Ozair Rahman, MD, Fourth-Year Radiology Resident
I feel an inclination and drive to continue to learn this unique craft, while also aiming to help those with less resources. That’s my ultimate goal.
Most radiology residents remember when they became interested in the specialty, but few stories are as serendipitous as Ozair Rahman’s. “My dorm room was actually above the radiology department,” he says. “One hundred percent true story.”
Rahman’s dorm was in Karachi, Pakistan, where he moved from Chicago at the age of 18 to attend medical school—opting out of the American requirement to attend a four-year college first. As Rahman remembers, it was the first time he’d veered off the conventional path.
“I was your run-of-the-mill, midwestern American teenager,” he says. “Surfer necklace, long hair, went to prom, played basketball.” His original plan was to go to the University of Illinois at Urbana, where he’d been accepted, and room with his three best friends. “I’d been to Pakistan only once.”
An illness in the family led Rahman, the son of Pakistani immigrants, to reexamine his plans. “I realized money would be an issue,” he explains, “and maybe I need to become more independent sooner.”
After convincing his parents to let him go, Rahman arrived in Karachi with only a basic understanding of the language and a lot to learn about the way things worked. “I’m wearing ripped jeans, a super-fitted Hollister shirt,” he remembers from the day he arrived. “I step out of the plane and I’m the only individual wearing jeans in the entire airport.” In addition to adjusting to different clothing, language, scorching heat, and intermittent electricity, he quickly realized he would have to become more patient with his environment.
In the end, it was actually deficient training in radiology in Pakistan that led Rahman to feel passionate about the specialty. Because of the high costs of healthcare, advanced radiology exams aren’t accessible to most of the population. “Then I came back here, and I saw radiology, MRI, and realized this is the future,” he says. When he graduates from Columbia in 2022, he will head to Oregon Health and Sciences University for a fellowship in interventional radiology, which he says will give him the unique advantage of being able to perform minimally invasive procedures with incredible precision and, at times, very basic tools.
“In a third-world country radiology is so deficient," Rahman says. "I feel an inclination and drive to continue to learn this unique craft, while also aiming to help those with less resources. That’s my ultimate goal.”
Rahman has already begun to look for opportunities to use his education to help improve healthcare in under-resourced countries. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, he and others reached out to RAD-AID International with the idea of establishing a Pakistan chapter of the organization, and he serves on the board of the Afghan International Foundation for the Blind.
During residency, Rahman has taken full advantage of all that New York City and Columbia have to offer. He has advice for future residents: Form a bond with an attending in each division. He has personally followed the examples of Phil Knight, Nassim Talib, Daniel Kahneman, and Kobe Bryant. He remembers reading about how these individuals developed a maniacal drive to learn, often calling experts in the middle of the night with questions about how things worked. “I loved that, and I started texting a few of the attendings, ‘Hey what’s this? Explain this to me,’” he says. “They probably hated it, but I think they grew to appreciate it, because I never skip over anything and genuinely want to learn.”
His late-night texts are mainly aimed at younger attendings—with the idea that sleep might be less important for them—including Tony Wong, MD, Hiram Shaish, MD, Benjamin Navot, MD, Akin Famuyide, MD, and Sidney Brejt, MD. “These are all people I’m genuinely indebted to because they’ve taught me a ton.”