The new clinical research fellow at the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery is a man on a mission.
It started when the Iranian-born adherent to the Baha’i faith, whose followers were denied access to higher education, among other things, relocated to Turkey at age 16 to apply for refugee status and avoid compulsory enlistment in the Iranian military upon reaching age 17.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I wouldn’t be discriminated against because of my religion,” Soroush Farsi said 13 years later, while sitting in his office on the ninth floor of the UAMS Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute.
He arrived at UAMS in July, eager to begin a year-long otolaryngology research fellowship between his third and fourth years of medical school at Texas Tech University in El Paso, Texas, which doesn’t offer a residency in otolaryngology.
“Matching into an ENT residency is extremely competitive, and not having a program at your school is a disadvantage because those students have fewer mentors, connections and research opportunities,” said Deanne King, M.D., Ph.D., director of clinical research in the UAMS Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. “Soroush chose to come to our fellowship so that he can improve his application and chances of matching.”
Farsi said his experiences in Turkey are what cemented his desire to become a physician and specialize in otolaryngology. He said he’s excited to learn as much as possible over the next year from both clinical and research experts at UAMS.
While in Turkey, he worked as a translator in various hospital settings because he was fluent in both Turkish and Farsi.
“I realized how translating helped refugees get their needs met,” he said. “Access to medical care in third-world countries is difficult, and I saw what a big difference a medical professional can have.”
Farsi said he had pondered becoming a doctor over the years, but it was just one of many career possibilities swirling in his brain. He said it wasn’t until he worked closely with physicians in Turkey as they handled both emergency and non-emergency situations that he felt the pull of certainty in his heart.
His duties included transporting patients to and from doctor visits and helping them obtain medicine and refills, which opened his eyes to the dire need for access to medical care by poor people and refugees.
“I was one of them,” he said. “These were everyday people, and I lived with them. I mostly worked with refugees coming from Afghanistan and Iran because I spoke their language.
“For a lot of them,” he said, “had I not been there, it would have really affected them. Being able to see a doctor is something that goes a long way. I was really happy to facilitate, and I could see how remarkable the role that doctors play.”
After being granted asylum in the United States, Farsi arrived in Houston, Texas, in 2013 and began taking English-as-a-second-language classes while performing odd jobs, including bussing and waiting tables in restaurants. That enabled him to work his way through Texas A&M University, where in 2019 he earned a degree in nutritional science, with a minor in biology, and graduated summa cum laude.
After applying for medical school, he and his older brother, who also had obtained asylum in the United States, started two businesses — one providing valet parking, the other selling used cars. Income from the businesses allowed him to pay his way through medical school, which he began in 2020 in El Paso, even while continuing to help his brother manage up to 40 employees in Houston.
Now 30, Farsi hopes to pursue opportunities in global health once he returns to Texas Tech and earns his medical degree. He envisions a career as a pediatric otolaryngologist that will allow him to support a family while volunteering for several months each year with the charity organization Doctors Without Borders, which provides medical care in third-world countries.
“I like to help others, and I like ENT,” he said. By performing procedures from repairing cleft palates to treating head and neck cancer, he said, “You have the power to forever change someone’s life and bring a smile to their face, which renders all the hardships I’ve endured completely worthwhile.”