Rebecca Rezaei, M.D., is Medical Director of Sunflower Health Plan, a large managed care organization based in Lenexa, KS. She graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1983 with a B.A. in English, and received her Doctor of Medicine from UNMC in 1988.
Dr. Rezaei was a College of Arts and Sciences featured alumni in 2020:
What sparked your curiosity in English?
Entering UNL in the fall of 1979, I knew I wanted to be a physician. My father was being treated for late stage testicular cancer, and like many doctors, the personal experience with illness drives their career choices. My dad died in June following my freshman year. I remember I was taking two summer courses, one of them was Anthropology, the other was Shakespeare. I decided to major in English. I wanted and needed to write better. I also loved to read, and I was afraid college would be the only chance in the near future to read the classics if I chose to go to medical school. So I laid out my future curriculum, focusing on American Literature.
How has your English major helped you throughout your career?
Many years later, after medical school, residency, private practice, and owning an urgent care, I began to truly appreciate the gift of storytelling, and I started to see each of my patients as a story. I particularly remember one patient, a struggling mother who reminded me of the woman in I Stand Here Ironing by Tillie Olsen; in the story, the character wondered how she could possibly help her daughter overcome their personal circumstances and be the happy person the girl had the potential to be. And at some point in my years of practice, after I introduced myself to a new patient, I began to say, “Tell me your story.”
Where has your career path taken you?
In 2008, I read the World Health Organization report detailing high infant mortality and unchanging adult life expectancy rates in America compared to other countries; along with others, I was dismayed that despite tremendous health care, and all the benefits of affluence and education in our country, we were failing to take care of our own. I felt compelled to do something about it, and I left my practice to join the insurance industry, where I saw the potential for change. Now, a decade later, I work exclusively with government programs—Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act Health Exchange Programs. I serve as a Medical Director for Centene, a large insurance carrier, and our organization is able to approve spending for food, housing, personal assistance and other basic needs. The Social Determinants of Health are addressed in the same way that healthcare has traditionally covered prescriptions, tests, and procedures. US Healthcare is improving. Progress is a slow process and requires many, many changes rather than one major solution. Every day I get to hear the stories of people in need, and I’m grateful to be able to make a difference…to help others be all that they can be.
My undergraduate education in American Literature has served me well. For all those parents out there wondering how beneficial it is for their student to be an English major in an era of Tech and Big Data, I have a story to tell.