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IU Northwest News

‘Team Torabi’ takes on medical school

With three siblings enrolled at IU School of Medicine's Gary campus, this local family is learning, teaching, growing together as NWI’s future doctors

Monday Nov 28, 2016

Soraya Torabi joked that she ought to get a “buy two, get one free” deal.

Certainly sounds reasonable. After all, there ought to be some sort of break when you put a child through medical school. And then another. And then another.

Alas, there is no sibling discount for parents Soraya and Tooraj Torabi, of Munster. Fortunately though, their three future physicians have received their fair share of scholarships to help with the cost of becoming a force in the medical community, preferably right here in Northwest Indiana. The eldest, Asad Torabi, is currently in his fourth year at Indiana University School of Medicine – Northwest – Gary (IUSM-NW-G), Sara in her third year, and Rana in her second year.

These Chesterton High School alumni insist they were never pushed by their Iranian-born parents to pursue medicine. Previously a radiation oncology physicist, Tooraj now works as a medical physicist and director of imaging. Soraya worked as a general medicine practitioner when the siblings were young and now works as a radiation safety officer.

One by one, the siblings found their own passion and are following it – nearly simultaneously. They have all chosen to study at IU School of Medicine’s Northwest campus, a competitive and rigorous program that accepts a class of roughly 30 per year. It is the only medical school in Northwest Indiana.

After spending an evening with the Torabis, and listening to the advantages of attending medical school in their own backyard, it becomes clear that one need not look further than IUSM-NW-G for a top-notch medical education.

Even better, and perfect timing it seems for the youngest sibling, IUSM-NW-G is closing in on the ability to provide students with residency training in Northwest Indiana hospitals and health facilities, hopefully beginning with the Class of 2019.

This would go a long way towards enticing our homegrown physicians, like the Torabis, to remain in Northwest Indiana as studies show that medical students are more likely to establish their practices in the state where they complete their residency training.

Living, breathing, experiencing medical school, 24-7

Living in the Torabi household right now is kind of like having 24-hour access to your own personal, live-in study group.

During the second year, where Rana is currently, students are still building the foundation for their clinical knowledge. It is where they learn the mechanisms for disease and how to establish a diagnosis. Fortunately for Rana, she has the rare advantage of having two in-home mentors to guide her.

“They are my pillars,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t know how far I could have gotten without my brother and sister. They are just so supportive. We all study in a somewhat similar fashion, so when my brother says, ‘you should really look at this review book,’ for instance, I say, ‘you’re right, this is amazing.’ It’s just the little things that add up and make it a lot easier.”

Sara, the middle sibling, concurs. The third year is where students begin their clerkship rotations and explore a variety of specialties in the field. This is where a lot of independent learning happens.

“I’m so fortunate that my family members are all in healthcare,” she said. “They all understand what you are going through and offer a great support system.”

Dad is there to remind them that “tomorrow is another day,” when things get tough. Mom is a rock of support in her own way, too. “It will all be okay,” she assures them. “You just have to be patient. Not all of the days will be the same.”

And Asad, well, even though he was the first to go through medical school, and is the one offering the most experience and advice, he feels equally supported by his younger sisters, who collectively look out for him.

Asad is in his fourth year and is currently in Indianapolis for a couple of rotations that he hopes will yield some good letters of recommendation and that can better prepare him as a future internal medicine resident.

His current rotation in an Intensive Care Unit is exposing him to the sickest patients. He hopes this will make him more competitive as he applies for internal medicine residencies, which he is immersed in right now.

Northwest Indiana’s medical school: As comfortable as it is rigorous

After meeting the Torabi siblings, it’s natural to want to know where they get their passion, their ambition, their drive. You naturally want to meet the parents who instilled their values, their compassion, their love for education.

Observing their interactions offers a glimpse of the environment necessary to propel a family of passionate and future doctors forward. The Torabi family dynamic is replete with respect, gratitude and support.

And while support within the family unit is certainly key, perhaps even more important is the support of a caring medical school faculty in a community that is familiar.

Having all earned their undergraduate degrees at IU Northwest, the Torabi siblings didn’t think much about where to attend medical school.

“They thought, ‘what’s better than being at the same school where we are already comfortable and we already know the people around us and they know how to contact the people who can guide us into learning more?’ They wanted to stay here for medical school,” Soraya said.

It’s a good thing they did, because otherwise, they would not have had access to what is perhaps the single-most important element of an education – personal relationships with faculty who care and continually inspire you to reach higher and achieve more.

“IU is a big university and among the top schools, so we have the name of IU and its education, but Northwest offers a relationship with students,” Soraya said. “I have seen professors that come to work at 6 a.m. just to answer anatomy questions. Or, the professor will say, ‘if you have questions, I will come in on Sunday.’ You do not see this at big colleges.”

Soraya had pretty much covered the parental perspective on the benefits of IUSM-NW-G, so Tooraj simply had one final fatherly observation to interject.

“I have heard that IU Northwest is one of the safest institutes,” he said. “They can stay there until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, and we feel comfortable. We are not worried.”

Homegrown Hoosier doctors hope to help Indiana thrive

The Torabis have all expressed an interest in remaining in Northwest Indiana to practice, but their intent goes deeper than a place of residence. It’s about helping not just any community, but the one that raised them.

“This community has been so good to us and our families,” Rana said. “The wonderful learning environment and all the things that our community has given us as we’ve been learning and training. It’s just natural to want to give back.”

It’s natural, perhaps, because it is a Torabi family value.

“My goal as a future physician is to pursue a career where I can find a balance between satisfying my eagerness to learn and treat patients medically, but to also make an effort and commitment to outreach programs in my area,” Asad said.

Words to make a parent proud, for sure. But Tooraj and Soraya are quick to deflect any credit they receive for their passionate and successful learners.

They get the credit,” she said. “We are very proud of them, and at the same time, we feel very blessed. We try our best to watch over their activities, but they have always been themselves and more mature than we expected them to be. Sometimes you are just blessed to have good kids.”

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