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Issue date: April 26, 2000

Snapshot: A medical marvel -- Menlo Park's Sanaz Hariri defies the laws of physics as she juggles med school, labs, and life Off the Farm -- and lives to tell about it Snapshot: A medical marvel -- Menlo Park's Sanaz Hariri defies the laws of physics as she juggles med school, labs, and life Off the Farm -- and lives to tell about it (April 26, 2000)

By Jennifer Desai

Almanac Correspondent

Sanaz Hariri can make a person rethink basic laws of physics, like the one about not being in two places at one time. At 23, the Teheran-born Harvard graduate is in her first year of medical school at Stanford, juggling a course load of lectures and labs, and hoping to squeeze in a workout of some sort followed by a quick dinner and prep time, all before tomorrow starts all over again. "They warn you it's a big commitment," she says. "But you can't know what it's like until your life becomes med school, and there's barely room for anything else."

Not that she's complaining. "There's just so much to learn, and you don't want to waste a minute," Ms. Hariri says. "Most of the other students are pretty much Type-A personalities, too, and we all feed off each other."

But that's not even the physics-questioning part; after all, hundreds of Type-A types enter med school every year and live to tell about it. What is amazing -- and maybe a little unnerving -- about Ms. Hariri is everything she chooses to do outside the expected class work. She's on the steering committee of the Arbor Clinic, a student-run free clinic operating out of the Palo Alto VA Hospital, and she's also involved in a research project that's teaching student surgeons to "operate" on virtual, computer-generated patients' shoulders, before they move on to real patients. And when she isn't in the clinic or the lab, she's usually at the emergency room for an advanced course in ER techniques that lets her get the jump on suturing and blood-drawing skills.

When it comes to juggling all those activities, Ms. Hariri says a good sense of balance is the key. On paper at least, Ms. Hariri looks anything but balanced. In self-confessed Type A fashion, she's taken every advanced course she could, from Menlo School to medical school. At Harvard, she says, she knew from day one she wanted to be a doctor and planned her course schedule accordingly, mapping out all four years of course choices in one sitting.

That sense of balance, no doubt, was a factor when Ms. Hariri was chosen last year to be a Soros Fellow by the New York-based Paul and Daisy Soros Foundation. The group honors immigrants and their children by giving a two-year fellowship that covers half a student's tuition in a given field and a $20,000 per year stipend for living expenses. Ms. Hariri, the daughter of Iranian immigrants who became citizens in 1990, says she's honored to be a recipient, as much because of the award's philosophy as its rewards.

"As a history major at Harvard, I learned that throughout American history there was a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment," she says. "But immigrants are vital, and not just because they often take lower-status jobs at least initially. They also contribute new outlooks, new perspectives: Madeline Albright, YoYo Ma, and Henry Kissinger are all immigrants."

Meanwhile, the appreciation of balance -- and the need for it -- remains a challenge for Ms. Hariri, who traces her interest in orthopedic medicine to early ballet classes at the Menlo Park Academy of Dance. Having trained at the Academy from the age of 6, she's back home after dancing with the Harvard-Radcliffe Ballet Company and struggling to work a class or two into her schedule.

And then there's the future. "Someday, I'd like to have a family, as well as the career and everything else," she sighs. "I'll only be 32 when I get out of school," she says. "It's possible."

With the balancing act she's already got going, she'll make it look easy.

Jennifer Desai is a free-lance writer for the Almanac.


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