Ghassan Koussa has joined the Mohawk Valley Health System Pulmonary Medicine and Critical Care Group and has privileges at Faxton St. Luke’s Healthcare and St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Utica. Koussa is board-certified in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, and critical care medicine.
By Barbara Pierce
Q.: Your specialty is pulmonary diseases, which include conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, and lung diseases. How did you decide on this as a specialty?
A.: I grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, where smoking is very prevalent and socially accepted. I have seen it affect immediate members of my family. As a result, I became interested in pulmonary diseases and the fight against tobacco abuse.
As a pulmonologist, my goal is to share this knowledge with my patients and with the community to prevent future generations from abusing tobacco and to help current smokers quit.
Q.: What influenced you to become a physician?
A.: It’s more about who influenced me. I was interested in medicine at a young age — most likely because of where and when I grew up: Lebanon during the civil war. My parents had such a positive impact on the person that I am today and were very supportive in helping me achieve my goal to become a physician.
Q.: What is most gratifying about being a physician?
A.: I’m board certified in both pulmonary and critical care medicine. I spend half of my time in the intensive care unit treating very sick patients. It’s very gratifying knowing that the care I provide to my patients often leads to a healthy recovery. It’s also a great feeling to work in such a supportive community with such excellent staff.
Being board certified is important. While being licensed as a medical doctor sets the minimum competency requirements to diagnose and treat patients, board certification demonstrates a physician’s exceptional expertise in a particular specialty.
Q.: What is most challenging about being a physician?
A.: I deal with end-of-life care often, whether in my clinic with end stage lung disease or in the ICU with a patient who, unfortunately, will fail to recover. Although this may be a very challenging aspect of medicine, I am comfortable and confident in my ability to provide compassionate care for my patients and their family members.
Q.: Before coming to MVHS, you were medical director of the lung cancer-screening program at Frisbie Memorial Hospital in Rochester. Since there are no symptoms of lung cancer in its early stages, and those who are diagnosed early have a much greater chance of survival, screening for lung cancer in the early stages is recommended. Who should get screened?
A.: Anyone who is a current smoker; anyone who quit less than 15 years ago; and anyone between the ages of 55-80 who has a 30 pack years smoking history should be screened. Pack years mean the number of years smoked multiplied by how many were smoked per day.
For example, this means if you smoked two packs a day for 15 years or longer, you should be screened, as is true for someone who smoked one pack a day for 30 years or longer.
If you fit any of these definitions, talk to your primary care provider about lung cancer screening.
Q.: What are risk factors for COPD? COPD, characterized by increasing breathlessness, describes progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and non-reversible asthma.
A.: By far, the most important risk factor for COPD is smoking, whether that is active smoking or second-hand exposure. Other important risk factors include uncontrolled asthma and environmental exposure to hazardous particles, dusts, gases, and fumes.
Q.: What is the most important thing you wish your patients had done or had not done so they would not need to be your patients?
A.: I wish they had never picked up that first cigarette. With that being said, it is never too late to quit smoking, and one should never stop trying to quit either. It takes a smoker an average of eight to 10 attempts to be successful in quitting smoking.
Q.: After talking with you, we understand why you are so well liked by your patients and your colleagues. Is there anything else you would like people to know about you?
A.: I love what I do and I really enjoy taking the time to explain and answer any questions my patients have regarding their health concerns. I believe that, as a physician, I have a responsibility to treat each and every patient with empathy and respect.
Name: Ghassan Koussa
Birth year: 1978
Birthplace: Beirut, Lebanon
Current residence: New Hartford
Education/qualifications: St. George’s University School of Medicine, Grenada, West Indies; Albany Medical College, Albany; board certified in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, and critical care medicine
Affiliations: Faxton St. Luke’s Healthcare and St. Elizabeth Medical Center
Personal: Married to his wife Suhad. The couple has a 5-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl, with a third on the way.
Hobbies: Tennis, soccer, and hiking; living in this area, he would like to experience ice fishing and hunting