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Following her heart

Scholarships help aspiring surgeon gain experience necessary to secure competitive residency assignment

At 15, Armita Kabirpour saw her aunt experiencing cardiac arrest. It was scary at first, she says, but from that moment, as doctors took swift action to save her aunt’s life, she knew she wanted to be a cardiac surgeon.

“I like the life-and-death decisions that these surgeons have to make,” says Kabirpour, now a fourth-year student in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. “And I like how satisfying it is to save people’s lives.”

Kabirpour came to the U.S. in 2012 from her native Tehran, Iran, and majored in chemistry at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, for her undergraduate education. She soon found that excelling at college in a new country required determination and hard work.

“I had to adapt to this totally different culture, but it was a challenge that I knew I had to overcome,” says Kabirpour, who graduated from GMU with honors in 2016. “I had a goal and promised myself that I would do everything I could to not let myself down.”

Now, as she nears the end of her final semester of medical school, Kabirpour’s dream is finally within reach. At VCU, her goal of gaining as much experience in the operating room as possible has been aided by scholarships, including the Dorothy Velma Clark Loveall Scholarship and the Medical Student Scholarship. The funds enabled her to travel to other hospitals for cardiac surgery rotations, boosting her chances of matching into a top cardiac surgery residency after graduation.

“It’s very difficult to match into a competitive specialty,” she says. “I was able to get letters of recommendation from world-famous surgeons for my applications, which makes a huge difference. The scholarships also helped me afford to travel for interviews. The more interviews I go to, the higher my chances of matching are. Each program only takes one or two people per year, so if I didn’t have the financial means to go to those interviews, I would have been at a huge disadvantage.”

In March, Kabirpour reaped the rewards of her efforts when she learned she had been accepted to complete residency training at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, New York. Her ultimate goal, she says, is to become an academic cardiac surgeon so she can train aspiring surgeons.

“I want to be a teacher and a mentor,” she says. “By helping a trainee, you also help all the patients that they’re going to save.”