Interview with Marwa Shoeb, MD

A Conversation with Marwa Shoeb, Assistant Clinical Professor

I read that Marwa may be the Arabic name of a fragrant plant, is that true?

MSI haven’t heard of that particular meaning. The meaning that I grew up with is “source of life.” It is also the name of a mountain in Mecca, the holy site for Muslims. I’ve always associated my name with water, which I am drawn to, as I am also an Aquarian!

Do you have siblings and are their names also significant?

I have one younger brother and his name is Ali, which is also an Arabic Muslim name. Ali means “someone with knowledge.” He is brilliant—he is an electrical and computer engineer with a PhD from MIT who now works for Google. He always gets things right away whereas I have to put in work!

Where were you born? Would you tell me about your family?

I was born in Egypt and lived in Cairo only during my first year of life. My family then moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where we spent 6 years. We then relocated to Paris, followed by Berlin, before settling down in the Bay Area. My father is not in the military or foreign service; he works for an international engineering firm and whenever there was an opportunity to go somewhere new, he jumped at it. Growing up, it was hard to move so much but, looking back, I think it was a wonderful way to be exposed to different cultures. All this moving made us a very close family too. I went to French school so French is my second language after Arabic, which we spoke at home. I speak a little bit of German too.

You were recently married, congratulations! Can you recall one particularly overwhelming moment of either the ceremony or reception?

Oh, yes! My favorite memory was during the reception when we took a few moments to step outside, just the two of us, to enjoy the reflection of the full moon on the water, one of the few details that I had not planned! We just felt so blessed.

What is your favorite room in your home?

I love my living room. I live in a little cottage in Tiburon that is attached to a beautiful property overlooking the water. I get the view without the mortgage! It’s very peaceful to come home and sit on my couch and look out on the bay and Angel Island.

Not that you ever are but do you easily admit when you have been wrong? 

Yes, and I am wrong quite often! I have to say that I am pretty good about admitting when I am wrong, and it usually involves navigation. I have a horrible sense of direction but then I still try to weigh in when my husband and I are going somewhere new. I don’t know why I even try…

Will you someday sing lullabies to your children that were sung to you?

I hope so. My favorite is a French lullaby called "Au Claire de la Lune," one that my mom sang to me often. It is so soothing:
Under the moonlight:
"My friend Pierrot
Lend me your pen
So I can write a note.
My candle is out,
I no longer have a light...

Your writing style on the Global Health website ( is sensitive and evocative. Who would you like to be inspired by your writing?

Anyone who has any interest in what goes on in our world. I would love for people to always be curious and open-minded about different cultural practices and ways of seeing life. I will be returning to Ethiopia after the first of the year and hope to do more writing. It was so special to be invited into someone’s home and be part of a ceremony, where every detail had significance and meaning.

What inspires you to learn more about people?

Stories. I think everybody has a unique story to tell. When you listen to friends or patients, you realize how different their experiences are from yours. For my masters, I interviewed Iraqi refugees about their war experiences… I thought I would go into psychiatry... I remember loving this interviewing, and it made me that much more excited about going into the field of medicine and hearing stories throughout my career.

What is your fashion equivalent of comfort food?

I love loungewear. I also love shoes, but finding something super comfortable to relax in at home is like comfort food. I like going out to shop because I never have good luck buying online; I always end up with the wrong size or color shade, so I prefer to go to the stores and try clothes on.

How do you cope with unexpected situations when your best-laid plans go awry?

Not well. I am a Type A. I get frustrated and vent to my husband, or to my parents, and they always remind me to take a deep breath. For example, I recently lost internet service at home and was on the phone with Comcast for hours—it drove me crazy!

Have you ever met a famous person?

Paul Farmer. When I was in medical school, Paul Farmer was at UC Berkeley to give one of his great talks, and he autographed my copy of his book.

As a self-described Type A personality, do you drink coffee?

One cup a day, usually in the morning. I’m now drinking apple cider. I can go without coffee, but on wards, I find that I can tackle clinical care better when I have a hot drink in my hands.

Thank you, Marwa.

- by Oralia Schatzman

View Marwa's professional bio | See previous faculty interviews