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A Heart and Passion for Patient Care: An Interview with Dr. Shaghayegh Tavassoli

A heart and passion for patient care — these are often repeated, trite words bound to be a part of every doctor’s creed. But when backed by a staunch belief in one’s mission, they become an endless reservoir of determination, resilience and dedication. Mix all of these ingredients and not just a superhero, but a supermom will rise, ready to achieve excellence on all fronts. 

“I’m one of those people who, if you tell me something’s not possible, I’m very motivated to make it possible,” shared Dr. Shaghayegh Tavassoli, a Family Medicine Specialist in Los Angeles, California. 

And she meant it. Between her current work at the UMMA Community Clinic and raising five children, Dr. Tavassoli could make even Hercules and his 12 labors seem small. And, to make it more challenging, she’s excited to welcome the New Year by starting her own private practice!

Dr. Tavassoli works in the patient care field, with an emphasis in family medicine and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). Her job has painted a troubling portrait of the relationship between medicine and uninsured or underinsured patients, which emphasizes the irony of how the former are more likely to receive medical care than the latter. 

An Air Traffic Controller, but in Medicine

Dr. Tavassoli turned her passion for medicine into a career path in the blink of an eye. From playing nurse with dolls, she exchanged a lively interest for a journey into family medicine. 

“I realized that in family medicine, you can do a little bit of everything. You can see pediatrics and geriatrics, you can even deliver babies,” she explained.

But the key factor behind Dr. Tavassoli’s choice resides in her usage of family medicine as a holistic approach towards patient care.

“I practice preventative medicine which helps me to keep my patients healthy so that we avoid any long-term diseases for as long as possible. I’m there to coordinate everything and reach out to the specialists to piece together the entire patient’s profile like a puzzle. I am the patient’s medical home,” Dr. Tavassoli said.

Caring for Our Cars More Than Our Bodies

Although medical issues take their time creeping up on our bodies, only a handful of people understand the value of preventative care. And it’s enough to look at the timing of our visits to the doctor to notice this concerning behavior. More often than not, patients skip annual visits, only to show up at the doctor’s office when the damage has already been done.

“You take a car in for oil changes to make sure everything’s running and working smoothly, but we don’t do that for our own bodies,” she said. “Instead of taking our bodies to the doctor for an annual tune-up, we allow factors such as stress, poor sleeping habits, and anxiety to wreak havoc and cause medical issues in our bodies without our knowledge. High-stress levels in our early years can turn into chronic health conditions as adults.” 

Unfortunately, as Dr. Tavassoli remarked, being insured is no longer enough to keep an eye on your health. Often, underinsured or uninsured patients, who don’t qualify for specific treatments, steer clear of medical bills, thus hindering preventative care right off the bat. 

So, is there a solution for such patients? Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) utilize outstanding efforts and resources to serve the underserved. 

Working in a Federally Qualified Health Center

The Health Resources & Services Administration defines FQHCs as “community-based health care providers that receive funds from the HRSA Health Center Program to provide primary care services in underserved areas.” Such centers allow Dr. Tavassoli and her peers to treat patients from low-income areas (who frequently cannot afford comprehensive insurance plans) and receive equal treatment without discrimination.

“Regardless of what their insurance is, or even if they don’t have insurance, all patients get the same treatment from me. I give them the same attention and try to give them the same care that I would for any other patient,” Dr. Tavassoli said.

Going to an FQHC becomes vital for people who cannot afford insurance. Dr. Tavassoli shared a story of a patient who could not seek treatment for his cardiac issues after having lost his insurance. Entering her office for a physical turned out to be a lifesaver for this patient.

“I noticed that his heart rate was very low. I asked, ‘Have you had any heart issues?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, I had a cardiopulmonary arrest,'” she explained.

Luckily, Dr. Tavassoli was quick to listen to her instincts and conduct a thorough investigation on his cardiac health.

“We did an immediate EKG on him; he was in complete heart block. I sent him to the emergency room, and they took him to the OR that same day and put a pacemaker in. This was all within a matter of hours. When he came back, he said, ‘You literally saved my life,'” Dr. Tavassoli joyfully recalled.

Even as she’s busy starting her own practice, Dr. Tavassoli finds enough time to dedicate to her FQHC patients. Such are the bonds between her and these underserved patients, whose honest gratitude is Dr. Tavassoli’s only reward, that she cannot let go of them.

“I’m still keeping two half-days at the clinic because I can’t walk away from those patients,” Dr. Tavassoli confessed.

“Not in It for the Money”

Patient care does not only focus on the present but also tends towards the future. For that reason, Dr. Tavassoli’s new practice will serve both as a center for excellence in family medicine and as a starting point for her children who are already showing interest in their supermom’s mission.

“It’s getting harder and harder to start your own practice and have someone to guide you along the way. If any of my children want to go into the medical field, I can be there for them with the office up and running,” she said. 

Such selfless work, both inside and outside the office, expects only a grateful “thank you” in return, which is a testimony to Dr. Tavassoli’s compassion and humility.

“People randomly show up to my house or call me with medical issues, and I’m okay with that. I encourage my friends to come, and if I can help, then I will do it. I’m definitely not in it for the money,” she said. 

A Parting Reminder

Sacrificial stories from doctors of commitment, selflessness and humility are the ones that encourage others the most. Thankfully there are doctors like Dr. Tavassoli, who teach us how everyone deserves the same patient care, regardless of circumstances! For more information about Dr. Tavassoli and her mission, please visit the following website.

Ionut Raicea
Ionut Raicea