Leader of the Nashville COVID-19 Response Credits GW for Career Success

Alex Jahangir, B.S. ’99, said attending GW "fundamentally changed" his life.

February 13, 2023

Alex Jahangir

It was an average day in 1995 when Alex Jahangir, B.S. ’99, went to a shopping mall in Nashville to meet one of his friends. Little did he know that that trip to the mall would change the course of his life forever.

Born in Iran, Jahangir and his family immigrated to Nashville when he was 6 years old. Growing up, he always knew he wanted to be a doctor but never dreamed of having the financial means to attend school outside of Tennessee.

But then came that fateful day at the mall.

While waiting for his friend, Jahangir stumbled across a college fair where he struck up a conversation with a George Washington University recruiter.

“That was actually the first time I had ever heard of GW,” he recalled. “I had an amazing conversation with the recruiter who encouraged me to visit campus.”

He did, and instantly fell in love with Foggy Bottom and the rest of the city; however, there was still the matter of money.

Alex Jahangir and his mother
Alex Jahangir, B.S. ’99, (left) and his mom pose in front of Thurston Hall, where Jahangir was a resident advisor.

“I went to the financial aid office and said, ‘I’m not going to be able to attend this amazing place,’” Jahangir said.

The financial aid officer he met with happened to have ties to Nashville, and--impressed by Jahangir’s academic prowess and ambition--told him, “We’re going to make this work.”

Through a combination of financial aid, scholarships and grants, Jahangir made his way to GW, where he would be joined by his brother, now cardiologist Eiman Jahangir, B.A. ’01, two years later.

“I was so grateful to that person in the financial aid office who made it possible for me to come to GW,” he said. “Just like the millions of other children of immigrants who come to this country, I didn’t really know how to go through the schooling process, so to have this person go, ‘Hey, we’ll figure out it,’ was just a really amazing experience.”

During his time at GW, Jahangir secured an internship with the American Cancer Society’s government relations office. It was through that internship that he learned the importance of public health policy and how it could impact millions.

Alex Jahangir
Alex Jahangir, B.S. ’99, speaks at a COVID-19 press conference in Nashville. Jahangir served as head of the Metropolitan Nashville Coronavirus Taskforce.

“The bug bit me,” he quipped. “After my first year at medical school, I came back up to D.C. and worked at the Department of Health and Human Services and have kept my interest in policy ever since.”

That interest in policy ultimately resulted in Jahangir serving as the head of the Metropolitan Nashville Coronavirus Taskforce, an experience he chronicles in his book, “Hot Spot: A Doctor’s Diary from the Pandemic.”

“We needed to move mountains, and some days we did. … On these good days, I felt myself part of something larger, more powerful, and more consequential than anything I’d ever experienced,” Jahangir writes in his book, which was derived from the meticulous daily notes he kept during the pandemic. “On other days, we failed to move anything in the right direction, much less mountains. On these days I cursed my feet of clay and my limits.

“It was weird to be Nashville’s hero on the good days and Nashville’s villain on the bad ones,” he added. “I wondered how a guy like me–a classic striver who grew up trying to make good on my opportunities–wound up being either one.”

The answer, though, goes back to that day at the mall.

“I have a direct line between how meeting a GW rep at the mall led to me chairing the Nashville COVID-19 response,” said Jahangir, who still to this day – nearly 30 years later – remembers the name Rick Plotkin, the recruiter he spoke with.

That’s why Jahangir equates his life to that of Forrest Gump; he’s been in the right places at the right times.

“I would not have had the life experiences I’ve had, met the people I've met and done everything I've done if it wasn’t for GW,” he said. “It foundationally changed my life.”

Now as an orthopedic trauma surgeon and a professor of orthopedic surgery, medicine and health policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Jahangir helps change others’ lives.

“Every day I’ve impacted someone’s life,” he said, opening a drawer full of letters and cards from former patients thanking him for his work that allowed them to celebrate another birthday or attend a loved one’s wedding. “My wife laughs at me because she’s like, ‘You’re such a packrat,’” he added, “but I think it’s really freaking cool.”

Jahangir also looks to give back financially through the GW Student Support Fund, knowing firsthand the impact it can have.