Negar Salehi, MD |

Negar Salehi, MD, is an interventional cardiology fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Originally from Iran, she attended medical school and trained in cardiology and interventional cardiology at the Shahid Beheshti and Iran University of Medical Sciences, both in Tehran, before coming to the US to repeat her education with the aim of continuing her career. Salehi has held research fellowships at the Cleveland Clinic and Michigan State University, where she also trained in internal medicine. In addition, she completed her cardiology training at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, and will be the first female structural intervention fellow at her current institution next year. Salehi is passionate about teaching and learning, and she plans to pursue a career in academic medicine in the United States.

What initially sparked your interest in interventional cardiology?

As a medical student in Iran, I enjoyed procedures. I was initially very interested in surgery until one of my professors suggested that cardiology would be a good fit for me. I was lucky enough to participate in one of the best programs in Iran for cardiology. One of my first challenges entering the catheterization lab was figuring out how to survive as a left-hander. I thought, “How do I get on? Everything is on the right.” One of the professors just laughed at me and said that there are a lot of left-handed interventionists and not to worry. I’m glad he said that because it calmed me down. Interestingly enough, as time went on, I’ve been able to work with both my right and left hands.

After I finished my education there, I worked as a counselor for 4 years, but I wanted something more. I thought I needed more opportunities to research, learn and progress professionally. So I moved to the US in 2012, although I knew it wouldn’t be easy when I made this decision. But in my mind I knew that sacrifice would bring me happiness in the end.

What was it like repeating cardiology training after serving as an attending physician?

I’m doing 10 years of my life. But I still learned a lot, especially because medicine in Iran and the United States can be different. Sure, in the first year of my residency I learned a lot about the culture and EMR here, but the basic concepts of medicine and cardiology remain the same. Also, I had only done 1 year of internal medicine in Iran. I kept thinking that each patient would teach me something new, so even if I am going to redo several years of my life, I will learn more and more from each of my experiences.

What has been a challenge is that most of my family still lives in Iran, although I have a few cousins ​​in New York and have made good friends in many places I’ve lived. I was lucky enough to get a green card shortly after moving to the US, so I could travel back and forth at least once a year.

When you think back, what has been your most meaningful clinical experience?

I can think of two. I was very young and in a rotational surgery for the first time. I followed a patient to the emergency room who came in with abdominal pain and nausea. First he was diagnosed with a gallstone and they decided he needed surgery called cholecystectomy. Being over 40 years old, he required preoperative heart clearance. They got the EKG, which changed the game: He apparently had an acute STEMI. So as a very young medical student I learned that I should always think about heart problems no matter what, even though the symptoms can be atypical. And actually that was one of the reasons why I was more attracted to cardiology. I thought there were mysteries in this subspecialty.

The second was when I was there. Another young man was taken to our emergency department from another hospital while I was on duty for STEMI. He was in his forties, unconscious, with acute STEMI and post-CPR. We had no information, no family around, and although he was at very high risk, I accepted all the risks and decided to take him to the catheterization lab. We opened the vessel and rescued him, and when his family – the children, the wife – arrived they were so grateful and the amount of happiness that came from all of them was immense. I think that feeling will never be replaced by anything, and I will remember it for the rest of my life.

Next year you will be the first female fellow for Structural Interventions on Mount Sinai. What does that mean to you?

I was humbled and honored to be given the position. When I found out, that was one of the best things that ever happened to me. At the same time, I am fortunate to have Dr. Annapoorna Kini and Dr. Roxana Mehran as my mentors. They are two of the most successful female interventionalists, and it’s a great experience and opportunity for me to have them as mentors and see what they do. Of course it will give you some credit to be the first person in any position.

What do you look forward to when you’re done training?

Finally a job! The goal would be a mix of coronary and structural, because I don’t want to lose my coronary skills. After all, that’s where I often find the joy of being an interventionalist. When patients with a STEMI come on the table, very sick, and you open the vessel and help them, that’s a blessing. I would also like to continue my career in academic medicine as I believe that that way I can continue to grow myself and teach the next generation. Frankly, many people have done a great job guiding me. I am now obliged to pass on to them what I have learned. I want to be a role model, especially for women, to let them know that nothing can stop you, be it gender or geography. If you want something, you work hard for it, you have good mentors and you go for it. As part of this goal, I’m working with Dr. kini to a Twitter group to exchange ideas and guide anyone interested in medicine to success.

What is the biggest challenge for fellows right now?

One of the biggest challenges is the rapid transition from the more extensive training to the job. We’ve all had a very long education, and then it’s only within a year of starting an interventional cardiology fellowship that we don’t have to find a job. For me it’s different because I’ve been practicing interventional cardiology for years, but for others it’s hard to know every aspect of the field after only 2-3 months, that’s when to start applying. So that’s one of the big challenges, because we still don’t know where we stand when we’re looking for a job. As a woman, I also feel that we have more challenges in finding jobs or leadership positions. Because of culture, I think each of us starting this route thought we would contribute to change and make progress by working harder and showing that we can be the same as men.

Do you have any advice for someone who might want to follow your path and retrain in the US?

I would say, if you are firm in your decision, do it and don’t think twice that you won’t succeed. Hard work will always pay you back. It would certainly help if you were humble because when you work as a counselor you may think you know everything. It’s not easy to be an intern again and have other people tell you what to do. Accept that others have a different outlook on life and medicine, and maybe they know the system better. If what they’re doing isn’t wrong and isn’t harming the patient, then you should follow their lead and move on. Make more friends instead of resisting what you get from new people, and acceptance will help a lot. Remember that every patient, every colleague has something to offer you.

What is something that people might not know about you?

I am a very adventurous person. I love to travel and so far I have traveled to different countries, even different states of the US. When I have time, I will travel, because I like to learn and know different cultures, and I think this is a way to open my mind. At the same time, I really like photography, which complements travel and consistently helps me to capture the beautiful moments I have experienced. Horseback riding is another hobby. I grew up riding horses with my uncle and cousins ​​every weekend in Iran, and I also got to ride horses in Little Rock. However, I don’t have much opportunity to do it in New York City these days.

What her nominator Annapoorna Kini, MD (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai), says:

I’m a big believer in women entering the field of interventional cardiology and structural heart disease, and I see Negar’s passion for her field. I want her to be an inspiration to all aspiring women to make it big and make a significant impact in this field. Negar Salehi is a highly motivated, focused, knowledgeable and hardworking person. She has an intelligent and inquiring mind complemented by a vast amount of medical knowledge. She always strives for improvement and excellence in her work, whether in patient care or academic assignments. dr. Salehi has a bright future ahead of him. I am confident that she will do exceptionally well in her career as a cardiologist, in both interventional and structural heart disease, and succeed in all aspects of academic practice.

*To nominate a great cardiology fellow for the Featured Fellow section of TCTMD’s Fellows Forum, click here.

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