INTERVIEW WITH NASSIR AZIMI, MD, FACC, FSCAI, FASNC
What guided your decision to go into medicine and specifically, your chosen field?
To make a short story long, when I was 9 years old, I was able to attend my mother’s graduation from medical school in Kiev, USSR. As an Afghan woman who at a young age left to study medicine in Russia, she was indeed inspirational to many. She was truly my inspiration for all that I have done since. Growing up, she would often take me to her clinic in the busy area of “downtown” Kabul and also to her hospital where she worked as an Obstetrician Gynecologist. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan changed everything and in 1981, she and my father made a difficult decision to escape and we fled to Pakistan. There, both of my parents worked to help deliver healthcare through Inter-AID to the refugees. However, to achieve a better life and education for us, they came to America as refugees. While I had a very limited grasp of English, my only answer to people who would ask “What do you want to be?” was “I want to be a doctor.”
Through hard work and commitment and indeed good fortune, I have proudly achieved the AMERICAN DREAM. Once in medicine, my field chose me. It was through mentorship and exposure to various fields that I was ultimately solicited by the chief of cardiology during my residency to pursue the field of cardiology. Once in the field, it was a no-brainer for me to do procedures and settle on interventional cardiology which I enjoy immensely.
“You see, what makes a patient feel best is when they know that their doctor cares about them. Caring is the greater difference.”
Have you ever been a patient, and if so, what did it teach you?
I have always felt that empathy is not something that can be taught. I have always had empathy and compassion for my patients. However, I do feel that those feelings were magnified when I personally became critically ill and was hospitalized. Through this experience, my sense of empathy has been exponentially magnified.
What are the most important qualities for a doctor to have?
The root for the word doctor is from latin “Doceo” which means “I teach”. So a very important skill for any good doctor is communication skills and ability to translate knowledge and experience at a level that the patient has meaningful understanding of their ailment and the necessary measures to help make them feel better.
A great doctor is caring, resilient, constantly searching for answers, and curious and thus not limited by the scope of our current knowledge and understanding. A great doctor is one who advances the boundaries and contributes to the wealth of knowledge already gained. A great doctor is a strong advocate for the patient. You see, what makes a patient feel best is when they know that their doctor cares about them. Caring is the greater difference. People who have advanced knowledge and skills but don’t care for the patient can still end up being ineffective. But caring doctors can look up the knowledge or better yet – through teamwork and cooperation with consultants – could make a meaningful difference. A caring doctor would be the greatest advocate for his or her patients.
What can a patient expect when they have you as a doctor?
My patients are extremely loyal to me as they see that along with my educational pedigree, I care about them and am their strongest advocate. I refer them to physician colleagues whom I would trust to treat myself or my family. Many of my patients know that I have over the years advanced my field and inched forward towards newer milestones. I explain things to them in a language they understand. Most of my patients are word of mouth referrals from other patients.
The most important factor in a doctor-patient relationship is mutual respect. A patient who trusts their doctor and knows that the doctor will do their best (along with colleagues if needed) is one who will likely comply with the treatment plans.
It’s quite rare to have four board certifications – you are board certified in Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Medicine, Nuclear Cardiology, and Interventional Cardiology. Have you always had a passion for advanced learning?
My latin teacher in high school taught me “Scientia est potestas.” This means knowledge is power and I feel for me as a physician the more I understand, the better I can care for my patients. Seeing a patient from the perspective of an interventional cardiologist, a general cardiologist, a nuclear cardiologist, and as an internal medicine specialist allows for a more comprehensive understanding than looking at them from only one perspective.
“What distinguishes me is that unlike many of my colleagues, I maintain internal medicine boards certification which is not required. I do it because I want to be able to treat a whole person and not a particular organ or part of the body.”
What makes you different from other doctors in your field?
My field is filled with great colleagues as in my opinion it draws the best of the best. I feel in general that by the time one becomes a successful interventional cardiologist, that one would be able to claim most of those characteristics I described before.
What distinguishes me is that unlike many of my colleagues, I maintain internal medicine boards certification which is not required. I do it because I want to be able to treat a whole person and not a particular organ or part of the body. Sometimes, when you are one who on a recurrent basis is involved in life-saving procedures, one can develop a sense of ego that can get in the way. I have always been advised by my dearly departed mother that “One should remain humble and never forget from where they came.” A sense of humility can also be liberating in my opinion.
Most importantly, unlike most colleagues I have learned to employ humor to a greater degree than most physicians in approaching my work both in acute critical moments and in daily more mundane activities.
What is your favorite activity outside of work?
I have liked to write poetry and prose. However, more recently, I am mainly interested in spending time with my two kids and whatever activities they enjoy.
If you could spend a day with any person in the world (dead or alive) – who would you choose?
There are numerous people that I would love to have met and spent time with, however, the one person whom I would love to have one day back would be my hero and inspiration: my mother, Doctor Najiba H. Azimi, MD. I would love for her to know all that I have achieved in order to secure her pride in me.
What would you do for a living if you weren’t a doctor?
I would love to be a comedian. After all, laughter is the best medicine!
You recently joined the Doctorpedia team as a Founding Medical Partner and the Chief Medical Officer of the Heart Health channel. What do you hope to accomplish in that capacity?
As a physician thus far, I have been proud to care for my patients. I have been doing this well and with great outcomes one patient at a time. However, despite all of our advances, we have not been able to knock out heart disease as the number one killer of men and women in the United States.
Now, as the Chief Medical Officer of the Heart Channel, I hope to have a channel with up to date and refreshed information that can help many people at a time. We will focus on prevention and treatments! People with and without heart disease would be able to come and access physician-reviewed articles about various conditions and their treatments (both pharmacologic, non-pharmacologic approaches – such as dietary) as well device treatment and prevention of heart diseases.
What problems do physicians and patients face that Doctorpedia can help solve?
Physician colleagues would unanimously agree about the need for good communication and education of their patients. Through Doctorpedia, patients would be able to go home and read further or watch videos that would add to their knowledge and education.
“Patients have a hunger for knowledge and are often misinformed by attorney ads or misinformation on the internet. Here, Doctorpedia could serve as a trusted source for helpful information and videos and facilitate further education of the patients.”
What about Doctorpedia resonates with your personal and professional mission?
A good doctor is a good teacher and thus we all should endeavor to be great teachers. Yet the doctor-patient encounter is such that the amount of time is limited and patients often are left with a myriad of questions regarding their health, diagnoses, treatments, and procedures. However, while the internet has essentially infinite information, there is no good source where a patient would be able to access reliable useful information in one place. Yes, it’s true that information can be found but one has to sieve through a bunch of “junk” before getting useful information and one may have to go to multiple sites.
I see Doctorpedia as organizing the chaos and filtering the junk by having physician-reviewed important information that is comprehensive and easily accessible. Thus, it would allow patients to gain knowledge about their ailments and treatment plans. They would be empowered in their quest for health.
You have received numerous awards and have been recognized as a Top Interventional Cardiologist by your peers in San Diego Magazine and Castle Connolly, among others. What does it mean to you to be recognized for your work?
I am the same person and doctor as before the awards and am not changed by them. We work hard to get to our first job. For me it was for 1989 when I went to college and 2005 when I started my first job as a physician. So the awards and achievements are really a reward for the years sacrificed studying and training but also an acknowledgment of the skills learned in the process. It furthermore acknowledges the continued hard work applied to continuing to maintain medical education and a commitment to be available for those emergencies and when called being able to treat the patients such that excellent outcomes are achieved.
In short, I am very proud to be acknowledged.
Nassir Azimi, MD, FACC, FSCAI, FASNC
Cardiovascular & Structural Heart Interventional Physician
Dr. Azimi is quadruple board certified in internal medicine, cardiology, nuclear cardiology, and interventional cardiology. In addition to being the chief of Cardiovascular Medicine at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, Dr. Azimi is a Doctorpedia Founding Medical Partner and the Chief Medical Officer of Doctorpedia's Heart Health channel.