When Dr. Nizar S. Eskandar arrived in the United States from his native Syria in February 1995, he had $2,000 in his pocket and he did not speak English but he was determined to make himself a success in what he called “the best country in the world.”
Dr. Eskandar, who has headed SouthCoast Health’s nephrology department since he joined the practice in 2007, said he wanted to emigrate to the United States from the time he was in middle school.
“My first preference was to come to the United States because it is the land of opportunity — no doubt,” Dr. Eskandar said. “I did it. I lived it. I came with only an education and hard work and I made it.”
Upon receiving his doctor of medicine degree from Damascus University School of Medicine in Syria, his first obstacle — after receiving a visa from the U.S. State Department to enter The United States — was passing an equivalency exam for foreign doctors. By his own admission, he knew no English whatsoever.
He took the first portion of the written exam three months after he arrived and passed it. He registered for the second portion two months later and he passed that, as well. While at first he failed English test, he was given the option of taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which he passed in October and received his Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.
Dr. Eskandar’s plan was to study both nephrology (the branch of medicine that deals with the study of and diseases affecting the kidneys) and critical care. That meant that he had to do two separate two-year programs. His combination of being board-certified in both nephrology and critical care makes him unique.
“I like the two fields,” Dr. Eskandar said. “The majority of the critical care cases are pulmonary critical care cases (dealing with the lungs). The complexity of nephrology always amazed me and how many things need to be discovered.”
Early in 1996 after passing his exams, Dr. Eskandar found a vacancy to start his residency at Providence Hospital in Detroit. After one year, he transferred to Wayne State University’s program in internal medicine at Detroit Medical Center, where he completed his final two years. He then did the first year of his Fellowship in critical care at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y.
In order to obtain his green card so that he could begin the legal immigration process, he had to work for 5 years in what the U.S. government considers an underserved area in terms of access to healthcare. That is what originally brought him to the Coastal Empire, as he practiced in Liberty County, which is home to SouthCoast’s Health office in Hinesville.
Following that end of that stay, Dr. Eskandar returned to Rochester so that he could complete his second year in critical care, which allowed him to become board-certified in that specialty. From there, he spent two years performing a Fellowship in Nephrology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
At last, he was able to return to Savannah, where he wanted to settle and establish himself and that is when he joined SouthCoast Health.
SouthCoast’s nephrology department is one of the practice’s busiest, which, unfortunately, has its roots in Georgia’s statewide public health issues with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, 1.12 million Georgians, or 14.2 percent of the population, suffers from the disease and nearly 2.6 million Georgians have prediabetes (high glucose levels in their blood). Complications from diabetes — kidney failure (of which diabetes is a leading cause) — is one of the principal conditions that Dr. Eskandar treats.
Dr. Eskandar said it is important to reach patients who are poor and have difficulty with transportation issues by having medical professionals like himself come closer to where patients need them, especially in rural areas.
As demand for nephrology services has grown, Dr. Garrett White joined SouthCoast to help serve more patients outside of SouthCoast’s main footprint in Savannah. Dr. Eskandar believes it is important to “help capture more people and get many people under the medical care umbrella of the healthcare system.”
In his personal life, Dr. Eskandar is married to Margarita, who was born in Moscow. Her father is a Syrian-born physician and her mother is Russian. Dr. Eskandar and his wife began dating while he was in medical school in Syria.
“Like any adventurous young guy who doesn’t know if he’s going to make it across the pond on the other side of the world, I told her I would keep in touch but I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “We stayed in touch and when I got into my residency program and my future first steps were almost secured, I intensified my contact and we got married.” They are blessed with two children, Nicholas and Grace.
While Muslims represent a majority of the people who live in Syria, Dr. Eskandar is a Christian — in fact, he said his surname is the Turkish word for Alexander, meaning that his family on his father’s side was of Greek descent many generations ago before coming under the dominion of the Ottoman Empire. His parents still live in the Damascus area, despite the civil war that rages on. He has a sister who lives in Dubai and a brother who lives part-time in Lebanon and part-time in Syria.
In many ways, he is thankful to be practicing in “the best country in the world.”
Edgar Field of Savannah is a patient of Dr. Eskandar’s whom Dr. Eskandar began treating for ANCA vasculitis, a life-threatening autoimmune disease, when Field was 70 years old.
“I would say of all the doctors —and I’ve dealt with quite a few — I would say Eskandar is outstanding,” Field said. Very professional. Very detailed and a wonderful communicator. All of these things have added up to a great experience with him.”