The vast majority of physicians would agree that getting through medical school is a challenge. Only a rare few choose to add more coursework than what is required during those long four years. Ali Annaim, M,D., a pediatric nephrologist at MUSC Children’s Health is one of them. Between his third and fourth years of medical school, he chose to pause his clinical studies and pursue a Master’s degree in Public Health. “As I was going through my clinical experience, I saw how many things affected the health of our patients were outside of our medical control. Things like their activity level, access to healthcare and good food, whether they lived in a safe and clean environment,” says Annaim. “I was also really interested in how patients’ knowledge and understanding of their diagnosis affected their ability to make decisions moving forward.”
Annaim comes to MUSC from a fellowship in pediatric nephrology at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Prior to that, he completed medical school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and did his residency training at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.
The ability to consider a wide variety of factors that impact patients’ outcomes is central to Annaim’s practice. His greatest passion is for educating patients, particularly those with chronic kidney disease, to make sure they have the information they need to make good decisions about their care. “There’s a lot of need in South Carolina. We have a lot of chronic kidney disease in our state, relatively speaking, and caring for these patients can be complex. They usually have multiple medical issues that we need to follow them for,” says Annaim. “I’d really like to work with outreach clinics to help patients who can’t travel easily and who have limited resources to access the medical care they need.”
Although he was interested in science and his uncle was an orthopedic surgeon, it was a middle-school homework assignment that pointed him toward a career in medicine. “I had a fantastic pediatrician who just had such great relationships with his patients. When I was about 12, I had to do a project about an interesting career, and I decided to talk to him about what it meant to be a doctor and what that involved,” says Annaim. “During my training, I often had to drive by where his office used to be and it always made me feel like I was somehow closing the loop.”
Like his former pediatrician, long-term, meaningful relationships with his patients and their families is one of the things Annaim enjoys most about the field of nephrology. “We form these lasting relationships with our patients because we see many of them from when they’re babies. I might start seeing a patient as a little, tiny thing in a crib in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and then I get to watch them grow into a 2- or 3-year-old who’s coming in and running around the room.” He’s also learned to have his answers ready. “Once they can talk back and forth with you, you find out that they have some very interesting opinions. They want to know what’s your favorite dinosaur – T-Rex, of course. Or, what’s your favorite Power Ranger – Red Power Ranger, of course. I usually go with the classics,” says Annaim. “Some of them are really impressed when I tell them that I remember when the original Pokemon came out. They think I must be really old.”
Although intrinsic kidney disease is relatively rare in children, kidney injury among hospitalized children is more common. “Infections, certain medications, and chemotherapeutic agents can all be hard on the kidneys,” says Annaim. “We follow them to make sure they recover full function if that’s possible. We also work with NICU infants who have undeveloped kidneys that are more sensitive to injury. It’s interesting because we’re working in all of the different care settings which I really enjoy as well.”
Annaim hopes to work with his MUSC colleagues to participate in a nationwide network focused on glomerular kidney diseases like lupus and nephrotic syndrome that cause inflammation and scarring in the kidney. This multi-site, national collaboration will collect data to identify best practices and help improve patient outcomes. It was this spirit of team work that drew him to MUSC. “I’m fortunate to work with such great people here. I really value our support staff in clinic, including the nurses and techs, everyone who helps make things run smoothly. It’s what I enjoy the most – working together with everyone on the clinical side and with the families to get to our common goal which is making sure our patients have the longest, healthiest lives they can and can achieve their goals in future.”
Dr. Annaim is currently accepting new pediatric outpatients at the MUSC Health R. Keith Summey Medical Pavilion in North Charleston. If you would like to make an appointment with him or refer a patient, please call 843-876-0444.