While Shaker, 34, had thought about a career in medicine since high school, his more than four years as a combat medic in the service now has him on the path to becoming a physician. His current interests are in trauma surgery and emergency medicine but he is still exploring other specialties.
“My military experience is definitely what gave me the passion that got me here today,” he said.
Begun after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. that killed nearly 3,000 people, the war in Afghanistan is now in its 17th year, American’s longest conflict. Though Osama Bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy Seals in 2011, government officials say terrorists dangerous to the U.S. remain in Afghanistan.
Shaker’s unit in Afghanistan looked daily on roads and pathways for signs of digging and suspicious debris —
often evidence of buried explosive. Hundreds of millions in research dollars have been spent on understanding, identifying and treating the twin invisible maladies so often associated with the these bombs: traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder.
Once when an armored vehicle near Shaker’s was blown up by an IED, he was stopped by a squad leader as he hustled to help the wounded who had suffered head injuries.
“He was more experienced at this than I was... he saw I was stepping on another part of an IED,” recalled Shaker. “He told me not to move my leg, that he didn’t know if I was going to get hit... as it turned out, we were lucky the initial explosion that took out the truck destroyed the rest of the chain of explosives... I had to get four of the men medevaced out, and although some were injured, they all survived.”
A native of Egypt who did some of his K-12 education in Australia, Shaker was living in New Jersey with his family as a teenager on 9/11.
“I could see what happened from across the river in New Jersey and wanted to go in the military right then, but I couldn’t because I wasn’t a citizen,” he said.”Growing up in Egypt, I had already seen what terrorism can do to a society.”
On a student visa, he graduated from Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Hoping to become both a citizen and a member of the military, he was fortunate to learn about a U.S. Defense Department program called “Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest.” a government recruitment program through which legal non-immigrants
(not citizens or legal permanent residents of the U.S.)
with certain critical skills are recruited into the military.
Because he was fluent in Arabic, a language skill prized by the military, he qualified for the program. Soldiers recruited through this procedure become citizens of the United States at the end of their basic training. “It was something I really wanted,” said Shaker, who also did army tours in Korea and Germany.
After his discharge from the army —
his family had then been living in Las Vegas for about a decade —
Shaker went back to Rutgers to get a master’s degree in biomedical sciences. “I needed to brush up and enhance my academic standing if I wanted to get into medical school,” he said.
By the time he was nearing graduation with his master’s, UNLV was recruiting academically talented students with family ties to Nevada for its first medical class.
Today, Shaker not only works hard in medical school, but in the community as well, trying to ensure that veterans aren’t seen as “broken individuals, but as individuals who have a motivation for service... Instead of post traumatic stress, we have post traumatic growth —
from what we have seen and experienced in the military, we have plenty of reasons to continue to serve our community.”
Not long after he was admitted to medical school, Shaker became the first student board member of the Clark County Medical Society: “I want to help bring great medical care to Las Vegas. You don’t have to wait until you graduate from med school to make a difference.”
Demonstrating further commitment to the local community, Shaker recently volunteered to be part of a fundraiser with the India Chamber of Commerce where all monies raised have gone to scholarships for medical students at UNLV and Touro University. “We were so fortunate as first year students to get scholarships, I just wanted to do my part to help other students.”
He is also active in a number of veterans’ organizations, including Merging Vets and Players, an organization that matches up combat veterans and former pro athletes to work through their transition as a team and the Student Veterans of America where he represented the UNLV School of Medicine at their 2018 National Convention in San Antonio.
In addition, he contributes his efforts to the PAVE Team
(Peer Advisor For Veteran Education)
on UNLV main campus where he works with premedical student veterans. Shaker is also the founder of the Veterans in Medicine initiative through which he aims to bring more veterans into medicine and enhance the cultural competency of medical providers and their veteran patients.
“At one point in my life, I didn’t even know if medical school would ever be a possibility,” Shaker said. “Now here I am, fulfilling my dream. This is a gift, and I plan to make the most of it.”