Dr. Rassaian received her M.D. degree from the National University of Iran (Tehran, Iran) in 1973. She was ranked first among all medical graduates in her native country, which earned her the top award from the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Higher Education in addition to a scholarship to study abroad. She chose to pursue Ph.D. studies in physiology, for which no clinician instructors were then available in Iranian medical schools. This brought her to The University of Illinois at Chicago where she investigated the functional properties of the Na+/K+ pump within the human erythrocyte membrane.
Immediately after obtaining her Ph.D. in 1977, Dr. Rassaian returned to Iran and began to teach at Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences (SBUMS). She also launched an independent research program to study the vestibular system using an apparatus designed by one of her students and housed in her university office. She spearheaded several clinical projects on vertigo and other symptoms of vestibular disorders in Dey Hospital in Tehran. In addition, she participated in several collaborative studies on the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases in primary school-age children of Tehran. Equally important, she also served as a thesis supervisor for many enthusiastic medical students whose research findings subsequently appeared in Persian journals.
Students’ enthusiasm for her classroom lectures prompted her to design a project exploring the reason(s) behind their eagerness and active participation in classroom discussions during the didactic but research-based physiology lectures she delivered in three major universities in Tehran. Her unique approach to problem-based learning in the lecture format was the fruit of this project, for which she coined the term “Research-Centered Teaching Method” and which found its way into the literature outside Iran shortly afterwards. This approach was formally published in 1996 in the UK-based journal Medical Education and subsequently gained widespread popularity after it was introduced as a novel teaching method in several conferences held in the United States and Australia. Using the same method in 1983, she taught the physiology of the central nervous system to medical students studying in the then war-afflicted city of Ahwaz. Her students came to the war zone airport to see her off upon the completion of her course, an unsettling yet warm memory that has stayed with her ever since.
Her expertise in research methodologies was equally appealing to junior faculty members of numerous universities and academic institutions and inevitably attracted their attendance at workshops that followed. She was promoted to Full Professor in 1999 and continued to teach advanced physiology and research methodologies as elective courses. She was the only SBUMS instructor preparing medical students for the first ever scientific Olympiad in the country. Much to her delight, some of these students ended up securing top-ranked spots in the prestigious competition.
During her tenure at SBUMS, Dr. Rassaian received many awards and was recognized as the 1999 Professor of the Year. She immigrated to the United States following her involuntary retirement but stays in touch with and continues to mentor many of her former students who now hold key academic/research positions world-wide.
Nowadays, she teaches the science of physiology as a way to get to know our creator, the almighty, to a lay audience in the small amphitheater of a public library in Seattle, Washington. This allows her to continue to pursue her passion for teaching and learning.