As Augusta University reflects on Graduation Week 2021, we take a look at MCG graduate Katrina Hazim.
Her story is one of family, focus and the enduring legacy of the Medical College of Georgia.
When it comes to Katrina Hazim’s graduation story, there’s a temptation to focus on the MCG graduate’s family story, because it’s such a good one.
Consider her hooding, which is the ceremony that formally acknowledges a medical student’s achievements and welcomes them into the medical profession. The hooding itself was done by Dr. George Sessions (MD ’55), a Medical College of Georgia alumnus Hazim calls “Uncle George.”
“Uncle George” is not simply a term of endearment; Sessions is, for all intents and purposes, an adopted grandfather. Not only is his wife, “Auntie Martha,” Hazim’s godmother, but on holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, Hazim, her parents and her siblings get together with the Sessions, their children and their grandchildren. And have for years.
Sessions, a retired anesthesiologist, even administered Hazim’s mother’s epidural when she was born.
“We’re really a blended family,” Hazim said. “I see them probably at least once a month. It’s a special relationship.”
It’s a relationship that goes back all the way to 1975, when Hazim’s father, Daniel, came from Lebanon to Emory University at the age of 19. As a foreign student, he was matched with a host family: the Sessions.
“Quite frankly, we fell in love with him and he fell in love with us,” Sessions said. “Over the years, it has developed into a wonderful relationship.”
Though Daniel Hazim eventually left Emory for Georgia Tech, he remained close with the Sessions.
“George and Martha have been like parents to us,” Hazim’s mother, Samia, said. “When Daniel came as a foreign student, the Sessions helped him navigate living in the U.S. He learned a lot from them, and they have had a lot of influence on our children.”
“We consider the Hazim children our first set of grandchildren,” Sessions said. “Our biological grandchildren came along after that.”
Without Sessions’ influence, it’s hard to envision Hazim’s path to Augusta.
“I learned about MCG through him,” Hazim said. “He told me about Augusta, and when I ended up coming to MCG, he gave me a book about the history of MCG. And now that I’m at the end of my four years, it is so special to me that he is the one who will be walking me through graduation.”
As interesting as this family history is, however, Katrina Hazim’s own story is every bit as powerful as the greater story she’s woven into.
According to her mother, Hazim is what’s called a third culture kid — someone born into one culture, raised in another and therefore a combination of the two. In Hazim’s case, she’s made up of even more than that. While her parents both came from Lebanon and the family returned often, Hazim spent the first six years of her life in Lagos, Nigeria, where her father was working as a civil engineer. The family kept their home in Atlanta, which is where Samia Hazim and the children returned when Katrina was 6, as it was clear they wanted a more comprehensive education than the one available to them in Lagos.
In high school, Hazim volunteered at the St. Jude Cancer Center in Lebanon, and it’s there that her interest in medicine really formed.
“My experience working with the kids as they were going through a very challenging period of their life made me realize I could have such an impact through medicine,” she said. “And when I came back to the U.S., I started shadowing doctors and absolutely loved it.”
She majored in medicine, health and society at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and when it came time to choose a medical school, her relationship with Sessions helped pave the way to Augusta.
“Dr. Sessions was an MCG graduate, and he spoke so highly of MCG and Augusta, so I knew it was a great place to train from him,” Hazim said.
Sessions doesn’t mince words when it comes to how he feels about the Medical College of Georgia.
“I can tell you the best decision I ever made in my life was to go to MCG,” he said. “It was the avenue that made all the positive things in my life possible.”
The connections to MCG went beyond Sessions, however. When Hazim was an undergraduate at Vanderbilt, she worked in the neurology department doing clinical trial research for Dr. Daniel Claassen, an MCG grad. He spoke highly of MCG and the wonderful faculty who mentored him through his journey, and his support and mentorship of Hazim were crucial as she navigated the process of applying to medical school.
Then came the interviews themselves.
“When I had my interview and toured, I was so impressed,” Hazim said. “They had just built the new facility (J. Harrold Harrison M.D. Education Commons) and all of the people I met were great.”
One particular interview stood out.
“Dr. Kathryn Martin (associate dean MCG/UGA partnerships) was one of my interviewers, and she was absolutely wonderful,” she said. “We had a lovely conversation about our mutual interest in public health. Everything about it just drew me to the school.”
That interest in public health comes from her family. Hazim’s older sister, Carmen, works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with a focus on global health and infectious diseases. Additionally, her maternal grandfather traveled the world as a physician working on global health issues with the World Health Organization (WHO).
“We are a public health family,” she said. “Later, I would go back to Dr. Martin’s office just to say hello, check in and talk about public health again.”
That kind of accessibility to faculty was important, Hazim says, and illustrates the kind of individual attention she received at the school.
“I think the best thing about MCG is the people,” Hazim said. “Not only my classmates, but all of the faculty, who have been there since Day One.”
She particularly enjoyed the evolution of her relationship with the faculty as it progressed from lectures to seeing them in the hospital and getting to know them on a more clinical work level.
And the relationship with the students was special as well.
“Medical school is a very hard journey to go through, so having 200 other people who are going through the same thing with you automatically brings you closer together. The atmosphere among students at MCG is a supportive one,” she said.
And although Augusta proved much smaller than the Atlanta she grew up in, she still found it full of interesting things to do … not that she was able to enjoy many of them.
“When you go through medical school, you don’t really have time to do much,” she said. “I lived in the same apartment all four years, and I had so many gatherings there with my friends, so to leave my apartment was very hard because it was leaving all the memories we made.”
Samia Hazim summed it up like this: “I think it was a perfect match. It’s a very enabling environment, and you can’t say that for every place.”
Hazim matched at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she’s hoping to go into child and adolescent psychiatry.
“My training will include three years of residency and two years of child and adolescent fellowship,” she said. “I’m really excited, but it’s definitely bittersweet, leaving MCG and all my friends.”
Her interest in public health has remained strong, however, and one day she says she’d like to work for the CDC like her sister or the WHO like her grandfather, in a capacity that combines psychiatry, especially child psychiatry, with public or global health.
Until then, though, she’s preparing for the next phase of her journey surrounded by a large and loving family with the satisfaction of having added another chapter to their book, and not the first to include the Medical College of Georgia.