ROXY AZIMI: LEADING THE FIELD FORWARD WITH DEPENDABILITY AND PASSION
Roxy Azimi’s journey to medical school was anything but straightforward. Roxy grew up as an only child in the San Francisco Bay Area of California where her father worked as a computer engineer and her mother worked in the pharmaceutical industry. Her academic fortes have always been math and science, and from a very young age, she began participating in activities, such as soccer and violin, that helped develop the transferable skills she would need to succeed throughout her academic career. Playing violin was an early passion of Roxy’s. She began pursuing the instrument when she was just five years old, played in an orchestra for 10 years, and even attended the Conservatory in San Francisco for the last two years of high school. Roxy says learning to play the violin was a formative experience in her life because it fostered creativity and helped her develop an intuitive artistic sense, while still learning the measured discipline that comes with learning to play an instrument. Years later, being in medical school, Roxy reflects fondly on her days playing violin, saying that “medicine mirrors music because it merges the left and right brains.”
For college, Roxy moved to Boston to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She considered various fields, such as computer science and economics, before realizing her true interests lay in biology. Once she decided to pursue this future, Roxy began participating in research, which resulted in a defining undergraduate experience. Roxy’s involvement in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program through MIT led her to the Jacks Lab, where she focused mainly on a project looking at tumor heterogeneity in lung cancer using genetically engineered mouse models. Roxy demonstrated her curiosity as she pursued this research, motivated by her belief that cancer research is the next frontier in medicine. Upon graduating from MIT, she stayed in the Boston area to further pursue her interest in cancer research at Massachusetts General Hospital, a major hub for lung cancer research.
There, she worked with two researcher-physicians on projects which combined the principles of basic and research. Roxy recalled working with patients as an amazing experience. This decision led her to pursue her master’s degree in biomedical sciences at Tufts University. During this program, she attended many classes that were directly related to medicine. While she had always been interested in the sciences, her master’s program helped solidify her decision to pursue medical school. Roxy recognizes that there were a few tempo changes in her unconventional path to making her career decision. She says that her interest in pursuing medicine initially stemmed more from an interest in science and less from a particular personal experience, and because she had no physicians in her family, she had to understand the long process all on her own. However, her meandering path is not something she regrets because it gave her time to both gain experience in various areas related to medicine and solidify medicine as her true passion.
When Roxy first heard about the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, it instantly struck a chord because her father had attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was familiar with the University of Illinois as a strong engineering school, and paired with her alignment to the Carle Illinois mission statement, she decided to apply.
While waiting to hear back from Carle Illinois, Roxy was studying for a statistics exam and called her father to ask him a question. Her mother appeared in the background holding a package from Carle Illinois. Sitting in the quiet of a small library cubicle, Roxy found out she had been admitted to be part of the inaugural class of Carle Illinois, complete with a full four-year scholarship and the chance to be part of a new wave in medical education. Now that she’s here, Roxy says attending a new medical school can be challenging but that it is also exciting because of the close bond she shares with classmates and teachers and the voice she has in getting to shape the curriculum. Roxy feels that one of the most unique aspects of her Carle Illinois experience so far is that she and her classmates have started working in the clinic since the first week of classes. She says that each time in clinic is a new experience that not only is another opportunity observe and learn interdisciplinary skills, but it is also a humbling experience that reorients Roxy as to why she is pursuing medicine. Although Roxy didn’t enter medical school as an engineer, she has learned extensive engineering concepts since being here from her engineer classmates and professors. One of her favorite parts of the student-professor dynamic at Carle Illinois is that she has not only real engineers teaching classes, but also real physicians giving instructional lectures. Roxy shared a story from the class’s neurology block in which a Carle Hospital neurosurgeon gave a lecture on the anatomy of the human brain. This was an incredible experience, she said, because the level of depth to which this physician was able to cover the material, in just one lecture, would have taken the students several days to learn from a textbook or in a traditional classroom. It is a culmination of these small but greatly significant experiences that grows Roxy’s excitement for the rest of her time at Carle Illinois and the possibilities for the future.
Pushing the science forward to make a difference
Roxy’s conscientious nature is allowing her to not only thrive in medical school, but also understand the physician she strives to be in the future. Motivated by a desire to help ease the pains and struggles of individuals who face medical concerns, Roxy states that she “want[s] to be the type of physician who is really dedicated to pushing the science forward and trying to make a difference.” While she is open to exploring other specialties, currently, Roxy plans to pursue oncology or internal medicine. Despite the specialty she chooses, Roxy knows that she wants to be a translational scientist — one who sees patients but also applies her experiences with patients to conduct research as. She hopes to use her medical expertise and research interests to be seen as an empathetic and trustworthy physician, whose patients feel that she is sharing their medical burdens with them. With this outlook, any of Roxy’s patients can know they are in passionate and reliable hands.
Roxy believes that “the most important part of science is making it applicable toward the future.” Her curiosity for science, her creative knack for problem-solving, and her understanding that compassion is the connection to patients will make Roxy an exceptionally competent physician-innovator.