Oct. 27, 2021

Doctor loves mentoring future colleagues and leaders

2021 Top 40 Under 40: Dr. Zahra Goodarzi, BHSc’07, MD’10, MSc’16
Zahra Goodarzi
Zahra Goodarzi Jared Sych, Avenue magazine

Triple-alumna Dr. Zahra Goodarzi, BHSc’07, MD’10, MSc’16, is as comfortable with a stethoscope as she is with a microscope. The 36-year-old clinician-scientist is an expert in combining research and clinical care to help Canada’s elderly population.

Dr. Goodarzi is an assistant professor, Department of Medicine, Section of Geriatric Medicine and Department Community Health Sciences, at UCalgary. She is also affiliated with the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and O’Brien Institute of Public Health.

What does a clinician-scientist do?

My clinical work includes geriatric medicine consults at the Peter Lougheed and Foothills hospitals and in the Movement Disorders Clinic. Besides that, I work on research that’s focused on older adults across the continuum of care — those who may experience neurodegenerative diseases, mood disorders or frailty. In this job, I am lucky to work with many undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students and trainees on clinical research projects. I have just started as the program director for the Leaders in Medicine Program where I am a mentor and advocate for the students in MD-plus programs — meaning they are doing graduate school and medical school.

What do you miss about student life?

I miss the energy at the beginning of semester, the new books and pens at the bookstore, meeting new people in classes, and orientation weeks — they were always fun! I miss the student lounges and informal hangouts and the “studying” we used to do!

Do you remember any exceptional classes?

Given I have been at the U of C since 2003, I have had the benefit of many amazing mentors, teachers, supervisors, teaching assistants and graduate/post-graduate students. In particular, my MSc supervisor and mentor, Dr. Jayna Holroyd-Leduc, has been a constant support, guide, teacher, advisor and friend for eight years. I have learned the most from her — not only in clinical and research knowledge, but how to be a mentor and a good human.

Where did you hang out on campus?

Mainly on the Health Sciences Campus in the student lounge. We had an undergraduate BHSc lounge and then, in medical school, we had the same.

Favourite classes?

In undergrad, I enjoyed our MDSC courses — these were designed for us in BHSc and really fostered independent thought, practical skills and group work. In medical school, I enjoyed clerkship the most — the opportunity to use what we learned in class on the wards was really an amazing experience!

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?

My first graduate student completed her MSc this year.

How are your findings impacting the care and quality of life for older people in Canada?

We seek to synthesize the exiting evidence so that it can inform clinical work, which can change practice and policy. Our most recent work, for example, shows that non-drug interventions can be as, or more, efficacious than drug interventions for certain symptoms that apply to people living with dementia. This is crucial because we need to increase availability, training and funding to these non-drug interventions.

What do you most enjoy about mentoring future clinician-scientists?

We need to change a lot about the world, and these are our future colleagues and leaders. I enjoy being able to support them on their journey to success and hopefully make the process easier for them — just as my mentors helped me!

How has COVID-19 impacted your work?

We’ve had to pivot our research and clinical work significantly, given the burden on health care and older adults.

What is the most satisfying thing about your job?

Working with amazing team members, students and patients.

Any advice for students or new grads? 

If it’s not working for you, change it. Find several mentors, take time off, laugh and don’t forget to have fun.

A guilty pleasure?

I refuse to feel guilty over it — but, I suppose, it’s cheese.

Why is mentorship important?

We all get by with a lot of help from our friends. Mentors are those guides who shine the light and pull us along.

What’s your favourite board game?

Clue. The movie Clue is also an excellent adventure and essential viewing.

As a researcher, have you ever had an aha! moment?

Yes. As an undergrad, I was sitting in the lab staring at my cells for an experiment that just wasn’t working. A physician researcher came into the lab and it was at that moment I realized you can be a doctor and do research. Prior to that, I thought it was an either/or thing.

What is the most annoying question that people ask you?

It doesn’t annoy me more than it puzzles me, but I often find that people simply don’t know what a geriatrician does. I wish people realized the vast utility and importance of having internists who are experts in the issues that face older adults, and how we, as a speciality, can help patients, their families and health-care teams. 

With files from Avenue Magazine.