UMHS Class of 2018 graduate Dr. Obteene Azimi-Ghomi was always fascinated with science and medicine as a child. When the Maryland native was growing up in Northern Virginia, at age eight, his uncle gave him a copy of Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy and he was immediately enthralled by human anatomy.
“I would just flick through the pages in awe at what lay inside us, just underneath the skin,” Dr. Azimi-Ghomi said. “In hindsight, that was quite the odd gift to receive as a child, but my Uncle Said was very influential in fostering my passion for medicine. I consider that Netter’s Atlas he gave me to be my Bible.”
The UMHS Endeavour spoke to Dr. Azimi-Ghomi as he prepared to start a General Surgery residency at Kendall Regional Medical Center in Miami, Florida about why he chose to study medicine at UMHS, his advice for others pursuing a career in medicine, how to make the most of studying and excel academically in medical school, advice for applying for residency, his goals for residency, how he would love to one day help medically underserved regions, and more.
New Perspective on Global Healthcare
Dr. Azimi-Ghomi, a Persian American (his parents are originally from Iran), attended James Madison University in Virginia and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in biology. He applied to several medical schools after graduation and even a post-baccalaureate program, but extenuating circumstances prevented him from attending.
(Photo, inset right) Dr. Obteene Azimi-Ghomi. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Azimi-Ghomi
He was actually in the process of signing up for the Marines, thinking his aspirations to become an M.D. were over, when serendipity intervened and he heard about UMHS.
“I applied to UMHS, mainly due to the fact that it was a school associated with the prestigious Ross name; it was the only Caribbean medical school I had applied to,” he said. “I heard back from UMHS regarding an interview, and a couple months later, was accepted to matriculate into the Fall 2013 class. That decision changed my life.”
Dr. Azimi-Ghomi said attending UMHS gave him a new perspective on global healthcare.
“I feel that attending medical school in the Caribbean really opens your eyes to healthcare access, or lack thereof, in other countries,” he said. “It really gave me a greater perspective of the difficulties many face in obtaining adequate health care and treatment. These experiences really helped embolden my drive and passion in becoming not only a physician, but the type of doctor that helps transform and change the landscape of medicine and globally improve healthcare and healthcare access.”
UMHS gave him all the necessary tools to successfully land a residency.
“I absolutely believe that attending UMHS and the experiences I had there give me several advantages going into residency. The first and foremost is resiliency and the ability to handle adversity.”
Dr. Azimi-Ghomi speaks to the graduates of UMHS Class of 2018 on June 8, 2018 at Lincoln Center, New York City. Photo: Island Photography
Humility, Empathy & Confidence
Dr. Azimi-Ghomi spoke in detail about the three qualities he learned and developed the most while attending UMHS: Humility, empathy and confidence.
“A good physician knows their limits, and must acknowledge what their strengths are, as well as where their weaknesses and deficiencies lie,” he said regarding humility.” Knowing such helps to work toward your strengths but also gives you an idea of what to do in order to strengthen your weak points. This is also important as a good physician known when they should ask for help.”
Dr. Azimi-Ghomi said the importance of empathy was repeated time and time again both during the Basic Science Program at UMHS in St. Kitts and the Introduction to Clinical Medicine II and Biological Basis of Clinical Medicine courses at the 5th Semester campus in Portland, Maine.
“You have to be able to connect with your patients and understand from their perspective where they are coming from, how this illness/disease is afflicting them, and the plethora of emotions that flood one’s mind and thoughts in such situations,” he said. “We do so many practice cases either in class or on exams that sometimes we forget that our patients are more than just a name and a problem list, but a person with their own issues, like you and I. Patients are very intuitive to a physician that can connect with them, and this is paramount in establishing rapport and gaining their trust in order to help deliver the best treatment they need.”
Finally, Dr. Azimi-Ghomi learned to develop confidence while studying at UMHS, something he said is one of the “biggest traits” to be a good physician.
“The mountain of knowledge that one must acquire during their journey through medical school is extremely daunting, and paired with the plethora of exams and rotations, can lead to students feeling discouraged and burned out,” he said. “Many times, especially on rotations, I felt that I didn’t know anything at all. However, with hard work and experience I steadily gained the confidence to be sure in both my physical examination and diagnostic skills, as well as in treating patients and performing bedside procedures. One of the best feelings one can have is the self-assured confidence in knowing you can properly take care of a patient, from exam to diagnostics to treatment. All this comes with experience, and the rotations I had were paramount in not only acquiring the medical know-how, but also the confidence to apply it to my patients.”
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How to Excel in Med School
Dr. Azimi-Ghomi did exceptionally well academically at UMHS. He has sound advice for others wanting to excel.
“Hustle hard,” he said. “Treat this like it’s your career, because it is. It’s never too early to study, even such simple things as browsing a Netter’s Atlas or brushing up on some biology before starting classes. Some people may dissuade you and say that’s being a ‘gunner’, but it isn’t. You’re simply preparing yourself and giving yourself the best opportunity to succeed. When you do start classes, remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself and build a regular, steady routine of studying throughout the semester. This gives you the best chance to not only succeed, but to also retain what you’re learning in the long term which is invaluable come Step 1 and 2 time.”
Although studying is crucial in medical school, Dr. Azimi-Ghomi points out to never overdo it.
“That’s a recipe for burning yourself out,” he said of studying too much. “You have to know yourself and know your limits, which is something you’ll find out as you go through the Basic Science semesters in St. Kitts. When you study, set a daily goal on the lectures you want to cover and text pages you want to review, and try to accomplish that. The key is to know that you’re in it for the long haul and to have an idea of the long term, but stay focused in the short term. That will keep you going and motivated in the day-to-day grind. Also, remember that we’re all in this together. This is not a competition. In the real world, we work together with many other colleagues to provide the best health care we can for our patients; medical school is no different.”
Dr. Azimi-Ghomi remembers a quote someone told him his first week at UMHS. He found it to ring true throughout his entire time in med school.
“Medical school is like eating 10 pancakes a day, every day. As long as you eat your 10 pancakes, you’re good. But the moment you slack and don’t eat the whole thing, the remaining pancakes roll over and the next day, you have even more to eat, and your workload becomes that much tougher.”
Finally, it is also important to approach every class with an open mind and not rely on what others may have said about a certain class or professor.
“I would recommend going into everything with eyes and ears open,” he said. “It’s good to have a general idea of what to expect, but never rely on the experiences that other students have in the class. I can’t tell you the number of times other students told me to expect a class to be extremely difficult, or a professor to be very tough, only to start it and find out it was the exact opposite. Everyone’s experiences differ. Also, be courteous with other students, make friends when possible, and try and help out other students if possible. Medical school is not like undergraduate. This is doctoral training, and you must view it as such. My classmates in my mind are fellow colleagues, and we are all in this together. Doing so also helps develop teamwork skills that are invaluable when on the wards and, eventually, for residency.”
He learned a lot from the qualified UMHS faculty, but one professor in particular had a profound impact on him: Dr. Anoop Kumar Jalan, Professor of Pathology.
“He was a tough professor, yes, but he was very fair and he cared extremely for his students,” Dr. Azimi-Ghomi said. “Dr. Jalan was always available to answer any and all questions, and believe me, there were many. Just the way he would throw little jokes into the material there weren’t just for laughs and giggles, but for you to always remember that material and have it really stick in your memory.”
Dr. Azimi-Ghomi speaks at graduation at Lincoln Center in New York City on June 8, 2018. Photo: Island Photography
Doing Well on the Match
Dr. Azimi-Ghomi starts a residency in General Surgery at Kendall Regional Medical Center in Miami this summer. It was through the guidance of UMHS Academic Affairs and attendings at clinical rotations at hospitals that helped him through the residency application process.
“For the Match, it is important to ask the attendings that you would like to have them write you a Letter of Recommendation (LOR), either toward the end of a rotation, or as soon as it is over,” he said. “Doing so helps to avoid the stress of scrambling to collect LORs once the application cycle opens up. I would also recommend students to thoroughly research potential residency fields they would like to apply to, in order to be as prepared as possible when building your application. This allows you to be as competitive of an applicant as possible.”
He urges everyone to utilize the Academic Affairs department at UMHS, particularly Patrick McCormick, Associate Dean of Academic and Student Affairs.
“Listen to Patrick McCormick,” he said. “That man is a revelation, and helps make the entire process of applying so much less stressful. Don’t be afraid to reach out to him whenever you have a question regarding the entire residency process.”
Dr. Azimi-Ghomi at work with Dr. Charity Uhunmwangho, one of the attending physicians during rotations in Augusta, GA. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Azimi-Ghomi
Plans for General Surgery Residency & Future
Dr. Azimi-Ghomi soon starts a Categorical General Surgery position at Kendall Regional Medical Center in Miami, and it is a five-year position.
“Kendall Regional Medical Center is a Trauma 1 center, and also has a regionally acclaimed burn unit,” he said. “It’s a community-type residency, so there will be less fellows competing for procedures, and therefore early operating experience and high surgical volumes for residents.”
What interests him the most about General Surgery?
“I initially became interested in surgery as it reminded me of anatomy, which was my favorite course during Basic Sciences,” he said. “The ability to connect what was seen and learned there with the structures seen during an operation was fascinating and exciting. What made me fall in love with surgery, however, was the fact that you’re not just a surgeon, but you’re a doctor that operates. If a patient comes in with a disease that you determine needs to be treated surgically, and you yourself can then perform that procedure; in my opinion, it’s ‘total medicine’.”
It was during the clinical clerkships arranged by UMHS that Dr. Azimi-Ghomi realized he wanted to focus on becoming a surgeon after med school.
“Many times during my surgical clerkships, we were medically managing patients on the ward, trying all that we can do to not only avoid having to perform surgery, but also medically optimize the patient and their pre-existing conditions,” he said. “Half of surgery is knowing when and when not to operate. A good surgeon never cuts unless when absolutely necessary. And when we do operate, it is an art. Every incision and stitch is performed diligently and intentionally. I can’t express in words the feeling of going in to see a patient who is acutely ill, identifying the pertinent anatomy as well as the pathology or disease that is going on, knowing how to approach and treat the disease, and observing the dramatic improvement in their health.”
After competing his residency, Dr. Azimi-Ghomi wants to establish his own surgical practice in affiliation with an academic/teaching institute.
“I love surgery as well as teaching, and want to be involved in training the next generation of surgeons that follow me.”
Dr. Azimi-Ghomi would ultimately like to become financially stable enough to take a year or two off at a time. During these hiatuses, he would travel in a “mobile operating clinic” and help out in medically and surgically underserved parts of the world for several months at a time, operating on patients in desperate need of surgery.
“This is mainly due to the experiences of healthcare I saw during my time in both St. Kitts, as well as in my parents’ home country of Iran,” he said. “During these trips, I would also help train residents and surgeons in order for them to not only apply these skills to help treat their fellow people, but also then in turn help to improve the surgical training of aspiring surgeons in their respective countries. Almost like a ‘Johnny Appleseed’ of Surgery, going around spreading surgical treatment and training around the world to places that need it.”
Dr. Azimi-Ghomi has, in a sense, come full circle since getting that first copy of Netter’s Atlas when he was a kid. He is still just as curious about the human body but now has the requisite training to make a difference in medicine and General Surgery. He remains grateful to the many people at UMHS who made his journey thus far so successful.
“I would just again like to thank everyone at UMHS for giving me the chance to study and practice medicine, and giving me the best tools and opportunities possible to realize my potential and become who I am today,” he said.
(Top photo) Dr. Azimi-Ghomi speaking at 2018 UMHS graduation in New York City. Photo: Island Photography.
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Scott is Director of Digital Content & Alumni Communications Liaison at UMHS and editor of the UMHS Endeavour blog. When he's not writing about UMHS students, faculty, events, public health, alumni and UMHS research, he writes and edits Broadway theater reviews for a website he publishes in New York City, StageZine.com.