Keyana Zahiri is all about the heart — both figuratively and literally. The Benjamin Franklin High School Senior — who was chosen in March as Louisiana’s High School Student of the Year by the state Department of Education — will take her love of learning and passion for giving to Brown University this fall, where she will be one of about only 60 students to attend a unique program.
“I want to be a cardiothoracic surgeon,” Zahiri said. “And Brown has this program called PLME that stands for Program in Liberal Medical Education. It means I’ll be combining my undergraduate studies with a medical degree. I don’t have to take the MCAT, and I have guaranteed acceptance to their medical school.”
Brown’s PLME baccalaureate/MD program is the only one of its kind in the Ivy League. According to the university’s website, 2,432 people applied for the 2017 class and 96 were accepted, which puts the acceptance rate at about 4% of applicants.
As one might expect from someone who has managed to stand out both among thousands of Ivy League medical school hopefuls and approximately 200,000 public high school students in Louisiana, this Benjamin Franklin High School senior’s list of activities and accomplishments is dizzying — the result of average weekdays Zahiri says can start at 5 a.m. and not end until 2 a.m.
But while she admits to being a bit of a perfectionist, Zahiri insists that what really keeps her going is the simple fact that she genuinely loves everything she does — she just happens to love a lot of things.
Academically, Zahiri maintains a 4.0 GPA, is a National Merit Semi-finalist, scored a 35 on her ACT and is an Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction. She’s also the president of multiple school clubs and organizations, including the Key Club, Mu Alpha Theta mathematics honor society and the Academic Games, where she also serves as a coach.
In addition to her academics, Zahiri somehow carves out time to give back through community service activities including the Special Olympics and Youth Rebuilding New Orleans. Recently, she organized a STEM day for 50 New Orleans middle-school students.
What does this star student do to relax and unwind? Besides being a classical pianist, Zahiri mixes in plenty of exercise, serving as the captain of her swim team and practicing Japanese Shotokan karate — she is about to test for her black belt.
While some of her loves, like karate, have been around for only a few years, Zahiri said her passion for medicine is something she’s had since birth.
“When I was really young, I used to love following my parents to doctors appointments,” she said. “When I got older, I volunteered at hospitals, and I’ve been able to shadow some surgeons.”
In March, Zahiri was among 20 Louisiana students chosen to participate in the inaugural year of the American College of Cardiology’s Young Scholars Program. The one-year program provides chosen high school and college students with a mentor that introduces them to the world of cardiology.
Long before the program though, Zahiri knew cardiology was a world she wanted to join.
“Anyone that knows me knows that I just love the heart,” she said. “It’s my thing. I just love how systematically and logically it all works. I can’t even really fully explain how much I’m obsessed with it.”
Zahiri said her ultimate goal as a cardiothoracic surgeon is to volunteer at clinics around the world in an effort to lessen the global inequality in medicine.
While she may seem like a young superwoman bent on saving the world, Zahiri is quick to point out that she is not without her kryptonite.
“Oh my gosh, art. I’m terrible at drawing,” she said laughing. “We’re talking worse than stick figures. I couldn’t even draw a straight line if you gave me a ruler.”