Yes, Valedictorians Suffer from Test Anxiety Too

By: Debra Holtz

As co-valedictorian of the California School of Podiatric Medicine(CSPM), Nassim Tabrizi DPM ’19 is heading to Boston for her residency training after graduating at the end of the month. Nassim talked to us about choosing a podiatry career, overcoming exam anxiety, and finding love at Samuel Merritt University (SMU).

What experiences led you to become a podiatrist?

I like to believe that everything happens for a reason. I was close to submitting my allopathic medical school applications when a painful skin lesion on my foot led me to a podiatrist’s office. During our conversation, the podiatrist encouraged me to shadow him in the clinic and surgical settings. While I shadowed for two weeks, it took much less time for me to realize that podiatry was exactly the career I wanted to pursue. It was not so much the focus on foot and ankle that attracted me to podiatry initially, but rather the fact that the specialty is so multifaceted. It satisfies my desire to be a surgeon without sacrificing more intimate forms of patient-doctor relationships I enjoy in clinic. It was not until I was a student that I became fascinated with the intricacies of the foot and ankle and the lower extremity’s role in our overall well-being.


I interviewed at five of the nine podiatry schools before choosing CSPM. It stood out among the other schools for me because it offered small class sizes, numerous scholarships, and early clinical exposure at the start of the second year. As a Bay Area native, staying home near my family for four years was, of course, an added bonus.

What is a challenge you overcame during your time at SMU?

College was a difficult time for me because I struggled with test anxiety. I often feared how pursuing four rigorous years of medical school would affect my mental health and overall well-being. Speaking about mental health isn’t always easy, but SMU’s welcoming culture provided me with the opportunity to create an open dialogue with fellow classmates and professors. One of our professors, Dr. Bruce Richardson, who sadly passed away last year, was a huge support for me during my first year. Aware of my test-driven anxiety, he would frequently ask me how I was doing and would even go as far as asking me if I was alright during exams. I wish I had the opportunity to tell him how much his caring played a role in my success.

What will you take away from your SMU experience? What was transformative?

Just the other day I was overwhelmed by a patient’s excited and emotional reaction to her new ankle brace. “I can’t remember the last time I was able to walk like this!” she exclaimed as she walked out of our podiatry clinic at Highland Hospital. It’s these priceless moments that make the countless exams and sleepless nights worth it. As for transformative, I met my fiancé, Ajay Singh DPM ’19, through my program — that’s pretty life-changing!

What does commencement mean to you? 

With commencement only days away, things are bittersweet. CSPM gave me a family, and I’ll soon have to say “see you later” as we all embark on our respective paths towards three years of residency training. We’ve spent countless hours together in the classroom and clinics, often spending more time with each other than our own families.

As for graduating and becoming a doctor, I have dreamt of this moment for as long as I can remember. Our education doesn’t end here however; this is only the beginning of a lifelong commitment to furthering our knowledge to better care for our patients.

What are your professional plans?

I am so excited to be starting my three years of surgical training in July at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston. As for the future, I can’t say what kind of practice I will pursue in the future, but I do know that I would like to be involved in academia, whether it be as an attending doctor for a residency program or a professor in a classroom setting. Who knows, maybe I’ll teach at CSPM one day!

Do you have advice for students just beginning the podiatric medicine program?

Study for the knowledge rather than the grades. While grades are important for obtaining clerkships and residency positions, they are certainly not the only thing programs look at when deciding if you would be the right fit for them.

My second piece of advice: view your classmates as family. Encourage your fellow students to create a non-competitive environment by sharing resources like study guides and flashcards.  

I’m so grateful to my friends and family for their endless love and encouragement these last four years. It is because of them that I get to call myself Dr. Tabrizi in just a few weeks. This was most definitely a team effort.

Nassim Tabrizi was awarded the Presidential Scholarship by SMU when she was accepted into CSPM. In 2019, she received the Michael L. Stone Outstanding Professional Conduct Award from the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery.

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