Only one in 20 neurosurgeons is a woman, according to Women in Neurosurgery, a medical specialty organization affiliated with the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Dr. Toba N. Niazi, a pediatric neurosurgeon and Medical Director of Neuro-Oncology Surgical Services at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, stands out as one of the pioneers breaking the glass ceiling for other women in the field of neurosurgery.
During her 16-year career, Dr. Niazi has paved the way for other women in the field through her success as a leader in pediatric neurosurgery and serving as a mentor to other aspiring neurosurgeons.
Most importantly, Dr. Niazi says she wants to be recognized first and foremost for her work as a leading neurosurgeon, not by her gender.
The accomplished pediatric neurosurgeon is also a wife and mother of four young children. Born in Afghanistan, Dr. Niazi and her family had to flee the country when she was an infant. Her family initially relocated to Germany for a short time, but after realizing better opportunities existed for them in the United States, they eventually emigrated to the U.S. Because the immigration process was challenging at the time, Dr. Niazi’s father had to stay behind when she, her mother and siblings initially moved to the U.S.
This was a very difficult time, Dr. Niazi recalls. During that process, they discovered her father was suffering from primary pulmonary hypertension, a deadly heart and lung condition, and one that eventually took his life.
“Seeing him struggle really made me want to go into medicine and fix him,” recalls Dr. Niazi. “Every child wants to try and help their parent and make them proud.”
JOURNEY TO BECOMING A PEDIATRIC NEUROSURGEON
While working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Niazi says she fell in love with studying the brain. “We were working on a study of the effects of HIV on the brain. It was fascinating to me.” During her educational career, Dr. Niazi concluded the field of pediatric neurosurgery is where she belongs. “Children are so fragile, but also so resilient, and to have the privilege to take care of them and bring them out of a difficult situation is really an honor. It’s an instinct I have to want to do everything I can to help,” she explains.
Dr. Niazi earned her medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Prior to joining Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Dr. Niazi was on staff at Inova Fairfax Children’s Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia, where she served as a pediatric neurosurgeon.
She completed her internship and residency in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Utah School of Medicine, and a fellowship in neurosurgery at the University of Washington/Seattle Children’s Medical Center. She is board certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgeons. During her time in training, Dr. Niazi focused on translational research in a transgenic mouse model with medulloblastoma. This work led her to earn the prestigious Kenneth Shulman Award through the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) and Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS).
Dr. Niazi joined Nicklaus Children’s Health System, the parent organization of Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, in 2013, where she specializes in treating children with brain and spinal cord tumors, as well as those affected by vascular malformations of the brain, congenital spinal deformities, hydrocephalus, spasticity and movement disorders. She also oversees the pediatric neurosurgery fellowship program, providing mentorship to tomorrow’s future neurosurgeons. Her advice to women and aspiring neurosurgeons everywhere: “Find a good mentor who can support you. Someone you
can go to for advice, who has traveled the same path.”
To learn more about Dr. Niazi and view her profile video, please visit nicklauschildrens.org/DrNiazi
About the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital
Dr. Niazi has touched the lives of countless children with complex health needs throughout her career. The pediatric neurosurgery program is comprised of an experienced team of pediatric neurosurgeons who together provide comprehensive, coordinated care to children with complex neurological disorders including brain and spinal cord tumors, epilepsy, hydrocephalus, congenital spinal deformities, vascular malformations of the brain and spine, neural-tube defects, brachial plexus injuries, as well as neuromuscular and movement disorders. The program uses leading-edge technologies to care for children including intraoperative magnetic resonance imaging that allows detailed scans to be taken within the surgical suite, reducing the amount of surgeries to perform a single procedure, the ROSA One robotic platform, intraoperative brain mapping, deep brain stimulation, MRI focused ultrasound to target
midline brain lesions among others.
To learn more, please visit nicklauschildrens.org/Neurosurgery