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We are Stanford Med: #ThisIsMyWhy with Asma Dahir

In the We Are Stanford Med series, students and postdocs share their motivations and passions behind their careers.

They're students, clinicians, scientists and researchers. They're also artists, influencers, patients, scholars and advocates. They hail from all over the globe and come to Stanford Medicine carrying big ideas and dreams. With passions that stretch beyond the lab, classroom and clinic, they share their "why" as they pursue science and medicine.

Asma Dahir wears her maternal grandmother's ring -- a gift she received at 16 -- every day. "When I was growing up, my grandmother told me stories and read me books. I was her favorite, and I claim it proudly," Dahir joked. Not only is the ring a symbol of the special bond they shared, it's a reminder of Dahir's motivations to pursue a career in medicine.

After the civil war in Somalia in 1992, Dahir's family fled to Kenya, where they lived in refugee camps for six years before settling in Salt Lake City in 1998. Her grandmother, or Ayeyo as Dahir called her, suffered from liver failure due to poorly managed hepatitis A -- a disease Dahir believes could have been treated more effectively had her grandmother received adequate care.

"My passion for medicine was fueled by my grandmother's experience and by witnessing the lack of health care in Somalia and in the refugee camps -- all the while knowing how many of these diseases can be prevented," Dahir said.

A passion for medicine

Dahir originally planned to become a doctor, but after working alongside physician assistants as a surgical technician after college, she decided to switch career paths. Physician assistants, also  known as physician associates or PAs, are able to see patients, diagnose illnesses and prescribe medications. "The PAs provided the most patient-centric care and knew the patient's life outside of what brought them into the hospital," Dahir said. "And that's what I wished my grandmother had -- someone who could sit down with her and help her understand her disease."

Now Dahir is in her second year of the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies Program at Stanford Medicine -- where she is also pursuing a scholarly concentration in community and public health. "I really appreciate that Stanford's program allows me to navigate and engage in the different interests that I have," she said. "I have the opportunity to integrate my passions in public health and medicine to provide diagnostic care and help marginalized communities prevent and treat disease."

This passion for medicine and public health seems to run in Dahir's family. Out of her 15 siblings, two of her sisters -- including her identical twin, Anisa -- are also pursuing PA degrees. In fact, she and Anisa, a student at Tufts School of Medicine in Boston, often study together over FaceTime or Zoom. "We like to hold each other accountable, so we'll do flashcards and study for exams together." And when Dahir practices for patient interviews, Anisa will often play the role of patient. "She changes it up all the time," Dahir said with a laugh. "One time she was Beyonce."

Watch the rest of the We Are Stanford Med series here.

Photo by Luceo

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