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A master clinician takes on a new post

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2009 - Winter


When Stephen J. Huot, M.D., professor of medicine, decided to organize a symposium in honor of Asghar Rastegar, M.D., he had to fight fierce resistance from the honoree himself. “I got an e-mail, a phone call [asking me not to],” Huot said of the famously humble nephrologist, who is stepping down as associate chair of medicine to serve as co-director of the international health program.

In the end, though, Rastegar acquiesced. The result was a series of tributes from fellow physicians celebrating his life, character and achievements, with accolades ranging from “master clinician” to “humanist extraordinaire.”

Huot, who replaced Rastegar as associate chair, traced Rastegar’s career from college and medical school in Wisconsin and residency in Pennsylvania to leadership roles at the medical school of Pahlavi (now Shiraz) University in his hometown of Shiraz, Iran, to Yale.

Majid Sadigh, M.D., associate professor of medicine, who trained under Rastegar at Shiraz, said that Rastegar’s “boundless energy” was among the reasons the university’s prestige skyrocketed in the 1970s. Sadigh then gave a spellbinding account of not only the complexities of practicing medicine in resource-poor Iran, but also the violence and strife during the Iranian Revolution. Rastegar, a democracy activist, left Iran in 1982 after having been jailed briefly. “Why,” Sadigh asked upon seeing his mentor imprisoned, “are they taking a hero to jail?” Two years later, Sadigh and his family were refugees themselves, living in a camp in Rome, when Rastegar secured him an internship in the United States.

Since joining Yale, Rastegar has made wide-ranging contributions to residency training, medical student education and the education of physician associates. “He is passionate about his commitment to improving the educational environment and comfortable undertaking the political conversations that need to happen in order for that to occur,” said Huot. Gary V. Desir, M.D., professor of medicine, added that Rastegar’s “unyielding desire to help those who are less privileged ... will be his most long-lasting legacy.”

At the symposium’s close, Rastegar said that he has led a “phenomenally privileged life.” When he returns to the city of Shiraz, he said, he always visits the man who ignited his love for reading—a bookseller, now 85, who allowed the 8-year-old Asghar to borrow books. He acknowledged Donna McCurdy, M.D., his mentor at the University of Pennsylvania, who allowed him to “imagine what I could be”; Samuel O. Thier, M.D., former chair of medicine, who urged him to come to Yale; and Frank Bia, M.D., a former professor of medicine, and Margaret Bia, M.D., professor of medicine, who were his interns when he was chief resident in Pennsylvania, and who helped him build a new life in the United States. “My career is indebted to people,” he said, “who took a chance on me.”