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Leading with Empathy and Compassion Drives Change

Physician is dedicated to improving health equity of underserved and underrepresented communities, while maintaining work-life balance

Farzanna Haffizulla, M.D. ’00


arzanna Haffizulla, M.D. ’00, chair of internal medicine at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, shares the same advice with her students that she lives her own life by.

“I always tell my students that you cannot plan your life out like a research protocol,” Dr. Haffizulla said. “There are going to be inroads and off-ramps. You have to lead with your heart and let that be your guiding compass. Empathy and compassion should be pillars of who you are as a physician.”

For Dr. Haffizulla, leading with her heart has led to countless opportunities, including having a busy hybrid concierge practice; serving students at NSU; leading research initiatives on population health and improving the health of underserved communities; taking leadership positions in professional societies like the American Medical Women’s Association, where she served as the 2014-15 president; speaking on work-life balance; and — most importantly — being a wife and mom.

“My family is my strength,” she said. “They are my reason and my motivation behind doing everything I do.”

Dr. Haffizulla met her husband, Jason Haffizulla, M.D. ’00, whom she describes as her biggest cheerleader, at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. They were married during medical school, and she had her first child — a daughter, Zarina — while in medical school. Her second child — another girl, Anisa — was born during her residency at the Cleveland Clinic. Nadia, her third daughter, was born while Dr. Haffizulla was in private practice with her husband. Her fourth child — and only son, Adam — was born when she launched her hybrid concierge practice.

“I had a baby at every stage of my career,” she said. “Every single one of them changed my mindset in a different way. When things get stressful, or I feel a little frustrated, they pull me right back. Having them together in one household during this pandemic — oh my goodness — has been my biggest source of rejuvenation. It has really helped me slow down and breathe.”

Dr. Haffizulla is a big proponent of work-life balance. It’s this recharging and recentering that allows her to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing primary care physicians today.

A focus on health equity

For Dr. Haffizulla, improving health and promoting disease prevention and health equity of underserved and underrepresented communities is a top priority. She founded NSU’s Caribbean Diaspora Health Initiative — something near and dear to her not only as an internal medicine physician but as a woman of Caribbean heritage, born in Trinidad and Tobago.

“It’s very rewarding to magnify the voices of our community in ways that benefit their health and wellness,” she said.

That’s particularly true in Lauderhill, Florida, a city with a large Caribbean population. Dr. Haffizulla’s initiative has delivered culturally appropriate health education to help improve disease prevention throughout South Florida.

“We’re taking an interprofessional, team-based approach to lowering the incidence of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and more, and realigning resources to ensure we have culturally sensitive health education and can engage community champions,” she said.

For Dr. Haffizulla, her work is never done. She continually looks for ways to motivate, engage, empower, and inspire internal medicine physicians in practice today and those medical students still seeking a specialty that inspires them and fills their soul.