With all her non-urgent procedures in Beverly Hills on hold and telemedicine not as fulfilling as she had hoped, the humanitarian doctor – Raheleh “Doctor Rahi” Sarbaziha, MD – decided to jet across the country to assist those suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All you hear about is COVID and how catastrophic the situation is in New York and how they are in dire need of doctors,” said the Ross University School of Medicine 2010 graduate. “And I realized I’m pretty proficient as a hospitalist – I know what to do and I have all these medical skills so why not help.”

Cross-Country Trip

Rahi reached out to a Ross Med colleague who connected her to a recruiter to get the process started. Then she took a week to soul search and decided this was her calling. “I pride myself on being very healthy. I have a great immune system and historically I’ve done quite a bit of humanitarian work. I wanted to be of value during this time.”

Packing two suitcases full of scrubs, workout clothes, cleaning supplies and health supplements, Rahi slipped on her gloves and face mask last week to board a plane at the Los Angeles International Airport. Arriving in Queens, New York, Rahi – who has frequented the Big Apple a multitude of times – said it was like nothing she had ever witnessed. “It was a ghost town. I was entering this new realm. This wasn’t typical New York. The whole world had stopped.”

Collegial Bond of Caring

Rahi headed to a newly formed medical facility and received her NY medical license in a day, a process that usually takes longer than six months. She immediately felt a bond with her coworkers, unique to that of any other medical rotations. “Everyone came here from other parts of the country to provide care. Usually a hospital is structured and has a different atmosphere. But we’re all here to help – we know we have limitations with supplies and even the understanding of what this virus does and how to treat it but we’re doing our best and it feels great. I’ve created these strong relationships with nurses, nurse practitioners and other doctors. I’ve never experienced something this profound before.” Rahi recently extended her shift up to midnight and noticed the nurses will occasionally huddle and pray – “I don’t practice religion like that but I felt very compelled to be included in that huddle. This is beyond anything I’ve ever done and I am so grateful.”   

Since arriving late last week, Rahi has seen many patients, and said at least 10-30 new patients arrive daily. Her team is helping care for less-severe COVID patients who have been transported from neighboring facilities to assist with patient overload. “The bigger hospitals are converting every part of their space to medical ICU areas so these newer facilities are important to help off-load the less critically ill patients.” Rahi is tending to infected patients who have other ailments as well. “I do acknowledge that I am at a higher risk of getting the virus,” she admits. “But I’m healthy, have been equipped with the appropriate PPE and I’m here to see patients and do my best to care for them.”

Flexibility and Adaptability

When asked what is helping her adjust to this new environment, Rahi said flexibility and the ability to adapt, a trait she learned long ago. Born in Iran, she and her family moved to India and Holland before planting roots in Canada when she was six years old. “I have lived in many different countries with many different conditions.” Rahi also credits the time she spent on the island of Dominica in the Caribbean for Ross Med as well as her internal medicine residency at the University of Southern California (USC). “There are a lot of factors that made me who I am today, and my internal medicine residency at USC prepared me for this pandemic and to work in the world’s hottest COVID zone right now.”

Rahi visited Uganda during her residency and worked with the AIDS Orphans Education Trust. She also spent time providing medical care in a rural and underserved area of the Dominican Republic, a place she plans on visiting again next year.

Heading into Private Practice

For the past two years, Rahi has been in transition – moving from hospitalist work to starting her own integrative medicine and aesthetics medicine practice. After working as a hospitalist for more than six years, she decided to focus on treating diseases rather than providing temporary fixes. And adding an artistic element to her practice with aesthetics. “I am in in love with what I do.”   

Business began booming over the last year and Rahi had just settled into a larger space – and then COVID-19 hit and her non-essential services were put on hold. And she quickly felt what is now the new normal.

Adjusting to the Changes

“Just like the next person, I had my practice and my social engagements – I want to go out to dinner with friends and go to a Pilates class. And my parents were supposed to come visit me in Los Angeles from Canada. But it’s best to not do any of that and to let this virus subside and to slowly reopen things up because if we don’t respect these stay-at-home orders, we can all be hit harder by this.”

Rahi stands firm on what’s medically best right now and has a message for any non-believers. “I want to emphasize that this is real. This is happening. This virus is highly infectious – more so than anything we’ve ever come across in our lifetime. If you have a lot of medical conditions, you are going to be at higher risk but there are people who have no medical problems and they are dying from this too. We need to take this seriously and respect it. It’s not fun but just because you don’t see it happening doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”  

Treasure This Time

Urging everyone to make the most of this time, Rahi suggests trying to improve diet and increase exercise, adding in meditation and yoga. She also reiterates the importance of connecting with friends and loved ones – like she’s done with her brother, a respiratory therapist from New Mexico who headed to New Jersey to help out during the crisis. “This is just what we do.”

Rahi became a doctor to care for others and searched for an avenue that combined her love of science and art. She found that. And until she can resume her practice, she appreciates the opportunity to help others through this tough time. “Being a doctor isn’t just a career; it’s your whole entire life. It defines who you are – I’m a doctor first and everything else is second. This is a great way to connect with other humans and provide help in such a meaningful way.”

You Can Help

Rahi and a nurse practitioner colleague have teamed up to sponsor a donation drive for COVID-19 survivors who may not have important essentials. Please view the necessary items and read how you can mail/drop off/send an Amazon Prime package to help those in need. More information can be found in the How to Help section of this site.

Appreciative and Thankful 

We appreciate your commitment to the continued well-being of our Ross Med community and support during this unprecedented time. Please visit the Ross Med website for the latest updates regarding COVID-19.

In 2020, 91% of RUSM students passed the initial step of the United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE®) on the first attempt. And in 2022-2023, results show yet another strong year for RUSM with a 98% first-time residency attainment rate* thus far. Located on the island of Barbados and with a network of more than 15,000 alumni, RUSM is one of the largest providers of doctors for the U.S. healthcare system. RUSM graduates practice in all 50 states and in Puerto Rico.

*First time residency attainment rate is the percent of students attaining a 2023-24 residency position out of all graduates or expected graduates in 2022-23 who were active applicants in the 2023 NRMP match or who attained a residency position outside the NRMP match.