Meet Shaha Aziz, the Medical Student That Helped Save a Life
Recently Burrell College’s very own first-year medical student, Shaha Aziz, was thrust into the public eye for something she didn’t quite expect: being a compassionate citizen. After witnessing a local Las Cruces man on an overpass experiencing a mental health crisis, Shaha immediately approached the man and provided emotional support, talking him down from a potential suicide attempt, and contacting the Las Cruces Police Department, assisting them in the de-escalation of a critical incident. Now, although she is only about a month into her medical education, she has already been credited with saving her first life.
Shaha is a proud Pakistani Muslim woman, a daughter of immigrant parents, to whom she credits for instilling her with the values of selflessness and compassion for others. “This was in all regards, whether it was actions as big as coming to the US to practice medicine and give me a life of opportunity or actions as little as letting me have the last piece of bone marrow in my mom’s goat curry because they know it’s my favorite,” says Shaha. “I have witnessed countless times how ready my parents were to help when they knew they had the means to do so. This ideal specifically has resonated so deeply with me and is one of the fundamental reasons why I decided to go into medicine.”
Shaha completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Houston, with a major in Public Health and a double minor in Biology and Medicine & Society. “I chose to major in public health firstly because I thought that it gave a more macro perspective of health while medicine is a more micro perspective,” Shaha explains. “As I was finishing my public health degree, I realized that public health and medicine are inextricably connected. I concluded that focusing on prevention is the key. I believe the way to do that would be for physicians and public health workers to collaborate on community-level changes, like working to improve access to medical care and access grocery stores in food deserts, that will eventually and inevitably positively impact the individual.”
She then went on to complete a master’s degree in Biology – Biomedical Sciences Track before entering her first year at the Burrell College. Aside from her studies, Shaha participated in a series of extracurricular activities related to healthcare, including a medical brigade trip to Honduras and working on behavioral health research related to STD prevention, for which she was published.
Shaha chose the Burrell College because it most closely matched her interests in medicine and public health. “I have a very public health geared mindset, so much of my reasoning for choosing this school was decided using that lens,” explains Shaha. “I believe Burrell College allows me the unique opportunity to train for 4 years and deeply understand the needs of the communities around me, especially communities near the border so that I can serve them as effectively as possible. Additionally, B COM encourages their graduating physicians to stay and practice within the New Mexico and Texas area.” She then went on to say that Las Cruces and the Burrell College made her feel instantly welcome, and she already feels like this is her home.
When Shaha encountered the person in distress on August 11th, she reacted instinctively, as she had never before been in a situation of such pressure. “I believed in my heart and mind that it looked like this man needed help, and I was in a position to provide him help,” recounts Shaha. “I was acting purely on instinct, and I was taking everything as it was coming. I think the main thing I was trying to do was treat the man as I would want to be treated in a moment of distress.” She explains that she initially felt panic as well as she realized the situation at hand, but ultimately, she recognized that she needs to remain calm and try her best to deescalate the situation.
Shaha strongly encourages anyone else who may encounter any kind of critical incident to take the time to assess the situation but to not try to take the situation entirely into their own hands. “Stay connected with your loved ones and be kind to everyone,” says Shaha. “We have no clue what anyone is going through, but also realize that our problems are no bigger than theirs.”
Shaha has been commended by the Las Cruces Police Department and the local community for her selfless actions. “Ms. Aziz’s actions were not only phenomenally heroic, but she exemplified the attitude of what it means to be a true citizen of Las Cruces,” said officer Joshua Milks, the Las Cruces Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Coordinator. “She put her own safety on the line and took the time to prioritize someone else’s problems to ensure their livelihood.”
Shaha is considering pursuing a residency in psychiatry after completing medical school. “People are left in a very difficult situation where mental health is not acknowledged as much as it needs to be, there is a fear of judgment from others, and there is this disconnect without culturally competent treatment,” explains Shaha. “Thus, I really am also considering being a psychiatrist because I want to be a South Asian doctor who understands the culture of my South Asian patients (and all my people of color patients), and also creates a safe space for my patients to speak about their issues and traumas.”
Shaha is on track to graduate from the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2025.
Las Cruces and Dona Ana County residents who are experiencing mental or emotional distress can now seek assistance from the newly opened Crisis Triage Center located at 1850 Copper Loop. The Crisis Triage Center, operated by Dona Ana County, accepts voluntary commitments from throughout Las Cruces and Dona Ana County.
The Crisis Triage Center is open 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, and provides short-term care and services for residents who may be experiencing mental or emotional distress. For more information on the Crisis Triage Center, call (575) 449-8159.