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‎"Your ability to believe is the most powerful weapon you have. It could be your best ally or ‎worst enemy, and most of the time it will define who you will become, so use it well."‎


By: Nimer Adeeb Abu Shihab

I was born and raised in Nablus and graduated high school from Al-Islamiya School in ‎‎2007. ‎One of the hardest decisions for young high school graduates is what to study in ‎college.  ‎I was always interested in computer science and software engineering, but I was ‎also fascinated ‎by the human body and especially the nervous system, which we briefly ‎studied during high ‎school. After discussions with my family and parents, I decided to go to ‎medical school at ‎An-Najah National University. ‎

During the first year of medical school, I gradually grew more interested in Medicine, ‎primarily due to my basic sciences professors including Dr. Husni Maqboul, Dr. ‎Ghassan ‎Abuhijla and Dr. Anwar Dudin. In the first and second years, I used to complement my ‎‎basic medical education by volunteering in the emergency departments at Rafidia and Al-‎Watani ‎hospitals, which are two of the main government hospitals in Palestine, treating the ‎majority of ‎patients in Nablus. Volunteering at these hospitals allowed me to have a direct ‎interaction with ‎patients for the first time, helped me understand the importance of the ‎basic sciences we study, and made me realize how much more needs to be done to help ‎those patients further. ‎

In the second year of medical school, I decided I wanted to pursue studying neurosurgery ‎in the United States. This ‎decision came from the fact that we are very short on ‎neurosurgeons in Palestine and many patients have to wait too long to be transferred ‎somewhere else for treatment, ‎many times too late. Moreover, the United States is known ‎to have one of the most well-‎structured residency training programs in the world. At that ‎time though, I didn’t know much ‎about specializing in the USA, so I started reading more ‎about it trying to figure out what needs to ‎be done to get there. Around that time, there ‎was a big myth that you cannot get into any ‎surgical specialty in the USA, definitely not ‎neurosurgery, if you are a foreign graduate. No ‎one knew how that myth started, but ‎students believed it and medical students who wanted to complete those specialties ‎had to ‎go to other countries or stay in Palestine. One of the things I learned from my parents is ‎to ‎never listen to what people say is impossible and always try for myself. So with more ‎‎encouragement from my parents and family, especially my aunt Dr. Suad Abushehab, I ‎decided ‎to proceed towards studying Neurosurgery in the United States. ‎

By reading more about it, the things that I had to do to get into a competitive residency in ‎the U.S. were to work on research, do elective ‎rotations, score high on the American ‎Licensure exams (USMLE) and build strong ‎connections in the U.S. As you can imagine, for ‎a second-year medical student in Palestine with no connections in the USA that sounded ‎hard, but it was too early to give up on. So, ‎during my third year of medical school, I ‎started applying for research opportunities in the ‎United States. I applied to many centers ‎but with no positive reply, so I decided to improve my ‎research skills and knowledge at my ‎school with the help of the late Dr. Ayman Hussein.‎

‎After my fourth year of medical school, which was my first clinical year, I started applying ‎for a ‎clinical rotation. I thought that now I have some clinical knowledge, more research ‎experience, ‎and thus; a decent Curriculum Vitae. I contacted almost all the Neurosurgical ‎centers in the ‎U.S., but most of them would either not accept international students or ‎required Step 1 of the ‎USMLE exams. Eventually with the help of Dr. Mohamad Zahid, I got ‎an elective rotation at ‎the University of Alabama Birmingham to do neurology and pediatric ‎neurosurgery rotations. ‎I was beyond excited yet nervous to be in that new environment ‎far away from home. However, ‎I decided to work as hard as I possibly could to prove that ‎we are as good or even better compared ‎to their own medical students. Therefore, I would ‎spend most of my day at the hospital from ‎early in the morning to late at night, seeing ‎patients and reading about them before morning ‎rounds, be there for clinic, and participate ‎in surgeries. Some of the Neurosurgeons I met during ‎that rotation would later become my ‎close friends and supported me a lot during my career. It was them ‎who also helped me ‎get my first peer-reviewed paper in Neurosurgery published, seven years ago. ‎They also ‎agreed to collaborate with them when I went back to medical school for my ‎fifth year. This ‎collaboration allowed me to have more than 15 published peer-reviewed papers ‎by the time ‎I graduated medical school. After my fifth year of medical school I did three more ‎elective ‎rotations in neurosurgery in the U.S. One of those rotations was at Johns Hopkins ‎‎University which usually does not accept international medical students, but they made an ‎‎exception for me after some help from mentors I met the year prior. With each rotation I ‎did, ‎my passion for neurosurgery increased, and I realized how much technology we lack ‎back in ‎Palestine and the amount of help I can provide to my people after doing a ‎residency in the U.S.‎

During my medical education, I also used to volunteer with the International Federation of ‎‎Medical Students’ Association (IFMSA), and I later became the president of the association ‎at ‎my University. We completed several healthcare awareness campaigns, student ‎exchange programs, ‎refugee healthcare camps, and research advancement projects. I also ‎studied French for 2 years ‎at the French Cultural Center in Nablus. What allowed me to do ‎all those activities during ‎medical school was good time management and the fact that I ‎never focused on competing with other students, but only with ‎myself. I decided to always ‎be a better version of myself., and This allowed me to balance my medical ‎education with ‎volunteering, self-improvement and working on my residency. I also managed ‎to receive a ‎scholarship of excellence during all my years at medical school. ‎

After graduating from medical school, I did my intern year in Nablus, during which I ‎completed the USMLE exams, which allowed me to pursue a residency in the U.S. I was ‎then offered a position as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Southern ‎‎California in Los Angeles in December, 2014. That was my first time moving out of my home ‎for such a long period of time. I slowly overcame the initial homesickness and the stress of ‎coping ‎with a new culture. I learned more about Neurosurgery practice, published more ‎research ‎papers and book chapters, and developed strong connections in the field. I also ‎filed a patent for a ‎medical tool in collaboration with the Palestinian Businessman, Mr. ‎Muhanad Jadallah, who ‎has always been a big supporter for innovative Palestinian youth. ‎

Due to the research work I did up to that point, in addition to the medical patent and with ‎support ‎from my mentors and Mr. Muhanad Jadallah I was awarded a Green Card by the ‎United ‎States Government under the category of ‘Exceptional Abilities in the National ‎Interest’. An ‎honor that is only offered to people with contributions that are believed to ‎benefit the ‎country. This great honor helped me move more freely in the U.S. and ‎encouraged me to ‎achieve more. ‎

I was later accepted to do a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship for one year at Harvard ‎‎Medical School in Boston to study the treatment of cerebral aneurysms using flow diversion ‎‎stents. I remember how hard it was to leave the people who became my new family in Los ‎‎Angeles and move to a completely new environment in Boston, meeting new friends and ‎living a new adventure. During that year we made significant contributions to the ‎cerebrovascular ‎literature through research papers, many of which helped advance the ‎field of Neurosurgery‎by improving outcome and reducing complication rates. We also ‎published eponymous ‎classification systems, including the Adeeb et al. Classification of ‎Cerebral Bifurcation ‎Aneurysms, which helped select the most appropriate treatment ‎strategy for different classes ‎of those aneurysms, and was published in the journal ‎Neurosurgery.  I presented my work at ‎several national and international conferences.‎

Around that time, I developed a medical software startup called MedSolace in collaboration ‎‎with Mr. Muhanad Jadallah. The goal of the application was to allow patients around the ‎‎country to upload, access and share their diagnostic images and lab results with healthcare ‎‎providers with no limitations. We are also working on applying the system in the Middle ‎East ‎where patients can also get a second opinion from experts in the U.S. and other ‎countries ‎without having to leave their houses. ‎

At the end of 2016, I applied for Neurosurgery residency in the U.S. and I was accepted as ‎a ‎resident at the Department of Neurosurgery at Louisiana State University Hospital, ‎marking a ‎new milestone in my career. By the end of my second year of residency I had ‎published around ‎‎100 Peer-reviewed papers and book chapters in the field of ‎Neurosurgery, which were cited ‎over 600 times and won 4 national and international ‎awards for best scientific research. I also serve as an Editor and reviewer for several ‎journals in the field of Neurosurgery ‎including Neurosurgery and World Neurosurgery, ‎having reviewed more than 110 publications. ‎

Forexample, I was newly appointed as a  Section Editor for Vascular and Endovascular for the World Neurosurgery Journal, official journal of World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies.

After I finish my current residency my goal is to move back to Palestine and apply the ‎knowledge and ‎expertise I am acquiring here to serve my country and people in Palestine. ‎I can hopefully work ‎hand-in-hand with the doctors and surgeons there to reduce the need ‎for patients’ transfer, and add a ‎whole new scope of surgeries that can be performed and ‎improve outcomes. ‎

My advice to the next generation of medical students and youth in general:‎

  1. Don’t let anyone steal your dream. The idea of doing any surgical residency in the ‎U.S. was ‎considered impossible, let alone neurosurgery yet in reality it is very ‎attainable. ‎Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do something.‎
  2. At no point in my career did I ever had a Plan B. I believe that if you have a second ‎plan or ‎option you will never stick to your plan A.‎
  3. Never ever give up. As long as you keep getting up then you have not failed. Not a ‎single stage in my career was easy to get to, nor I believe it was supposed to. I had ‎too many ‎setbacks along the way and still do. Those I would call learning points ‎rather than ‎failures, only because I kept going forward. We all are going to have ‎many of them, some are ‎harder than others but they all will shape the person that ‎you will become. ‎
  4. The time you spend in medical school is too long for you to only come out with a ‎certificate. ‎Don’t spend your time competing with other students deviating yourself ‎from your main goal.  ‎You should rather work on what will improve your future and ‎get your dream residency. ‎
  5. Always work on building more connections early on during your study and ‎afterword, as ‎those connections will play big roles in your future career. Don’t ever ‎be afraid of reaching out ‎to people even if you get rejected, as none of us would ‎ever have achieved anything without the ‎help of many others.‎

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