Feature Story | 12-Jan-2023

From Bangladesh to the Atlanta ‘burbs, Emory's Azizul Hoque heals hurting hearts

When not practicing or teaching at Emory Heart & Vascular Center, the cardiologist leads a telemedicine healthcare project in the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka, one of the world’s most crowded cities

Emory Health Sciences

The high cost of being sick has always gnawed at Emory cardiologist Azizul Hoque, MD. Growing up in Bangladesh, he said, “I’ve seen some people who were very dear to me and badly needed care but could not afford treatment. It cemented in my mind the career goal of becoming a physician and doing something to help.”

When he moved to the Midwest as a postdoctoral fellow at University of Iowa Cardiovascular Center in 1992, he remembers the shock of realizing that patients in the American healthcare system faced a different kind of financial burden from the other places he had lived – including the former Soviet Union, where he went to medical school.

“In European countries, there’s guaranteed healthcare for the general population. It’s a guaranteed right. People don’t have to worry about getting care if they lose their job,” he said. “Unfortunately, healthcare is still a privilege here.”

In a career spanning several continents and just as many advanced degrees, Hoque has made it his life mission to bring as much care to as many people as possible, on a pay scale they can afford. When not practicing cardiology or teaching as a distinguished physician and assistant professor at Emory, for instance, he’s leading a telemedicine healthcare project in the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka, one of the world’s most crowded cities.

Fluent in Bengali, Russian and English, Hoque studied medicine in Moscow, at the Russian Medical Academy (formerly known as Sechenov First Moscow Medical Institute), graduating from medical school in 1986, just three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolically heralded the end of the Cold War. It was a prime chance to witness history firsthand, during that important time of glasnost, perestroika and shifting geopolitical possibilities under the late Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Outside of his studies, he also enjoyed immersing himself in Russia’s rich literary history – reading Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Pushkin, whose work spoke to intermingling themes of power, empathy, and ethics.

He did his residency at the Medical College of Georgia and a Fellowship at University of Louisville before joining Emory in 2008, where he has leaned into a passion for teaching cardiology students at the very beginning of their careers. The educational focus of Emory Healthcare and its connection to the School of Medicine is one of the aspects that he loves most.

Hoque’s healthcare work in Dhaka began in 2014, when he started the telemedicine project in a free health clinic in Kallyanpur, one of the largest slums in the country, a home to at least 10,000 people. That clinic was inaugurated by the U.S. Ambassador in Dhaka, Dan Mozena. Hoque supervised the telemedicine program for five years, visiting with patients for one hour every week. He still sees patients once a month through the virtual service. When he goes back to visit, he’ll always spend one day in the clinic. He has also focused on helping to train medical students and cardiology fellows on the ground in Dhaka.

In 2017, in Metro Atlanta, he assisted the launch of a clinic for people without health insurance in Gwinnett County, the Bangladesh Medical Association of North America (BMANA), located on Jimmy Carter Boulevard. Sponsored by the state of Georgia, in the last five years BMANA has served hundreds of uninsured patients. Even during the pandemic, the clinic continued operations virtually.

Despite the busy schedule that these extra projects add to his time as a physician, the benefit of engaging with different populations with the goal of fostering communal health is tangible, Hoque said. “My philosophy is that giving always makes you feel better.”

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