â€œI wanted to have a job where I felt I was serving the public good in a very direct way,â€ says Ramin Javahery, MD. â€œI wanted something that was much more direct and intimate.â€
There are two types of people who choose medicine as a profession, says Ramin Javahery, MD, FAANS, chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Miller Children’s Hospital. Both make their decisions from an idealistic perspective.
One group chooses medicine because they love science and healthcare. The second choose medicine because they believe it to be a noble profession providing an opportunity to help people in the community.
Javahery says he falls into the latter group.
“I was an English literature major in college,” he admits. “I was not necessarily geared towards healthcare or the sciences.”
There were plenty of opportunities to go into business through friends of the family, or possibly attend law school. But Javahery didn’t feel those paths would be satisfying.
“I wanted to have a job where I felt I was serving the public good in a very direct way,” he explains. “I wanted something that was much more direct and intimate.”
Up Close and Personal
Direct and intimate meant neurosurgical training at the University of Miami, and subsequent fellowships in pediatric neurosurgery and spine surgery. Javahery says he wanted to be where the problems were so intense they would truly eliminate all of the barriers to intimacy between doctor and patient.
“My patients … are extraordinarily fearful of what they’re dealing with,” Javahery says. “I think the existential aspects of neurosurgery, because they are so on the surface, so disarming to the patient, allow for a greater degree of intimacy.”
That appeals to Javahery, who says he wants to be part of the patient’s emotional response to their disease without having to break through many defense mechanisms — the kind people have when they go to see a lawyer or a car salesman because they’re worried people are going to take advantage of them.
“Healthcare has less of that, and neurosurgery even less because people come to the hospital and they’re extremely vulnerable,” he explains. “They don’t have the luxury of being suspicious of everybody. So there is a certain connectivity that is wonderful for both you and the patients. You make the disease process so much less terrifying for these people because they feel they are not alone.”
Javahery’s desire to help people extends far beyond the patients he directly touches. While in medical school in the late 1990s the war in Rwanda was flaring as members of the Hutu majority government were committing a genocidal mass slaughter of the Tutsi tribe. He recalls President Bill Clinton saying that one of his greatest regrets was that the U.S. didn’t intervene to stop the genocide.
“Nobody wanted to be in a war,” Javahery says. “No one wanted to get involved.”
Javahery recalls the sense of frustration being troubling, so he organized the USC-Rwanda Relief Fund to send money to the victims of the genocide.
“I didn’t think that I was going to do anything that would be earth-shatteringly different,” Javahery acknowledges. “But I figured if I did this, at least I would feel that in my way I tried to help, both by bringing attention to the issue at my med school, and by raising money to send to the United Nations Relief Fund to help with caring for these people.”
Javahery has never been to Rwanda. But together with one of his partners and several pediatric nurses he’s putting together a trip to other African countries — where there is a noticeable absence of neurosurgeons, and so few pediatric neurosurgeons – to help perform brain surgeries for children with congenital hydrocephalus.
He acknowledges it will be a gratifying trip, but an emotional one as well.
“It is what’s wonderful about a physician,” he explains. “You’re allowed to be emotional about what you do, and to feel the gravity of it without kind of having to have pretenses.”
Javahery is no stranger to challenges, both inside the medical community and in his personal life. He’s married to Jill Javahery, MD, a board certified dermatologist. Together they have three sons, and the challenges of a two-physician household, Javahery explains, are many.
“As much as you feel like you’re doing good in terms of connectivity with other people, when you have two physicians, there’s always a sense that I’m shortchanging my family,” he says.
Javahery says he sometimes wonders if he is sacrificing too much for his profession. The result may be a bill his children have to pay when they grow up.
“Will there be a deficiency in their soul because I was not there for certain things?” he asks, rhetorically. “To me, that’s the hardest part.”
He knocks wood as he says that to this point their children are doing well. He believes it’s because he and his wife have made a concerted effort not just to be with them, but to be present when they’re together. They’re not just in the same room as their children but doing something else. They pay attention to their children.
“When I have a choice of what to do with my life, I’m with my kids,” Javahery says. “So they don’t feel like I’m making a choice to not be with them.”
Touching Peoples’ Lives
Javahery says the intense nature of his work doesn’t afford him the privilege of many hobbies. So when he’s home, he spends time with his family.
“But I do love to read,” he says. “So we read to the kids. Actually, we read out loud as a family. I’ll read a chapter, my wife will read a chapter, and the kids will read their books. So we always try to read together.”
Beyond his family, Javahery says he finds the greatest satisfaction in being able to touch the lives of people through healthcare, and by being a neurosurgeon.
“And not just physically, but emotionally,” he says. “They’re able to live a life that has meaning and value because I’ve affected them for the better.”