As a physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) doctor, Zainab Naji has plenty of responsibilities. But if she had to boil it down in one sentence, she says, “I make sure that people can live their lives.”
Here, this 2012 AUC graduate gives us the inside scoop on her specialty and why she chose AUC.
What is your current position?
I’m a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physician, also known as a Physiatrist, at the DMC Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan. Last year I completed my PM&R residency at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital/University of Chicago Hospital.
Tell us about the patients you see.
Our main diagnoses are major ones—spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, strokes, amputees. Some of the other common cases I see are orthopedic injuries such as poly-trauma, joint replacements, heart disease, lung disease, and other injuries. We see patients from the entire medical spectrum, so it’s pertinent that we are familiar with a wide range of medical problems and treatments. In particular, you need to have a strong base in orthopedics, musculoskeletal medicine, and neurology.
My role as the PM&R physician is to determine an appropriate clinical course for the patient and periodically review it with my team members. It’s a small field, but we’re also one of the fastest growing.
What do you like most about physical medicine and rehabilitation?
PM&R is a really supportive, collaborative field that encourages participation. As the rehab doctor, I act as a team leader and bridge between the patient, the therapists and the medical treatment. Part of the rehab course is a weekly team conference lead by the physician where the physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, social workers, and nurses all get together and discuss new developments and the patient’s rehab course. Being part of the rehab team, I get to work with so many great colleagues on a patient’s treatment plan. Sharing all our different perspectives makes us good at what we do. And the personalities tend to be really fun!
There’s also a big psychological aspect of support for our patients, and you form really strong bonds with them. After all, while some of our patients have temporary injuries, a lot of them come to rehab with permanent disabilities that they’ll need to manage for the rest of their lives. These people have had life-altering events, and we have the opportunity and pleasure of showing them that while that while their lives have changed, they can still be meaningful and enjoyable. We help show people they’re still going to be functional, just in a different way.
How’d you get interested in PM&R?
I was first exposed to PM&R when I sprained my knee while playing volleyball in high school. I was sent to an orthopedic surgeon who couldn’t do much for me, as I was a non-surgical candidate. Then I was sent to a physiatrist who managed my injuries and help me return to my previous level of function. I had never heard of PM&R before, but that really sparked my interest.
Why did you choose AUC?
I applied to US schools and I didn’t get in. Then I applied to osteopathic (DO) schools, Master’s of Medical Sciences (MMS) programs, Polish medical schools, and AUC—and I was accepted to all of them.
What it came down to was that a family friend of mine had gone to the Caribbean for medical school and really liked the fact that he was able to do all of his rotations in the U.S., so that influenced my decision heavily. Also, I’m from southern California and eventually hope to practice there, and AUC was one of a few international schools that had approval from the Medical Board of California for its graduates to apply for licensure in the state. I didn’t want to waste any more time waiting to take another route before starting medical school.
How was your AUC experience?
AUC was a really good experience. I found a great group of friends who became my second family. Between class, meals, going to the gym and studying, we were together 16 hours a day. The school was big enough that you could find all types of people, but small enough that you could recognize everyone you ran into. When you’re far away from your family, you forge really strong, lasting bonds with the friends that become your second family. I graduated five years ago, and while we’re all spread out over the country, my friends and I have been in each other’s weddings, and we still have little reunions. And I also happened to meet my husband, Dib Dudar, at AUC too!
How did you two meet?
We first met at one of the welcome picnics, but continued to hang out through a few mutual friends. When we got together, we initially didn’t really know what was going to happen, because I was two semesters ahead of him and left the island eight months before he did. I did my rotations in New York and California and he did his in Michigan, so we saw each other intermittently for three years. It was very difficult, but it was definitely a sacrifice worth making. Now I’m an attending and he’s doing a Pulmonary/Critical Care fellowship at Henry Ford Hospital, the second biggest ICU in the country. I always joke that we’re at two ends of the medical spectrum: he’s running around in the ICU saving lives; and I’m making sure that people can live these lives!
Any advice for AUC students?
Your education is only as good as the effort you put into it. It’s up to you to put in the extra time and maximize your results. It’s a lot of heartache and struggle, but you’ll meet amazing people along the way and it will all be worth it in the end.
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Posted February 09, 2017 09:24 AM