Guita Rahbar is a dear and special friend. I met this intelligent and down to earth woman when we were undergraduate students at UCLA. Daughter of the prominent researcher and scientist Samuel Rahbar, Guita has an incredible list of academic honors and awards under her belt. She is the recipient of numerous research grants and contracts.
Dr. Guita Rahbar is currently employed at the Department of Radiological Sciences Olive View – UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar, California. Her latest project studies whether breast arterial calcifications detected on mammography correlate with coronary disease, carotid disease or peripheral calcifications.
I had a chance recently to interview Dr. Rahbar and it’s a pleasure to profile her on this post.
What is your background and education?
I attended middle school and high school in California. I majored in bioengineering at UCLA. I was leaning toward a career in engineering. However, I became interested in medicine as a result of conducting a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) project in the 1980s. I attended the UCLA School of Medicine and conducted my residency in radiology. My fellowship in 1998 was in Body Ultrasound and Breast Imaging. During residency, I decided to take one year off since I felt overwhelmed and tired at that point. During that year Dr. Bassett, Chief of Mammography at UCLA, offered me a research position bridging the fields of medicine and engineering. The cutting edge research entailed digital imaging on the computer instead of on film. Dr. Bassett is still my mentor.
Did the fact that your father, Dr. Samuel Rahbar, is a prominent doctor affect your decision to study medicine?
My father was a scientist. He was always talking to me and my sisters about his research and I remember visiting his laboratory in Iran. He was so excited and happy about his work. I learned that you have to be passionate about what you do – that you have to love your job. Even though my parents didn’t push us toward a particular career, it was always understood that education is a priority in our family and that it’s important to do well.
What advice do you have for young professionals, particularly those who are interested in pursuing a career in medicine?
Medicine is not the guaranteed money making career it used to be so my advice would be to make sure that it’s what you really want and love to pursue. It’s imperative to enjoy what you do even through hardships and feel that it’s something worthwhile. With all the changes in the current insurance industry, medicine is not very profitable. There is so much variety in medicine. My advice is to find your niche; find your specialty or sub-specialty. I also think it’s very important to have a mentor in any profession. I also like the idea of taking some time off after undergraduate studies before embarking on graduate work; taking time to figure out who you are and what you want.
What advice can you give women trying to manage family obligations and their career?
The majority of medical students today in the United States are women, so things have changed. When I was in medical school I saw women who were much older than me and I felt that they had to behave like men to further their careers. For example, they chose not to have children or if they did, they did not prioritize their family. Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore.
Of course, it’s very difficult balancing any career and family life. It’s been challenging to deal with the guilt I feel leaving my kids at home and going to work. I decided early on that my children were my priority and that my career might progress at a slower pace. Luckily it’s much more acceptable for doctors now to work part-time. I believe everyone can do anything they want – it’s knowing what makes you happy that is important.