Soon-to-be UW graduate reflects on years as refugee before he found home in anesthesiology

He will continue residency at UW Health
Soon-to-be UW graduate reflects on years as refugee before he found home in anesthesiology

This weekend, University of Wisconsin-Madison medical student Manu Habibi will walk across the stage to receive his diploma. He will also find his home, after being a refugee for more than 19 years.

“You are considered Afghan here, a different national, so you’re not completely American. And then you go back home and they don’t consider you completely (local) there,” said Habibi. “And so I don’t know where I belong.”

The 32-year-old was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. At age 2, he became a refugee when he moved with his parents to Tashkent, Uzbekistan so they could get an education.

“The Taliban invaded Afghanistan, so they couldn’t go back because of that, and because they were labeled as infidels and Soviets,” he said.

When Habibi was 20 years old, his family moved to the United States under the protection of the United Nations. While in San Diego, he and his family were able to become naturalized citizens.

He started to volunteer in the refugee community and really think about studying medicine, but he realized the immigration process sets up a number of barriers for students.

“When we arrive here to the United States, we don’t have any degrees, we don’t have any work experience and it’s impossible to get a good-paying job right away,” he said.

CONGRATS GRAD�: Manu Habibi will graduate from @UWMadison this week. His road to becoming a doctor was not easy. He was a #refugee for more than 19 years after the Taliban took over Afghanistan when he was 2. He will stay in Madison to continue a residency at @uwhealth!

— Amanda Quintana (@AmandaQTV) May 8, 2019

He said children who are immigrants or refugees in the U.S. end up pursuing work instead of a higher education, “mostly by default.”

On top of all of those setbacks, the biggest barrier is learning a new language.

It took him five years to get his bachelor’s degree and he applied to medical school two times before being accepted at UW.

“Now, I’m here. This week, I’m graduating and it’s a great feeling,” said Habibi.

He has been matched into an anesthesiology residency at UW Health, so he will stay in Madison.

He is passionate about helping elderly patients with chronic pain.

“To be honest, whenever I see an older person, I see my parents in them,” said Habibi. “Especially if they have pain, I want to do everything I can to help them. My dad has been suffering from back pain for forever.”

He has been working with Dr. Peggy Kim to identify the factors that keep a patient from getting to their appointment.

“We’re so fortunate that he’s decided to stay with us here at UW,” said Kim. “He is one of the best students hands down that I’ve had the opportunity to work with.”

Habbi is thankful for the sacrifices his parents made to allow him to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor, and he hopes other immigrants see his story and know that they too can get a higher education if they work hard.

“That’s one of the good things about the United States. The possibilities are endless. We just have to keep trying,” he said.

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