"I was scared to death," he says with a laugh. "For one thing, I was afraid there'd be some kind of complication with my first surgery. The other fear was that I'd do something to disappoint my senior partners. But neither of those fears came true, so in retrospect my first day worked out well."
Swaid is a native of Israel, and his distinctive name comes from a custom of Christian families in the Arab world to give a son their surname as a first name, symbolizing especially bright expectations for his future. And Swaid wasn't the only high achiever in his family. One of his brothers is the only Christian member of Israel's Knesset (parliament), and another is an acclaimed musician.
Swaid set his sights on a medical career when he read the news about the world's first heart transplant by American surgeon Christian Barnard, MD and wanted to follow in Barnard's footsteps. But money for college was a problem, so missionaries and Swaid's church community made it possible for him to enroll at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas.
He worked his way through school with a combination of odd jobs and preaching at area Churches of Christ, with the added cachet of having spent his boyhood around the Sea of Galilee. These decades later he still teaches Bible study classes. Among his favorable reviews is one from Alabama Senator J.T. (Jabo) Waggoner, who says "Dr. Swaid is the best Sunday School teacher I've ever been exposed to. I would put him in the class of biblical scholars."
When it came time for the young Swaid to choose a medical school, he decided on UAB, home of renowned heart surgeon John W. Kirklin, MD. But along the way, Swaid's career goals took a fork in the road when he studied basic neurology under J. Garber Galbraith, MD.
"To put it simply, I fell completely in love with the nervous system," Swaid recalls. "Everything just clicked, and Dr. Galbraith became not only my professor, but my mentor."
To say that Swaid made a good choice is an understatement. Over the years he's gained an international reputation for taking on especially complex neurosurgery cases referred to him by physicians from places as distant as Hong Kong
With his demanding schedule, Swaid himself was somewhat surprised by the significant extracurricular activity he's since taken on: serving on Alabama's Certificate of Need (CON) Review Board, a panel that makes the often-controversial decisions of approving or rejecting new health-care locations or services within the state.
"Sure, serving on the CON is sometimes a stress and a headache," Swaid says. "But my personal policy is to never say 'no' to a governor." He served eight years as chairman after his appointment by former Gov. Bob Riley, and was reappointed by Gov. Bentley with the understanding he would stay on as vice-chairman of the Board.
"Like every process, it has some problems," Swaid says. "But it also does a great deal of good, which makes the time spent worth the trouble. Everything we do results in displeasure on the part of somebody, so we have to be decisive and unafraid to make the right decision, to do what's in the best interest of the people of Alabama. The recent decision to allow osteopathic medicine in Dothan, for instance, while it didn't make huge headlines, was a big deal, as is having more primary physicians in the state. It's very rewarding, seeing projects like this come into being."
Does Swaid ever get button-holed at public events, as politicians do, by the constituency taking issue with a certain decision of the Board?
"Fortunately, no," he says. "I guess I've sort of figured how to put out an 'unapproachable' vibe about the business of the CON."
As to how he balances all the competing demands on his time and attention, Swaid has a one-word answer: Golf.
"I've only started playing in the last four or five years, but the game's the only thing I do that absolutely takes my mind off everything else in the world."