Member of the Month
Alan Shahtaji, DO
Alan Shahtaji, DO, a graduate of the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Midwest, completed his residency at the UC San Diego Family Medicine Residency Program. Dr. Shahtaji has been engaged with CAFP and the San Diego Chapter for the last decade, recently serving as San Diego Chapter President, as a member of CAFP’s CME Leaders Institute and on the newly-formed CAFP Member Engagement Committee. His thoughts on the most important qualities for a family physician are, ”Kindness and empathy. Without these, all the knowledge, intelligence and clinical expertise is wasted…your patients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Why did you choose family medicine, and what’s your favorite aspect of it?
I chose family medicine because I liked taking care of all people and I felt family doctors were the epitome of what I envisioned as a physician. My favorite aspect of family medicine is the continuity of care: forming relationships with my patients and knowing what’s going in their lives.
Were you inspired by anyone to pursue family medicine?
Kathy Burke, DO and Kathleen Bewley, DO were two of my preceptors on my family medicine rotation in medical school. They are great community family docs and sincerely enjoyed patient care, teaching and maintained a great work-life balance.
What is the most interesting/memorable experience you have had when dealing with a patient?
This is too difficult because each patient is interesting and memorable. It sounds cliché, but this realization allows for each patient interaction to be meaningful.
What one word or phrase characterizes your style of family medicine?
I have two eyes, two ears and one mouth – I try to listen and observe twice as much as I speak in the patient encounter.
What is the best experience you have had during your career as a family physician so far?
Being at the Olympics with the US Women’s National Soccer Team in Brazil. The experience was meaningful in many ways. I practiced more primary care than sports medicine and it really emphasized the importance of being a family doctor as I could care for the athletes, their families and our staff.
It is important for me to be a member of CAFP and AAFP because:
Family physicians are a unique and wonderful group of people who care about our patients, our communities and our environment – belonging to these academies allows me to connect with other family doctors and support our mission at both the state and national level.
The most important resource I find CAFP offers me is:
The opportunity to be involved on many levels but also the comfort in knowing that CAFP is constantly advocating on my behalf and protecting the interests of family doctors in California.
What has been your best experience as a CAFP member? Why?
Seeing the energy and excitement at the White Coat Ceremony for the new interns in San Diego and having the CAFP president and leadership in attendance.
How do you make a difference in family medicine and in your community?
I try to be involved with teaching at the medical school and demonstrate how a family doctor approaches patient care. Family medicine takes disease-oriented knowledge and translates it into patient-centered, holistic care. The students are always amazed at the spectrum of family medicine.
Tell us about a project in which you are involved and why it is important to you:
I am one of the organizers for a mass sports physical event at our local high school in San Diego. We work with the school district to provide free sports physicals and screening for the student-athletes. Several residency programs are involved, and many others donate their time and efforts. We hope to grow it into a community event focused on health education for the parents and guardians.
What are good qualities a family physician should have?
The most important in my mind are kindness and empathy. Without these, all the knowledge, intelligence and clinical expertise is wasted. As my medical dean, Dr. Karen Nichols, frequently reminded us, “Your patients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Do you remember your personal statement for medical school? If so, would you like to share an excerpt?
This was before the days of Dropbox and Evernote and probably is filed away somewhere and will be a pleasant read when I find it. The gist of it was that I wanted to make lots of money and spend very little time with patients. Just kidding! It spoke of primary care, my mom’s experience with multiple sclerosis and my passion to be a healer of body, mind and spirit.
What one sentence of advice would you give to medical students interested in family medicine?
It is a wonderful field of medicine with the best people and allows one to continually redefine their career and niche. The other piece of advice I would give to all medical students is to become financially savvy now. Early financial planning increases career choices and allows you to do what you love, work less and be financially independent. I wish I was told these things as a medical student.
How do you spend your free time?
Mostly being active in San Diego! Hiking, biking, running, soccer and yoga, to name a few. I really enjoy watching sports and movies. My girlfriend and I are getting more into cooking, which is a fun way to practice good nutrition and explore new recipes and foods. I don’t eat to live, I live to eat!
If you weren’t a doctor what would you be doing with your career?
Probably being a teacher and coach. If I could acquire some fast twitch muscles, I probably would go back and try to pursue an athletic career. Being 6’4” is an advantage, but not when you can’t jump!
What would your best friend say about you?
Tall, dedicated, caring, strong eater, good rebounder and overall passionate about health and wellness.
Tell us something fun/unusual about yourself.
I was a teacher for elementary school after college and before medical school. Kindergarten was the hardest by far! I am also part of the US Medical Soccer Team and was the captain during the last world cup in Austria.
Tell us briefly about your family.
I am the oldest of three children. My brother, Eric, and sister, Pam, are twins, two and a half years younger than me. My mom and dad have been married for 39 years and live in the same house where I was raised in a small south suburb of Chicago (but I am Cubs fan!). My dad, Nasser, grew up in Iran and met my mom, Laura, while at Roosevelt College in Chicago. Both my parents are over six feet tall. I am a blend of Italian, Irish, German and Iranian. My maternal grandparents lived about a mile away from me and were incredibly influential in my life. I only met my paternal grandparents once when they came to visit from Iran. I am the proud “Uncle Al” twice over and may be thrice over by the time this goes to press! My girlfriend, Laura, is a family doctor in San Diego and I will just pretend it is not weird she has the same name as my mother.
Each month, CAFP highlights one outstanding California family physician member who lends their voice, time, talent and resources to strengthen the specialty of family medicine and his or her community. The Member of the Month interviews are conducted by CAFP staff. If you choose to share this article, feel free, but give appropriate source and author information. If you would like to share your story or know a family physician colleague who deserves to be recognized for his or her impact or leadership, contact us at (415) 345-8667 or email.