In memoriam: Aspiring vascular surgeon Noor Gul Shah, 29

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Noor Gul Shah

Noor Gul Shah, MD, who passed away in October last year aged 29, was a remarkable fourth-year resident in general surgery at NYU Langone Health in New York City. Born and raised in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, she attended her home state’s Rutgers University for her collegiate studies, graduating from Rutgers’ Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine in New Brunswick in 2017 as a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha honors society.

Like many of us, during her schooling Noor found joy in the operating room and dedicated herself to the surgeon’s path. As a junior resident, Noor—with her tireless work ethic and distinctive verve—quickly proved to be a talented clinician and avid learner. As she progressed through to her fourth year of residency, she returned again and again to vascular surgery for its challenges and hard-earned rewards. She fell in love with its breadth of techniques, its freedom from anatomic boundaries, and its demand for constant innovation and evolution. Even before applying for fellowship, Noor dove into the field with all of her characteristic zeal, pursuing research with the goal of improving outcomes for her patients.

Noor’s passion for surgery was met in equal measure with her charisma and zest for life. A self-possessed and brilliant young woman, she was prone to laughter, quick with a joke, and had a lightness of heart that could lift a room. It’s no surprise, then, that people would flock to her when seeking a confidante or a sympathetic ear. And she reciprocated with a fierce loyalty to those fortunate enough to be a part of her circle, which was ever-growing. Noor cherished her family and friends, with an affection matched by her insatiable thirst for adventure. She found her soulmate in her late husband Mohammad—their love for each other was infectious, and together they explored the world.

It’s possible that many of you would have met Noor during the most recent fellowship application cycle. You would have interviewed a confident, remarkable young surgeon with boundless promise. You might have chatted with her over dinner about her aspirations: She dreamed of opening a hospital in Pakistan in the name of her late father, Hamraz Shah, to provide free surgical care to those in need. You would have marveled at her accomplishments and heard stories from around the globe, including her service rotations through San Francisco, Pakistan, and Sierra Leone to help those less fortunate. Or you may simply have sat by her on a bus or train, struck by the friendliness and warmth of a beautiful stranger who might someday have become a treasured colleague.

This memoriam is not a recounting of a long and glorious career. The loss of Noor is far more difficult to put into words because we are left with only a shadow of what would have been. We mourn her passing for the sake of a generation of surgeons who may have trained under her eye, the scientific insights that remain obscured, and the countless patients deprived of the empathy and mastery of her care. Most importantly, we mourn with her family whose pain we cannot begin to comprehend.

In her personal statement for vascular fellowship, Noor closed by reflecting on how inspirational her mother had been in her pursuits: “After witnessing my mother raise five children on her own, I learned that an unwavering work ethic can tear down the highest of barriers.” As Noor’s mother was her personal source of strength in forging on toward a career as an academic vascular surgeon, Noor will remain an inspiration to all of us as we carry on this tradition in her stead—she was driven to be a true luminary in the field.

This is for Noor, in her loving memory. She will be deeply missed but never forgotten.

Rae Rokosh, MD, and Benjamin Wadowski, MD, wrote this tribute on behalf of all of Noor’s colleagues at NYU Langone Health’s Department of Surgery.

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