Bakhtiar’s ‘hat trick’: Leading-edge practice, mission service and industry advocacy

Z. Bakhtiar understands firsthand when a parent must make sacrifices when resources are tight.

Soon after fleeing Iran and arriving in America, his parents separated, and his now-single mother worked tirelessly to raise him and an older sister on her own. Describing her as “a lion of a woman,” Bakhtiar recalls his mom rebuilding a career, eventually becoming a successful chief financial officer of a large business.

But in his formative years, the family didn’t have the financial resources to cover all its needs, including medical insurance, which, along with his Persian heritage, has been instrumental in shaping his career path.

“I know what it’s like not to have health care. I also know what it means to be part of a minority population,” says Bakhtiar, who is halfway through his DNAP curriculum. Having completed much of the traditional classwork, he still has several semesters of hands-on training and practice in operating room and obstetrical settings.

Deciding to pursue a nurse anesthesia degree came from chance conversation that helped him, as a teen, get answers to major questions he was facing: Did he want a career helping people? Or did he want to be immersed in science?

“I was on a flight traveling across the country, sitting next to a nurse anesthesia practitioner, and I was very inquisitive,” he says, as he recalls posing question after question about the profession and seeing a meaningful option that blended his interests. “Nurse anesthesia really falls in line with my quest to help people and my love for science. The more I researched, the more it felt like the right career for me.”

Bakhtiar, who completed nursing school in Oregon and initially worked in trauma intensive care, knew that coming to VCU would immerse him in a practice-oriented program that puts the patient first. “If I were to give one reason as to why am I here, it would be ‘to alleviate the suffering of others,’” he says.

“The depth at which we study the science of anesthesia has been an enlightening discovery,” says Bakhtiar, noting how that reflects the extensive knowledge and hands-on expertise of the faculty members. “The ones who are teaching us are the ones who are writing the textbooks we are using and the research articles we are referencing.”

Outreach has been important to him since nursing school, where he organized students and community partners to aid disadvantaged populations in rural Oregon. His efforts included setting up a biannual free clinic at the Mexican Consulate, where migrant farmworkers who visited for legal counsel could get health screenings. Each year, the program grew, with the local hospital and community clinics providing volunteers and mobile services to screen several hundred people.With his nurse anesthesia degree, Bakhtiar, who can speak fluent Farsi, wants to contribute on mission trips that travel to refugee camps in the Middle East.

“I see people in devastating situations. These people are living in danger, they are fleeing for safety, and they don’t have access to health care,” he says. “I want to be in a position to deliver the tools and services they need.”

Back in the United States, the future of health care remains under debate, including what long-term role nurse anesthesia will fill. Already active with the Virginia Association of Nurse Anesthetists and its student chapter, Bakhtiar is building his advocacy skills, as he is readily lobbying elected officials locally and nationally on industry topics that impact both his profession and his personal career. “If we don’t take the initiative,” he says, “we won’t have a voice in that conversation.”

At VCU, Bakhtiar has found an integrated program that delivers on his three primary goals that he brought with him to campus: become a highly qualified practitioner, provide outreach to those in need, and advocate for both autonomy in his profession and effective modern health care. VCU’s program has been the perfect fit for everything he has imagined since that first random conversation on that airplane years ago.

“There’s a big emphasis here not only on the science and patient care, but there is also a big push to shape us into leaders within our profession,” he says. “The nurse anesthesia program at VCU is fostering my development as a clinician and a leader.”