Aug. 16, 2013 - Facing four years of demanding study can be daunting for any medical student, but Azin Kheirandish Pishkenari knows she’ll have plenty of family support.
“I have about 10 grandmas,” she says. “I recently had my tonsils removed, and I had about seven different types of soup every day. All of them wanted to take care of me.”
Born to a family that immigrated to America from Iran when she was 12, Kheirandish Pishkenari spent her teens working in her family’s adult day-care center, which initially catered to Farsi-speaking seniors.
“We’re from a culture where family is very important, and we were missing our family at home. So we thought all these people could be like our grandmas and grandpas,” she says.
She loved the attention from her surrogate grandparents but she also played a serious role in the center’s success.
“I did all the paperwork,” she says. “I was 14 years old and talking to the department of health and environment. I’m sure they wondered ‘Should we take you seriously?’ but I’d read all the policies. I knew what I was talking about.”
Kheirandish Pishkenari wrote the center’s bylaws, translated Farsi for patients during medical visits and became the resident expert on Medicaid and Medicare.
“Someone would say something to me like ‘My knee has been hurting for three years.’ I would tell them ‘I will make the appointment with a doctor and go with you.’ That was beyond the scope of what we did, but I’m willing to do that for my grandma. “
Through these experiences, she began feeling comfortable with doctors, overcoming a bad first impression when she was 6 and her father had suffered a heart attack.
“Health care in Iran is very different. The way the physicians view patients is very different. That’s the reason I love living in the U.S. We value people and we value life.” says Kheirandish Pishkenari, 23, who spent the last year working in pediatrics orthopedics research at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
“I never thought that my dad’s problems were taken care of. They (doctors) just said it was bad genes; like it was his fault. But then I saw medicine practiced here not only from the patients’ side, but from the providers’ side. I saw a different opinion of what medicine is and what it is trying to do. I could see myself doing this. I thought ‘This is how we should treat people.’”
She recognizes there are shortcomings in the U.S. system, but “I’m still naïve and young and I think we can fix them. I look at the differences (between the U.S. and Iranian healthcare systems) and can see that the quality of care here is amazing in comparison. That gives me hope.”
A graduate of Colorado State University, she’s still deciding which medical school track will work best for her, but she has no doubt she selected the right school.
“I knew I wanted to go to CU. I was involved with the diversity and inclusion office here one summer, and I knew then that I didn’t have any idea how to approach medical school. I didn’t know what steps I needed to take to get where I wanted to be. They taught me all those things even though I wasn’t even a student here - just over a summer. And I thought ‘What will they do with four years of medicine?’”
And how do all those grandmothers feel about this career?
“They’re all so proud. They all think ‘Our little granddaughter is going into medicine.’ There’s a lot of hope riding on me.”
Any advice from so many grandmothers?
“Stay away from boys!” she says with a laugh. “It’s been the same advice since high school.”