Malek Bouzaher goes through life with an open mind and an eagerness to experience the world around him. It’s an attitude he’s had since childhood when his family traveled to places like South Africa and Egypt for his father’s career.
He credits his upbringing for shaping his value system and instilling in him a genuine desire to learn from and about different people and cultures. He also readily acknowledges the influence that these experiences have had on his own character.
“It has definitely contributed to my personality,” he said. “I had to be very outgoing.”
Those are traits that will serve him well as a physician in a few years. In the meantime, he’s using his intellect, skills, and compassion as a student at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.
According to Bouzaher, his decision to pursue medicine was inspired by the many hats that a physician must wear to help improve the health of their patients and advance the overall health of their community.
“Doctors are educators, counselors, confidants, and advocates for their patients,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow, what a way to make an impact on so many different aspects of a person’s life.’”
After earning an undergraduate degree in neuroscience at The College of William and Mary and a master’s degree in physiology and biophysics at Georgetown, Bouzaher came to Roanoke to interview for one of 42 spots open for the medical school’s class of 2020. He came away impressed with many things that day, but the most prominent was the school’s small class sizes. Even though dozens of potential students were there to interview that day, he felt like the faculty and staff paid particular attention to all of them and genuinely cared about each applicant.
“There was something intangible that made me think on the drive home how neat it would be to go to that school.”
Now, as a student, Bouzaher enthusiastically talks about the culture of family that is present among students, faculty, staff, and administration.
“A lot of schools talk about how they are a close-knit community,” he said. “But you don’t get much closer than VTC.”
Bouzaher has also been overwhelmed by how the Roanoke community embraces both the students and the school.
“People in Roanoke are so welcoming,” he said. “They’re genuinely happy that we’re here. They’re invested in us and really want us to succeed.”
Bouzaher hasn’t decided on a medical specialty. He’ll have more exposure to different areas of medicine when he embarks on two years of rotations later this year. However, two of his top contenders are nephrology and cardiology. Regardless of what he ends up choosing, Bouzaher is committed to helping others.
“Ultimately, I just want to go into a field where I can do the most good.”
Bouzaher’s humanistic approach to medicine, and life in general, enables him to connect with others from many walks of life. For future patients, he hopes that this will be through listening and reinforcing that he genuinely cares about them.
“When we go through our practice clinical exams with standardized patients, I always ask them afterwards, ‘Did it seem like I cared about you?’ It’s a great thing to get the diagnosis right, but it’s also important that the patient knows I actually care what’s going on.”
It’s no surprise that Bouzaher is active in the school’s Humanism in Medicine Student Interest Group. He is also a student representative on the steering committee overseeing the medical school’s integration into Virginia Tech as well as a member of the school’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion. But the role that keeps him the busiest is president of the class of 2020.
“I have a great group of leaders,” he said. “Sometimes I just sit back and think, ‘Wow, I’m so grateful to be here with all these smart people!'”
Bouzaher is one of two students awarded the Morgan Dana Harrington Memorial Scholarship this year. Daniel Harrington, vice dean, and his wife, Gil, established the scholarship to honor the memory of their daughter, who was abducted and killed in 2009 after a concert in Charlottesville, Va. Morgan, 20, was a junior at Virginia Tech majoring in elementary education.
“I’m incredibly grateful to have been selected for this scholarship,” he said. “It’s evident that Dr. Harrington and his family are just tremendous people. Generous, certainly, but also positive and supportive. That’s the kind of doctor, administrator, and person I look up to and strive to be like one day.”
And in true humanistic fashion, he added, “This scholarship is all about helping other people. I hope that I will be able to keep that in mind and work as hard as I can to be the best doctor I can be.”