A conversation with Reyzan Shali

Thrive Global

Reyzan Shali is a member of the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians and is known for her resilient spirit and her positive attitude. A primary care physician, board certified in Internal Medicine, she leads her practice Southern California.

Dr. Shali is a proud daughter of two great Kurdish parents from the Kurdistan region of Iraq, and loves being a mother, wife, sister, aunt, and friend. A Pittsburgh Steelers fan to the core and a talented chef, her family often calls her the “Roethlisberger of Medetireaan Cooking!”

What brought you to this career path?

My special attachment with my cancer patients comes from my personal history of losing my father to cancer many years ago. The devastating loss led me to a lifelong goal of helping as many families and individuals improve their odds against this illness.

Looking back on my life, I believe I was born to help families stay healthy. I always had the intuition to feel someone else’s pain and reflexively tried to help, even as a child, and being a doctor allowed me to tap into that strength.

I focused on internal medicine, always knowing I would specialize in oncology. However, I soon   realized that I was becoming more and more emotional taking care of oncology patients. It was as though I couldn’t help but take on their pain. I began to realize that intense emotions might interfere with my ability to serve them. Therefore, I decided to channel my passion for healing patients by focusing on being the best primary care physician I can be.

How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?

An excellent healthcare provider is someone who manages to gain the trust of his/her patients. They are able to bust through the hideous bureaucracy and the unexplainable complexity of the healthcare system to help their patients. They are the individuals who will reach out to all their resources to help their patients. Qualities include being genuinely empathetic, solid work ethic, and having the courage to ask for help when needed.

You are a “healthcare insider.” If you had the power to make changes, can you share three changes that need to be made to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system?

If I found an ancient bottle with a genie inside, and that gave me the power to make any changes I want, I would ask the following three wishes:

  1. Make it mandatory that clinicians be more involved in designing healthcare IT systems. Technology has revolutionized all aspects of life, including health care delivery. However, I believe clinicians need to be  involved in the user experience design and applications of our IT systems. This would ensure that healthcare technology is more user oriented and specifically tailored to the needs of both providers and patients.
  2. Unburden the physicians from the administrative entanglement nightmare that takes valuable time away from patient care. We need to let physicians focus on patient care, as this is what we love and seek to do. We do not need to be spending hours on the phone begging for MRIs to be done for our patients and so on.
  3. Simplify billing. Most of us physicians can not understand our billing system and I can only imagine how difficult it is for patients to interpret. Billing needs to be transparent and very simple to understand so patients can budget their medical care on their own.

We all have personal heroes in our lives. Who are yours?

My parents. Even though I have lost both my parents, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge all they have done for me and meant to me. Even now, they still manage to elevate my spirit when life brings me down.

There are so many wonderful thoughts imprinted in my inner psyche from my parents, it is hard to name one. But I remember repeatedly being told by my parents to “not judge, and be sensitive to others.”

They would remind me that we are all human, and that no one is better than the other.

Because of this sage advice, throughout my life, I have always been mindful to manifest kindness around me. My parents always said that when you do, kindness will find its way back to you. And I find this to be absolutely true.

I aspire to mimic their character, kindness, and stewardship every day.

Can you give us your favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you and your life?

“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.” – Mark Twain

I try to be someone who can bring a sigh of relief to an individual/family. I am the person they look for to find answers, to help them connect the dots, and to get on their path to recovery. It is extremely fulfilling to cheer others up!

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell her that the career path she eventually chooses will be an intense emotional rollercoaster ride with extreme highs and extreme lows. Value every up and every down, learn from those experiences, and keep moving forward. I would also tell her to build a reliable network of support around herself; she will need to delegate many tasks because it is not humanly possible to do it all by herself.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

These are all very important topics that require urgent attention from all of us. However, veganism is on the top of my list. Nowadays, with the current global pandemic that started from a meat market, I think we all need to reconsider our consumption of animal products. I have stopped consuming all animal meats and have been working slowly and gradually on my family to do the same. I am not one to force anything on anyone, but as a doctor I know that what you eat correlates directly to your health. In my book Teaming Up Against Cancer, Simple, Powerful Ways to Beat the Odds and Take Your Life Back, I dive deep into how to eat based on the traditional food in the Mediterranean culture. Eating healthy is something I have always tried to follow in my personal life and have suggested to colleagues in my practice, my patients.

What advice do you have for working smarter, finding purpose, and beating burnout?

You are as good as the team around you: hire reliable staff, delegate to their individual strengths, and focus on what only can be done by you. Understand that you will not be able to cure everyone nor will you be able to ease everyone’s pain, but you will find comfort in knowing that without you they have one less person on their team.

Reyzan Shali

I’m a primary care physician, board certified in Internal Medicine, and practicing in the San Diego area. I’m a mother, wife, sister, aunt, and friend. But first and foremost, I’m a proud Kurdish daughter of two great Kurdish parents from the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

More of our stories from


All Topics