2023 CNS-PECN Training Director Award

Rana Said, MD

Profile written by Dallas Armstrong, MD

photo of Rana Said, MD

Dr. Rana Said has built one of the largest child neurology residency programs in the country, established herself as a highly sought-after speaker covering topics ranging from refractory status epilepticus to the use of cannabidiol for epilepsy, built a ketogenic diet program, won teaching award after teaching award, and ushered six new subspecialty fellowship programs through their first years. That alone would be enough to rest assured that all her long hours have left their mark on scores of physicians and hundreds of young patients, but Dr. Said is more than an expert clinician and astute researcher. She is a whole-hearted leader, a champion of the entire person behind the residency application paperwork, a caring beacon to guide families through the hardest decisions of their lives with grace and candor. This signature aspect of her practice means that for generations, her gifts will live on in the researchers she mentors, the physicians she trains, and the patients who journey toward living a life unencumbered by their epilepsy.

It is only fitting that Dr. Rana Said entered the world with her twin, internist Dr. Nuha Said – bringing another along with her on the next big adventure from her very first breath. Dr. Said’s parents, Drs. Riyad and Salwa Said emphasized careful study and thoughtful curiosity in their children, and fanned the flame of each child’s uniqueness. Early on, Dr. Said was a nurturing force on her younger brothers, Dr. Fuad Said, now an adult nephrologist like his father before him, and Dr. Maher Said, Associate Professor of Economics at Stern Business School at NYU. The foursome grew up first in Chicago and later in Amman, Jordan, watching both their parents balance studious attention to their field with loving cultivation of their children’s gifts.

When time came to begin post-secondary education, Dr. Said and her sister traveled together to the University of Jordan School of Medicine, then crossed an ocean to study together in Boston, where Dr. Said trained at Tufts University’s Floating Hospital for Children in both Pediatrics and Child Neurology. Dr. Said is a consummate pediatrician: officially, as she continues to sit for pediatric boards at each renewal, and pragmatically, as she diligently listens to breath and heart sounds in even the busiest of visits. During appointments full of complex epilepsy management decisions, she never neglects to address practical mental health boosting choices a teen can make. While studying adult neurology at Tufts, she inadvertently attracted attention from co-residents as she laid a hand on the forearm of an elderly patient alone in a hospital room, or crouched to eye level to speak softly to patients with a loving lilt in her voice. You could take the pediatrician out of the children’s hospital, so the joke went, but Rana would still be Rana.

The time at Tufts was full of highlights: exposure to a breadth of clinician perspectives, notably Dr. Paul Rosman whose warmth toward patients and trainees alike as well as the exhaustive differential diagnosis lists made his teaching particularly significant, the realization that despite her fascination with all aspects of child neurology, she was drawn to the intrigue of EEG interpretation. Most memorable of all was the double wedding Dr. Said planned with her sister, ensuring that limited resident vacations wouldn’t keep them from standing beside one another on their wedding day.

Epilepsy fellowship began at Boston Children’s Hospital under the tutelage of Dr. Blaise Bourgeois, amongst so many other influential voices. The volume of EEGs alone was a selling point, given that the old neurology adage that one “learns neurology one stroke at a time” has a clear corollary in neurophysiology. It was in the fellow’s chair that those early questions began regarding best practice in status epilepticus, a series of questions that shaped her career as an expert in new-onset status epilepticus (NORSE) and the related entity febrile infection-related epilepsy syndrome (FIRES). Her second year at Boston Children’s Hospital was a treasured opportunity to conduct research and an important seed was planted that has grown into the current Angelman Syndrome clinic she now leads.

As a freshly-minted assistant professor, Dr. Said came to Dallas, Texas in 2004 with two young children and her husband Dr. Gaith Semrin, a pediatric gastroenterologist. She walked into a child neurology training program that was struggling. On probation from the ACGME, the program only intermittently filled its single position prior to her arrival. Her first act as Program Director was to approach the program as she did her patient’s medical work-up: with clear eyes, laser focus, inexhaustible energy, and her characteristic vision. Dr. Said transformed the program, innovating with each passing year, even growing from one resident per class to the current complement of five trainees each year. Residents were learning and working on a busy service but — for the first time — had an advocate focused on preventing burnout, long before it was widely talked about. She also worked to support the development and growth of the Neurodevelopmental Disabilities residency during that time. In recognition of her impact, she was recently the inaugural awardee of the Excellence in Graduate Medical Education Award by UT Southwestern GME. As a testament to her contributions, she received no less than 16 nominations for this award.

Dr. Said’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic was truly inspiring. She changed the inpatient processes to incorporate in-person and virtual rounding and was instrumental in the process to pivot to telehealth clinics, all while personally covering for colleagues, without hesitation, when they were quarantined or had risk factors too high for in-person work. The latter is a particular and long-standing interest of Dr. Said’s, giving rise to her current position as Chair of the Resident Wellness and Wellbeing Committee. Even as the department grew and service commitments were less frequent, she made sure to spend significant time on general neurology service with residents, in addition to the busy epilepsy service weeks she spent with fellows, always arriving with characteristic enthusiasm, ready to teach and eyes bright as she showed a medical student the power of a careful neurologic examination.

During her years as program director, she led numerous culture-shaping initiatives such as the Dr. Iannaccone Pediatric Research Days, which has grown over the past three years to a two-day event that showcases neurology residents, fellows, post-doctoral research fellows and medical students and a nationally invited keynote speaker. In the short span of the last four years, she has been essential to the creation of several fellowships and has directly mentored new fellowship directors in Pediatric Headache Medicine, Pediatric Epilepsy, Pediatric Clinical Neurophysiology, Fetal and Neonatal Neurology, Pediatric Vascular Medicine, and most recently, Pediatric Movement Disorders fellowship. She developed and implemented the institutional clinical protocol for the management of status epilepticus and sits on the American Epilepsy Society’s NORSE/FIRES Consensus Treatment Guidelines committee. Even in the case of resident research days or a fairly standard response to status epilepticus, Dr. Said takes something already excellent and makes it better — every time.

Even wearing her many hats, the one call Dr. Said never lets go to voicemail is the one from her sons. Her two sons are now men, Omar a sophomore at the University of Colorado Boulder and Saeed a recent graduate of the same alma mater now working in the consulting industry. Just as her own mother’s trailblazing path to becoming a pediatric specialist in allergy and immunology inspired Rana to look for the intersection of her own talents and the needs in her community, so Dr. Said has paved the way for her own children to follow in the same legacy of service.

On any given Tuesday, Rana can be found either in clinic, in the lecture hall, or on the wards, often teaching, always making a difference in big ways and small. Since 2009 Dr. Said has served dutifully as the Medical Director for the Epilepsy Foundation of Texas’s Kamp Kaleidoscope, a camp for teenagers with epilepsy, where she earned the moniker “Razzle Dazzle.” In so many ways, and certainly as a program director, dazzle she has indeed.