A Renown Anesthesiologist's Unique Journey
October 27, 2022
Dr. Nariman Rahimzadeh’s career path has been anything but typical. From humble beginnings as a shuttle bus driver for Renown Regional Medical Center, then named Washoe Medical Center, to his service as Chief of Staff for Renown South Meadows Medical Center, the steps and detours he took along the way – and the strong support from his colleagues and family members – make up a tale of perseverance, conviction, compassion and inspiration.
However, his healthcare career journey began several years before he even joined Washoe Medical Center in the 1990s.
It all began 7,446 miles away in Iran.
This is Dr. Rahimzadeh’s story.
The moment Dr. Rahimzadeh knew he wanted to dedicate his career to the healthcare field started during his childhood. Growing up in Iran during the midst of the Iranian Revolution, a thought that often came to mind was, “Who is helping all the people injured in the war?”
The answer? The doctors.
“In Iranian society, doctors are extremely valued, as they are the first to help people in need,” said Dr. Rahimzadeh. “I knew I wanted to give back to society in some way, and I see my time in Iran as very formative in my future career. I just didn’t know it yet.”
After immigrating to the U.S. with his family during his preteen years, he only had one mission: to support his family. “My desires were to help my family not fall behind,” he said. “I didn’t have career aspirations at the time. All I knew is that I wanted to help my family and my community, which immediately opened its arms up to us, as well as be a good student and a good ambassador for Iran.”
Dr. Rahimzadeh remembers several influential people that helped solidify his aspiration from “helping people” to “helping people as a healthcare professional.” Their family physician and other medical professionals in the family’s lives were monumental in helping him make this decision. Coupled with his natural love for the sciences, the decision to become a doctor became clear.
But the question remained, “How do I get started in the healthcare field?”
No Links to Healthcare? No Problem
With no physicians in his immediate family and no direct connections to healthcare, Dr. Rahimzadeh set off to follow the advice he received from the influential people in his life: get a job at a healthcare facility, regardless of what the job title is.
Some of his friends had recently joined Washoe Medical Center as patient transporters and mentioned job openings that were available. He sprang into action and headed to Washoe Medical Center to apply.
Just one problem – he didn’t have the EMT certification requirement.
Enter Barry O’Sullivan, who would be Dr. Rahimzadeh’s first supervisor at Washoe Medical Center (and a friend he still speaks with to this day). Barry saw promise in Dr. Rahimzadeh immediately. As a result, Barry made a suggestion to him that would ultimately set him on the course towards medicine.
“Barry told me that he had an open position that I could work while completing the senior year of my undergraduate degree and studying for my EMT certification and eventually becoming a patient transporter. He told me Washoe Medical Center would support me in this endeavor. So, I asked what the job was and learned it was driving a shuttle bus.”
Without hesitation, Dr. Rahimzadeh responded, “I’ll take it.”
And so, his fulfilling journey with Washoe Medical Center, and eventually Renown Health, began.
While he finished up the last few months of his degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, (UNR) Dr. Rahimzadeh proudly drove the shuttle bus a few days a week. The job not only helped him pay for his degree and put food on the table, but it also allowed him to begin living out his passion for helping people in the healthcare field.
Dr. Rahimzadeh graduated with his bachelor's degree in Pre-Medicine from UNR and finished his EMT certification program. Sure enough, Barry and Washoe Medical Center lived up to their promises and helped him secure his first direct healthcare job as an EMT and Patient Transporter with REMSA. But he didn’t stop there – after several years as a ground transporter, his career literally took flight. He joined REMSA Ground Ambulance and eventually Care Flight as a Flight EMT II, caring for patients that were flying to Washoe Medical Center from nearby communities that needed lifesaving medical care.
Helping save lives every day as a member of the emergency medical team is an ultimate feat, especially when it comes to Dr. Rahimzadeh. And he didn’t stop there.
Valuing One-on-One Connections
In the 1990s, as it is today, the U.S. experienced a significant primary care provider shortage which resulted in many medical schools encouraging students to complete their residencies in a primary care specialty, like internal medicine – which is precisely what Dr. Rahimzadeh set out to do at the University of Connecticut.
However, his mind would soon change about the course of his career.
“I had a deep, introspective conversation with my residency program director, openly and honestly chatting about my future,” Dr. Rahimzadeh said. “I ended up taking a week off of my residency and wrote a long pros and cons list about what I wanted to do with my life in the medical field.”
Eventually he decided on anesthesiology because of the opportunity to have a one-on-one relationship with every surgery patient, regardless of their procedure.
“Even though it’s for a short duration of time, it is a very impactful relationship,” he said. “I feel I am making a difference in the outcomes and lives of patients every day.”
Dr. Rahimzadeh finished his internal medicine residency in three years and passed his board exam, and he went on to do the same thing for anesthesiology. He then ventured back home to Reno.
Career Progression at Its Finest
Dr. Rahimzadeh knows that people don’t always get to settle down in a place that influenced their upbringing, care and dream, yet he was able to make that vision a reality for himself.
“I feel like Renown Health and myself have this intertwined relationship that led to my growth as a person and as a physician,” he said. “For that, I feel very blessed."
Upon his arrival back to Reno with two residencies under his belt, Dr. Rahimzadeh was quickly hired at one of the two anesthesiology groups in town at the time. He started his career with Sierra Anesthesia and after working for the group for several years, he joined Associated Anesthesiologists of Reno in 2014, which went on to become one of the largest anesthesiology groups in northern Nevada. The group continuously worked very closely with Renown, taking care of all of its surgical patient needs and eventually becoming Renown Medical Group employees as of April 1, 2022, with Dr. Rahimzadeh setting up his home base at the Renown South Meadows campus.
Today, Dr. Rahimzadeh wears three “hats” at Renown. As a medical professional first and foremost, his largest “hat” is his general anesthesiologist role, where he cares for patients in the operating room. Another significant “hat” is his role as the Medical Director for Surgical Services, where he reviews surgical patient charges alongside his dedicated team of nurses and ensures optimal patient outcomes by verifying they have had the appropriate workup to proceed with surgery in a safe manner. To round out his immense responsibilities with Renown, he serves as Chief of Staff for Renown South Meadows, where he makes connections with colleagues and collaborates with leaders to review protocols, policies and address concerns that arise.
Outside of Renown, Dr. Rahimzadeh is still a contributor within his own anesthesiology practice. He also is the current President of the Nevada State Society of Anesthesiologists and the Director to the Board of Directors of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, helping bridge the gap in anesthesia concerns between his northern and southern Nevada colleagues.
He reflects on the opportunities Renown and our local community have extended to him by saying, “If you can dream big enough and continue to chase your dreams, you can make it happen right here.”
On the COVID-19 Frontlines
Nothing could prepare us for the dire situation hospitals on the east coast – especially those in Livingston, New Jersey – were experiencing at the beginning of the pandemic. Livingston was known as the “second hardest hit area” by COVID-19 in April of 2020. Hospitals were overwhelmed with patients in the ICU fighting for their lives. They needed help, and they needed help now.
Unable and unwilling to sit idly by, Dr. Rahimzadeh and six of his colleagues from his practice traveled to Livingston to help. They jumped in on the frontlines alongside other anesthesiologists and intensivists to offset the sudden influx of COVID-19 patients. Many lives were saved, and Dr. Rahimzadeh was a direct part of that.
“When you care and work with people that also care, you can move the needle a lot – it doesn’t matter where you're from,” he said.
Home Means Nevada – and RenownRenown Health is deeply rooted in the northern Nevada community. Dr. Rahimzadeh is proud to be among a diverse team who have taken responsibility for its community for generations.
"We live in a very passionate and caring community, which is often underestimated,” he said. “It’s clear to me that Renown refuses to settle. Renown is incredibly progressive in providing the best for the community. We never remain stagnant, we keep moving forward and we take care of your loved ones. This health system has never been able to sit still and settle for the status quo. That stands out to me.”
One story especially sticks out to Dr. Rahimzadeh as the moment when he knew that Renown was home. In 1997 while working as a patient transporter, his grandmother passed away on the sixth floor of the Sierra Tower at what is now Renown Regional Medical Center. At the funeral, a huge bouquet of flowers arrived. Not being especially close to anyone in Reno yet, Dr. Rahimzadeh's family had no idea who sent the beautiful arrangement. Turns out, it was Rod Callahan, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Washoe Medical Center at the time.
“At that point, I knew I wasn’t just a part of a workforce with thousands of employees,” said Dr. Rahimzadeh. “The COO cared so much about me that he felt compelled to send such a wonderful gift during a tragic time. That’s the value of a local, community-focused hospital; the people here know you and care about you. There’s a reason why people stay at Renown for so long – we feel that connection.”
Dr. Rahimzadeh also reflected on how far Renown South Meadows has come, from the time he immigrated to the U.S. to today. “Growing up, Renown South Meadows was kind of a ‘mom and pop shop’ primarily serving senior citizens in one wing and surgical patients in the other,” he said. “Now, I am so proud to see how far it has come. It really made its niche in the community in a great way. The future is bright!”
It’s clear that Dr. Rahimzadeh is leaving a lasting legacy with his family, from the local community to global medicine. His son is a senior at Baylor University in Texas with a strong desire to go into medicine, just like his dad. His daughter is a junior at Bishop Manogue Catholic High School in Reno and enjoys being involved in her community. His loving wife is a speech therapist in the area. The Rahimzadeh family is thriving together, and they all share the same conviction about northern Nevada and Renown:
“This is home.”
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