NSM Senior's American Dream Wins National Scholarship

May 6, 2008

At 22, Arman Jahangiri has lived already an American dream. Eleven years after fleeing Iran with his family in search of freedom and opportunity, Jahangiri will graduate in May from the University of Houston and head to medical school. 

However, Jahangiri is just getting started. His big dreams for the future have earned him national recognition. He is among 12 winners of the 2008 Merage Foundation American Dream Fellowship, a nationwide scholarship competition that recognizes the most exceptional immigrant students with the greatest potential to contribute to their new homeland. Each recipient will receive $20,000 to pursue their American dream.

Jahangiri, a senior biology major, will attend the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas this fall. His interest in medicine was sparked while growing up in Iran, where his mother practiced dentistry at a clinic for the poor. He spent time at the clinic every day after school, befriending the physicians and accompanying them as they attended to their patients.

“I saw how priceless the doctor-patient relationship is,” Jahangiri said. “You’re interacting with someone who really needs you.”

He witnessed a similar dynamic many years later while volunteering at a nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients. These patients knew he could not cure them, Jahangiri said, but just seeing that someone cared for them comforted and reassured them.

Jahangiri plans to pursue neurosurgery, but his dream goes beyond helping just the patients he will treat. Concerned about the lack of affordable health care for many Americans, Jahangiri sees his future role as that of physician, advocate, policymaker and educator all rolled into one.

In addition to his medical degree, Jahangiri will earn a master’s in business administration from Rice University through an M.D.-M.B.A. program. He hopes combining medical knowledge with administrative know-how will make him a more effective advocate for uninsured Americans as the health care policy debate unfolds in coming years.

This future business student already has demonstrated an entrepreneurial flair. While in college, he bought some T-shirt manufacturing equipment for a bargain price and started his own business. With orders from campus organizations and other groups, Jahangiri’s thriving little T-shirt business paid for college and then some.

Jahangiri hopes this sort of savvy and enterprising spirit will help him make a difference beyond the operating room. Health care needs creative, market-friendly solutions, Jahangiri said, and he wants to make them happen. Giving physicians a tax break for working in low-income clinics or training third-world health care administrators in American efficiency are some of the ideas Jahangiri thinks might work.

Tackling such a staggeringly complex and intractable problem like health care might seem a bit ambitious for someone who has not yet started his first semester of medical school. But Jahangiri, who spent the first 11 years of his life in a place where the future is bleak, did not come to America to dream small.

His father had worked for regime of the Shah, who was overthrown in Iran’s Islamic Revolution. With few economic opportunities under a government that stifled religious and political freedom, Jahangiri’s family knew there was no future in Iran, and in 1997 was finally able to immigrant to the U.S.

“There’s no freedom, no hope” in Iran, Jahangiri said. “In America, people are rewarded for their hard work.”

Jahangir will put most of his scholarship money toward medical school tuition. But he will use about $2,000 for a medical mission trip to Trinidad and Tobago, where he will assist with obstetric and gynecological surgeries.

Rolando Garcia