Asghar Rastegar says his career in global health began without his even knowing it. “Global health was not a field in 1973,” he muses. After completing medical school and postgraduate training in the U.S., Rastegar returned to his home in Iran and observed that while Iran was training talented physicians, they were losing them to hospitals in the U.S. Rastegar and his colleagues at the Shiraz (Pahlavi) University Medical School soon developed a model of collaboration with American universities focused on faculty development. “I wanted to energize young Iranian residents to get the best training by partnering physicians in Iran with institutions in the US and UK,” he says. This program became a template for other institutions and started Rastegar on his way to a nearly 50-year career in global health.
Rastegar focused his career on training individuals so they had the skills and resources to become agents of change – in particular to improve the health of their own community and the world. After returning to Yale, he established programs to prepare faculty, residents and students for work in resource-limited countries and provided opportunities to better understand challenges faced by the health care systems in those countries. He saw dramatic results from these programs – including witnessing several of those students go on to become leaders of medical schools, in ministries of health and hospital administration around the world.
“When we started our work with Kazan, Russia in 1992, I was struck by how the Russian institutions had lost touch with the more recent developments in medical education,” he explains. “I felt this was a great opportunity for Yale to bring expertise and training to a new part of the world while being open to learning from them.” He continued his work with Russia for 20 years with more than 30 Yale trained faculty now permanently working in medical institutions and hospitals in Kazan. Ten years ago, he established the Office of Global Health at Yale focusing on six international sites mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and two sites in the US.
Rastegar says a highlight of his career has been witnessing past students now lead programs and establishing institutes themselves. “I view many of the physicians I’ve worked with over the years almost as my children, some have even lived with me,” reflects Rastegar. “I saw their passion for the program and how they soon found their niche in this work. That has been very rewarding to me.” And project success? “When a partner with whom we work says ‘thank you, we no longer need you,’ that is success.”
Recently retired, Rastegar looks forward to observing the outcomes of programs started decades ago. He says there are capable and creative people taking over his work who need to fly on their own, but he’ll be there to provide guidance when asked.
Having paid his way through college as a cook in an Italian restaurant in Madison Wisconsin, he also hopes to spend more time in the kitchen whipping up Persian specialties and homemade pasta “I made a lasagna and delivered it to my grandchildren in Boston,” he says. “I’m going to be doing more things like that now.”