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For This Traveling Physician, Mason Showed Her How to “Walk the Walk”

By Priyanka Champaneri, BA '05, MFA '10 on March 28, 2019

When you think of a traveling doctor making house calls, you might picture someone carrying that ubiquitous black leather bag and holding a stethoscope to a patient’s chest, usually while sitting on a chair at the side of a bed in the patient’s own home. But for Sima Assefi, BA Biology ’89, the image is far from her daily routine. As a traveling physician for MedExpress, Assefi is sent to work at urgent care centers around Pennsylvania, mostly in rural areas where the population has little to no access to doctors or medical facilities. She sees an average of 45 patients each day and works 14-hour days, treating everything from lacerations to detecting early to late stages of cancer.

Sima Assefi, BA Biology ’’89. Photo by Evan Cantwell

She serves a single town for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months before moving to a new location. But while the nature of Assefi’s job is come-and-go, her presence definitely is not. Many of Assefi’s patients will travel to her clinics for one, two, even three days in a row, just to check to see if she is the attending physician. It’s no surprise given how Assefi feels about her patients: “I evaluate myself on my patient’s smile. If I see one that smiles when she leaves the exam room, then I’m like, ‘Yeah. I made a difference.’”

Assefi is no stranger to traveling long distances to accomplish her goals. Born and raised in Iran, she was 14 when she left to attend boarding school in England. A few years later, she arrived at Mason as a freshman, but war erupted in Iran during her first year, and she was left without funds. The future looked uncertain, but Assefi says that a few key Mason professors and advisors helped show her a pathway to continue her education.

“Every professor that I had made a difference in making me walk the walk,” Assefi says. One professor advised her to become a waitress to pay her bills, and another personally prepared her class schedule each semester to ensure that Assefi was taking challenging course work but also had enough time to work. “They were the ones who believed in me and they were the ones who kept telling me: ‘Follow your dream—don’t let it die.’”

In 2018, Assefi was named a Mason Exemplar, one of 50 alumni honored during the Alumni Association’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. For Assefi, the honor was entirely hers. “Everything I learned was at George Mason. I was exposed to the world of believing in my abilities at George Mason.”

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