Freedom, family and fortitude. Those few words describe Shahla Masood, MD, professor and chair of the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.
Internationally recognized for her work in breast pathology and breast health, Masood’s path as a trailblazing female physician began before she stepped foot in the United States. It’s a journey of hardship, perseverance and fortitude. Never bending in the face of adversity, Masood would not settle for anything less than exceptionalism in all aspects of her life.
Her roots take us back to Iran, where early on in her life she would experience tragedy with the loss of her beloved father. In a predominately patriarchal society, her family’s life was turned upside down as societal culture linked the wealth and status of the family unit to the father or husband. That tragedy would change the trajectory of her life and spark a way of thinking that would set the foundation for a successful career.
“At an early age, I learned the value of independence. I decided to never tie my self-worth to anyone other than myself, never compromising on my principles or what I believed in,” Masood said.
From childhood, Masood knew she wanted to be a physician and had great examples to follow in her family. Her grandfather, a pharmacist, her aunt and uncle also physicians. If she was to make her dream of practicing medicine a reality, she knew it would mean breaking cultural norms. That brought her to New York City at the age of 16.
“I received the American Field Service Scholarship. This allowed me to finish high school abroad as a guest of an American family,” Masood said.
Impressed by the freedom of expression, diversity, culture and society she was exposed to in New York, Masood developed a love for the United States and would eventually returned with her husband, Ahmad Kasraeian, after they both completed medical school at Shiraz University in Iran.
Sacrificing to serve
Committed to serving their country, Masood and her husband moved back to Iran not long after completing their postgraduate training in the U.S. to start their professional academic careers at Shiraz University. During that time, the country was in the midst of the Islamic Revolution. With ongoing civil unrest, Masood often had to balance her valued principals of individual freedom to survive in that environment. After a while, it became evident that Masood’s push for freedom and equality would not be tolerated there much longer.
“One day a staff member of Shiraz University wouldn’t allow me inside because I would not cover my hair. That same day I submitted my formal resignation,” Masood said. “Everything I do and have done is about personal freedom and freedom of expression. The ability to maintain your values and not lose sight of what is important to you comes at a price.”
Following her resignation, Masood along with her husband focused their energy on helping establish an 80-bed multispecialty private hospital staffed by board-certified American physicians providing care in the most deprived area in the city of Shiraz. The hospital is still functioning today.
Masood and her family, including her sons Ali and Sina, came back to the U.S. and made Jacksonville, Florida their new home, a decision that was not made lightly.
Impactful career at UF Health
Once in Jacksonville, Masood turned disappointment into opportunity. With no room for a foreign graduate student in the surgical or gynecology residency programs at the College of Medicine – Jacksonville at the time, Masood went into pathology. With offers to pursue her dream at other institutions, she made the choice to stay. Her husband was happy in the urology residency program and it was important for her to keep the family together.
“It’s not easy as a foreign citizen. It takes a significant degree of patience and tolerance,” Masood said. “Initially, I did not want to go into pathology because I wanted the patient care experience. I made the decision that if I was going to be a pathologist, I was going to be the best. Every day I came into work with a mission to help patients I may never meet.”
As a resident, she immediately stood out, winning a national award for a publication written in her second year of residency. Since then Masood has made significant contributions to medicine at UF Health and across the world. Masood established the International Society of Breast Pathology; the Multidisciplinary Symposium on Breast Disease and The Breast Journal.
In addition to her role as chair in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine, she also serves as medical director of UF Health Jacksonville Laboratories; director of the UF Health Breast Center – Jacksonville; interim director of the UF Health Cancer program and program director for the breast pathology fellowship and cytopathology fellowship. Masood helped establish the infrastructure of the Office of Research Affairs, the IRB and center for clinical trials on the Jacksonville campus when she served as the first dean of research at the College of Medicine – Jacksonville.
When Masood is not in the office, she is still focused on caring for those who don’t have access to quality care.
“Providing care to underserved populations with the same degree of intensity and excellence as those with health care insurance or access is very important to me,” Masood said. “That’s why I have been active with the Sulzbacher Center, We Care Jacksonville and several local organizations that focus on this effort.”
We Care Jacksonville was her way of supporting the medical needs of others, offering gourmet dinners at her home and creating a physician talent show at the Florida Theatre to raise money for those who did not have access to medical care.
Continuing the fight for Iranian women
Advocating for greater and equal rights for women has always been a passion for Masood. She has often pushed for better representation in the workplace, equal pay and inclusion. She was the driving force behind the UF Association of Professional Women in Jacksonville in a time where diversity, equity and inclusion were not widely spoken about.
Throughout her time in the U.S., her attention is drawn to inequalities and challenges in her country of Iran where she too endured the same struggles.
“A large number of women and men have lost their lives in pursuit of their freedom. As a concerned woman, my call to everyone is to support this national movement for freedom everywhere but especially in Iran and for Iranian women however they can. Please support the movement known as Women, Freedom and Liberty in Iran.”
More lies ahead
As Masood trains the next generation of health care professionals, she is focused on continuing to advance medicine.
“I want to learn more, to do more and I will not stop wanting more for my family, my patients, my students, my institution or my country.”
Her advice to women in medicine is to take a moment of self-realization. Figure out what you want to do, don’t quit when situations look impossible and never compromise on your principals and convictions.
Masood is a proud wife to Ahmad Kasraeian, MD, a urologist; mother to two sons, Ali Kasraeian, MD, also a urologist, and Sina Kasraeian, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon; and is a grandmother of six. She enjoys the beautiful things life has to offer and has a love of oil painting. Masood is also a gourmet chef.
Chair, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Program Director, Breast Pathology Fellowship; Medical Director, Breast Health Center; Program Director, Cytopathology Fellowship; Director of Research; Interim Director of Cancer Programs