This Valentine’s Day, Brigham Bulletin is featuring two couples whose affection has brought them from medical school to Brigham residency programs.
“We met in the library, actually,” said Sarah Abou Alaiwi, MD, laughing as she reflected on meeting her now-husband, Amin Nassar, MD.
Abou Alaiwi and Nassar are not only husband and wife, but they’re also both Brigham residents in the Department of Medicine. Abou Alaiwi is in her second year and Nassar is in his third. While they’re currently in the same program, the pair didn’t actually meet at the Brigham. Rather, they met thousands of miles away as medical students in Lebanon.
“We met when Sarah was studying for her United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE),” explained Nassar. “I had already done mine, and she asked me questions about it. So, I started helping her study, and we went on a few dates.”
While dating, Nassar received a research fellowship in Boston. Throughout the fellowship year, the couple traveled back and forth to visit each other.
In one of Nassar’s most memorable trips to Lebanon, he proposed to Abou Alaiwi. The couple married in July of 2018.
After his fellowship, Nassar began his residency at the Brigham, and Abou Alaiwi started applying for National Residency Match Program, also known as “The Match,” and the system that fourth-year medical students use to apply for residencies around the country.
“We both applied to the Brigham for residency because we knew the program was like a family,” said Abou Alaiwi. “We also knew how supportive they were of couples, making sure we were in the same city, could work similar hours and had the support we needed to maintain our relationship.”
For medical students, the Match process can be stressful. However, international medical students face added challenges, having fewer connections with United States medical schools. While Nassar had already matched at the Brigham, Abou Alaiwi wasn’t sure where she would end up.
“When Sarah was applying for the Match, she met with the director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program, Joel Katz, MD, and he called several people in Boston to ensure she would stay here even if it didn’t work out at the Brigham,” explained Nassar. “Even though she did match at the Brigham in the end, I think that speaks to how much they respect families here.”
Although Nassar and Abou Alaiwi are in the same residency program, they infrequently care for the same patients at the same time, but “it’s always fun when we bump into each other,” said Abou Alaiwi.
“Recently, I was a night float, and a patient who was on my list was very sick,” said Nassar. “The patient went into cardiac arrest, and I immediately ran to his bedside. The first person I saw was my wife, right by the patient’s side, running the code. It’s such an incredible experience to work as a team, clinically.
Abou Alaiwi and Nassar aspire to be physician-scientists and share a passion for medical research. They worked together in the same lab studying the genetic and environmental underpinnings of urologic cancers before starting residency, and were even considering starting a lab together. While their clinical interests diverged during residency with Nassar focusing on bladder and kidney cancer, while Abou Alaiwi shifted interests towards cardiomyopathies, or diseases of the heart muscle, they often still collaborate on projects.
Thanks to the Brigham, the young couple has never doubted their ability to stay together. Nassar sets off to complete a fellowship at Yale University next year and Katz is already working with Abou Alaiwi to figure out how to best accommodate the couple’s schedules.
“The Brigham has allowed us to stick together at every point in our careers,” said Nassar.
‘We Knew We’d be Supported Here’
For Margaret Hayden, MD, and Sanjay Kishore, MD, working exceptionally long hours as medical residents is far easier when together.
That’s because their residency program at the Brigham purposefully helps them coordinate their schedules so that the couple can maximize the time they spend with one another when they’re not at work.
Hayden and Kishore first met at Harvard Medical School. When applying for residencies, they knew they wanted to stay close to one another and heard from many that the Brigham strongly supported families.
They admitted that going through the Match process was nerve-racking at times, knowing they could end up in vastly different places. However, after interviewing for several programs, they firmly believed they belonged at the Brigham.
“We had no doubt that the Brigham was our first choice, said Hayden. “The Brigham is family to so many, and we knew we’d be supported here.”
On Match Day in 2019, they got the news. Both Hayden and Kishore matched in the Brigham’s Division of General Internal Medicine Primary Care Residency Program. They were ecstatic.
“We chose the Brigham because of their willingness to work with couples, said Kishore. “They’ve always had our backs and even try to align our schedules, so we can optimize the time we can spend together.”
The Brigham has not only afforded the couple to enjoy quality time off and take vacations, but it’s allowed them to grow as a medical team. As current third-year residents, they reflect on the joys and challenges of taking on this journey together.
“It has been a real privilege to be able to lean on my partner during these past two and a half years—perhaps some of the most difficult years of our lives,” said Hayden. “Being on the frontlines together during both the good and bad times has cemented the foundation of our relationship.”