course on health campaigns and persuasion (I actually still have the textbook for the course in my office). I was also lucky to get my first taste of the research world with Dr. Leanne Knobloch, studying the effects of military deployment on interpersonal relationships. Now, as a faculty member, I continue to delve into various projects that put these skills to the test. For example, I am heavily involved on our “complex case management” team, where I create treatment guidelines and provide verbal “scripting” for our providers to use when caring for patients with complex care needs.
- Getting hired can be really difficult, what are some tips you would give to communication majors entering the workforce?
With medical school as a target, my route was a little bit different. My advice is to continuously seek out opportunities. As an undergrad, I went to resource fairs and connected with recruiters from medical schools (via the UIUC Career Center). This made me aware of a summer internship program at Loyola- I applied and was accepted, and spent 6 weeks at the medical school learning, meeting, and connecting with other students in the medical school. Because of this, I was invited to interview for their medical school later that Fall and was accepted (and, it was the only medical school I was accepted to). The point is: if there is something that interests you, whether it be working in a specific field or for a specific company, check out the resource/job fairs and connect with people. Ask others about summer internships, opportunities for part-time work, or shadowing experiences. Getting in front of people's faces really goes a long way. You aren't going to learn everything that you need to learn in a classroom during your time at UIUC. The program is meant to lay out the foundation, and what you do with that foundation is up to you. Gaining experience as an undergraduate will set you up for success in the long run.
- What advice would you give to current communication students?
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is rich in opportunity, but it's up to you to seek it out. As an undergraduate, you get the freedom to explore. Take advantage! Try something different. Join a new student organization that sounds interesting to you. If there is a specific professor that you like, ask if they have any opportunities to get involved in their research or to work with them as a TA (maybe after attending their office hours). Volunteer for a few hours every month. Study abroad. Sign up for a course that sounds interesting (even if it's not required). You may not know exactly what you want to do with your degree in Communication (and there are so many things that you can do), but your time as an undergraduate is where you get the opportunity to explore. Once you find something that you like, stick with it (and, likewise, if there is something you don't enjoy, it's okay to scale it back). Finally, I can't tell you enough how important it is to be direct and honest with people. Learn how to communicate and write succinctly. Ask for feedback in real-time. People, even grown-up adults, get anxious when dealing with uncertainty. Being the type of person that speaks up when something isn't jiving or who 'closes the loop' will carry you very far. Practice these skills early, and I promise that they will make you stand out from the crowd.