October 11, 2023

Dr. Monique Hassan Receives Early Career Award for Work in Bariatric Surgery

When Monique Hassan, MD, MBA, FACS, (S/ALB’18), 2023 Cleveland Clinic Alumni Association Early Career Award honoree, chose to pursue her medical degree, she also committed to serving in the U.S. military.

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“I was granted a scholarship through the Army and then had to apply for military or Army residency programs after medical school,” says Dr. Hassan, now an academic bariatric surgeon at Baylor College of Medicine/Baylor Scott & White Health. “After my residency in the Army, I owed them five years, which I spent as a general surgeon.”

This experience shaped her career. “The army brought me to a little place in Oklahoma to do bariatric surgery, and I wasn’t that enthused by it at first,” she says. “But as I started working with patients, I realized that no matter who we are, everybody struggles with their weight. We treat people like it’s their fault, and it’s not. It’s a lifelong disease. Part of my job is counseling and coaching patients. Even though surgery to modify the GI tract is an important part of treatment, even more important was helping my patients to realize they had a chronic disease. In our society, food is abundant, delicious, and also very unhealthy for us. But it’s expensive to eat healthy, and if you’re trying to lose weight, that’s a real problem. Why is that the patient’s fault? I personally struggled with weight, myself, and could identify with their issues. I discovered that this is the field where I fit best and where I wanted to be.”

After completing her military service, Dr. Hassan became a fellow at Cleveland Clinic.

“Some of the giants in our field of bariatrics are at Cleveland Clinic, and I was fortunate to train under them,” she says. “My experience there formed everything I do in my practice now. My training at Cleveland Clinic is such a fundamental part of how I create an environment of patient-centered care.”

Dr. Hassan says she was influenced by her Cleveland Clinic mentors Ali Aminian, MD (BMIR’13, S/ALB’14), Director of Bariatric and Metabolic Institute; Matthew Kroh, MD (S’07, AL/FSE’08), Vice Chair of Innovation and Technology in the Digestive Disease and Surgery Institute; and Jeffrey Ponsky, MD (Staff’14), now retired from Cleveland Clinic and formerly the Lynda and Marlin Younker Chair in Developmental Endoscopy.

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Dr. Hassan also completed a healthcare-focused MBA, earned certification in obesity medicine, and holds leadership roles as Secretary of the Texas Association of Bariatric Surgeons and Chair of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) Diversity Committee. “Taking really good care of my patients and having good outcomes is very important for me, and so is being active on the executive council for the ASMBS.”

Born in Canada to parents who emigrated from Guyana and later moved the family to New York, Dr. Hassan is the first doctor in her family. “I can relate to our patients, a lot of whom come from really far away, live in rural areas, and don’t have a lot of money. I work with them on recipes to compare brands and recommend the least expensive ingredients. The big thing for us is vitamins. We tell them they don’t have to buy some expensive vitamins, and I have them bring in their own bottles to see whether they match with what’s appropriate and can continue taking them. We don’t want patients to think they have to spend thousands of dollars.”

As a physician-scientist, she conducts research into clinical outcomes. “I’m looking at what it is we’re doing and then improving pathways for bariatric care for my patients,” she says. “We now perform same-day surgery on almost all of our patients, and we have really good outcomes. The other big thing that I was able to bring to my hospital is doing bariatrics using a robotic platform. No one here was doing that when I arrived in 2018. Also, I started reaching out on social media to build our program. More patients are coming, and we’re engaging in more technology.”

Dr. Hassan with her Cleveland Clinic mentors, from left, Dr. Matthew Kroh, Dr. Hassan, Dr. Philip Schauer, and Dr. Ali Aminian

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Receiving the Early Career Award in recognition of her accomplishments “is a great honor,” Dr. Hassan says, “especially since Cleveland Clinic is such a massive organization and a great foundation and health system.” She sees this recognition as one validation of her decision to enter a field that provides her with great professional satisfaction, and she advises her fellow alumni, especially those just starting out, to do the same.

“I think the best advice at any part of a career is to be true to who you are,” she says. “If you are passionate about something, that shines through. And also find good mentors and good people around you so that you can phone a friend in every moment.”

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