CLIFTON PARK–Growing up, Dr. Amjad Hammad always imagined he would become an engineer like his father. Hammad also imagined he’d spend his career in Jordan, his home country.
Now, in the latest twist in Hammad’s life, he’s been tapped by the Jordanian king to help be part of an effort that may very well change the landscape of healthcare in his homeland.
“When I got the invitation to meet the king about two months ago, it was extremely exciting,” Hammad said. “Having grown up in Jordan, I have always looked up to the royal family as role models. But I’ve never had the chance to meet the king before–or anybody in the royal family. I didn’t know what to expect.”
Hammad, president of EyesNY, an ophthalmology group based in Clifton Park and serving the Capital Region and Adirondacks, was one of 15 Jordanian medical professionals that His Majesty King Abdullah II asked to be part of a healthcare advisory board that will help to lead conversations as Jordan looks to reimagine its society following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hammad, 51, got to meet Abdullah II at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City and learn more about what was being asked of the special committee, made up of medical professionals who grew up in Jordan but now practice in the U.S.
Hammad said the king, who has been ruling since 1999, quickly set aside formalities and got down to business. Abdullah II told the hand-selected committee that the pandemic has been an inflection point, and he’s seeking the perspective of “outsiders” who also understand what it’s like in Jordan.
“Now it’s about developing the economy in Jordan, and the healthcare sector is a big part of the economy in Jordan,” Hammad said.
The advisory board of medical professionals has been tasked with helping to rethink Jordan’s healthcare sector and advise people in Jordan who can implement changes.
The role is fitting for Hammad, who has had to rethink things many times in his life.
That began as a young man who loved computers and thought he’d go into engineering and be like his father, who was the dean of the engineering department at the University of Jordan.
But when Hammad, the oldest of seven siblings, scored in the top percentile in his college entrance exam, his path shifted.
“I wanted to become an engineer, but unfortunately or fortunately, I was one of the 50th highest [scorers] in the country. So my dad looks at my scores and looks at me and says, ‘you’re going to become a doctor.’”
After studying medicine in Jordan, Hammad completed his residency at Albany Medical College in the late 1990s.
Even in Albany, his plan had been to finish his degree and return to Jordan to open a private ophthalmology practice. But his heart chose a different plan. He met and fell in love with an Albany Law School student, Terry Donnellan, and has made his life in upstate New York ever since.
Professionally, Hammad has done well, turning a single private practice into EyesNY, which is a seven practice, 15-provider group led by Hammad that provides everything from routine eye exams to cataract surgery to neuro-ophthalmic evaluations and treatment. The group has locations in Queensbury, Glens Falls, Saratoga Springs, Malta, Clifton Park and Troy. Hammad also holds an MBA from Yale University.
Personally, Hammad has done well, too–he and his wife Donnellan, have 7-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.
When the pandemic hit, Hammad became especially involved with a Facebook group that connects the roughly 2,500 Jordanian physicians, who are practicing in the U.S. Members of the group formed the Jordanian American Physicians, a registered nonprofit to fundraise and develop initiatives that could help Jordan navigate its way through the pandemic. The group helped supply equipment like ventilators and helped put on webinars with pulmonologists to provide information to doctors practicing in Jordan.
This work caught the attention of King Abdullah II as he was looking to assemble his advisory board.
Hammad’s role on the board will be to help lead conversations about developing a primary care system in Jordan. The current healthcare model is more one of siloed specialists, Hammad said.
“They don’t have a system of primary care doctors like we do. And primary care doctors are really essential. It’s your starting point,” Hammad said. “Creating a primary care system is essential, and that is what I will be trying to start in Jordan in the next two to three years.”
The role will involve regular travel back to Jordan, where Hammad already tries to visit at least once or twice a year to see family.
The position on the advisory board brings Hammad’s life full-circle, he said.
“My thought when I first came here was that I would get trained and acquire these skills and go back and help people in Jordan. Now I have the ability to possibly touch a lot more people in Jordan than I would have if I had just gone back and opened a clinic.”
Abdullah II will also be making return visits to the states to check on the advisory board’s progress. That means Hammad and the rest of the board have to get to work.
“The king is coming back in October, and he wants to meet us again. He told us ‘you’d better have something to tell me by then,’” Hammad said with a chuckle. “No pressure.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.