Interview with Armond Esmaili, MD

A Conversation with Armond Esmaili, Assistant Clinical Professor 

Tell me about yourself. Where were you born and raised?

I grew up in a seaside town north of San Diego, moved near Seattle for my early elementary years, and then settled in a mountain suburb just west of Denver. I fully identify with being a Coloradan—it's where I grew up through high school and where I call home. As an only child, I'm incredibly close with my parents. My Jewish, half-Canadian mother grew up in Los Angeles, is a Armond and parentsformer high school English teacher, and has been writing poetry and humorous short essays her entire life. Although a classic introvert, she can talk your ears off one-on-one! My Armenian father grew up in Tehran, was formerly an executive in the restaurant industry, and is a gregarious social butterfly. Although I've been away from Colorado since high school, I savor time with my parents and enjoy our frequent outdoors-focused trips.

Armond Esmaili

Have you ever had a nickname? What was it?

I’ve had too many nicknames to tell! During every major phase of my life, I've seemed to pick up a distinct nickname that has become my main moniker for periods of time (e.g., "Mondo" in medical school or "Dr. Smiley" in residency since my last name is pronounced "ESS-SMILEY"). But my original childhood nickname is Muggsy. Basketball was one of my big sports growing up and—although I'm now a proud 5 foot, 10 inches tall—I was always one of the shorter players on the court when I was younger. If you aren't an NBA junkie like me (although diehard Warriors fans will know this), Muggsy Bogues was a tenacious, mighty-mouse point guard and the shortest player to ever play in the NBA. I took a lot of pride being called Muggsy and tried to emulate my own basketball game after his.

Everyone has that one person who really knows you best. Who is that someone for you?

This one is too easy: my mother! Everyone who knows me well knows this about me: like it or not I have to call my mother every day (with rare exceptions). In many ways, we share the same brain, personality traits, and life views. We're both reflective souls, highly intuitive, and are often each other's creative muses for inspiration despite the vast differences in our daily work (writing for her, medicine for me). I draw a lot of inspiration from her life of worldly travel, teaching, avid reading, and writing, and the gift of chatting with her daily is never lost upon me.

What is your favorite sport/game to play/watch?

Basketball and tennis were my two big sports growing up—I still love to watch and play both! I am a diehard basketball fan of the Denver Nuggets (yes, we are a small breed, but we do exist) and my alma mater, the Georgetown Hoyas. My tennis game may have declined since my time as a tennis instructor during high school summers, but I still really enjoy getting out on the courts. Living in the Colorado mountains, I grew up skiing every winter weekend and savor every chance to catch some powder on the slopes!

Many of us here are avid readers of various genres. Who is your favorite author and why?

Can I offer two favorites? Because my father also taught courses on executive leadership, I grew up enjoying books on leadership, psychology, and ethics. As an adult, I now find myself frequenting Brené Brown's books. Her lessons on courage, vulnerability, and empathy have been immensely impactful in both my personal life and my time with patients. On the fiction front, my guilty pleasure is Tony Hillerman. From traveling frequently in the American Southwest during my childhood and spending time working for the Indian Health Service in New Mexico during both medical school and residency, I've developed a deep appreciation for the spirit, culture, and resiliency of the Navajo Nation and their beautiful, sacred land. Tony Hillerman's page-turning detective novels transport me back into that world and spark some of my strongest personal memories.

Who would you consider as your mentor in medicine or in life?

My father is definitely my greatest life mentor and inspiration. As an immigrant, he faced immense challenges starting a new life in a foreign country. His grit, adaptability, and unwavering ethical integrity as a corporate executive and his commitment as a father and husband have always set the highest bar for me. He's persevered and excelled through life's vicissitudes and has always been a profound source of inspiration and wisdom for me.

We all had dreams as children, what did you want to be when you were younger?

A writer! A movie producer! An actor! My answer might have varied from year-to-year when I was younger, but I always yearned to be a storyteller in some capacity. My short-lived acting career ended during our fifth grade Aladdin play, but the power of creative storytelling shaped many of my childhood dreams. Although a life of service to heal others and scientific inquiry drove my interest in medicine, I feel fortunate that personal narratives are still very much a part of my daily work. In medicine, it is the utmost privilege to hear and help heal the medical stories of the patients I see in the hospital and to get to know the story of their personal lives.

- by Lena Loo

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