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Saira Z. Sheikh, MD, is assistant professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology, allergy and immunology. She’s also director of the UNC Rheumatology Lupus Clinic and director of clinical trials at UNC’s Thurston Arthritis Research Center.

Saira Z. Sheikh, MD

What brought you to UNC Medical Center?

The people! I came to UNC for my sub-speciality training, after having completed residency and chief residency at the University of Arizona, and distinctly remember that everyone I met during the interview process was super smart, as well as incredibly warm and wonderful! So it was an easy choice for me to join the faculty here after completing my fellowships.

My older brother is a physician scientist (gastroenterologist) at UNC and it was an added bonus to move closer to family. My husband is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist on the faculty also now, so UNC feels like home.

Where are you from?

I am an American, and also truly a citizen of the world. My ethnicity is South Asian (Pakistani), and growing up, we lived in New York, Connecticut, London (England), Nigeria and traveled around the Middle East until we settled down in Kuwait. The opportunity to live in different places around the world and exposure to so many people and cultures, has reinforced the fact that we as humans are a lot more similar, than we are different. It also makes it easy for me to adapt to new situations that I find myself in and make friends, which I consider a good life skill to have!

Did you always want to be a doctor?

Yes. I love being a doctor. My dad is a physician and we have many wonderful doctors in our family. In my opinion, it is a blessing and a privilege to come to work everyday and do what I love, and directly impact the lives of so many — my patients and their families, our team members, colleagues and our trainees.

How did you choose your specialty?

During residency, I became fascinated with the complexity of the immune system and how disturbances in the immune system can lead to a host of distinct clinical diseases and syndromes. I was intrigued by immune deficiencies, immune dysregulation and allergies at one end of the spectrum, and autoimmune diseases at the opposite end. And then there are unique situations where these types of diseases co-exist. In my mind, it all comes together and fits, like the pieces of a puzzle. That’s why I dual-trained in Allergy/Immunology and Rheumatology.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

It’s incredibly rewarding to take care of patients and be a part of their journey as they navigate complex diseases. I also find it very rewarding that I have the opportunity to direct programs through which we are studying new therapeutic options for patients and trying to answer scientific questions that directly impact their health. It’s also gratifying to be involved in the education and training of our next generation of physicians and specialists.

What are some of the new developments in your field of specialty?

We now have advanced biologic therapies that target specific molecular pathways in autoimmune diseases, which has revolutionized the way we care for our patients. Our patients are able to live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Is there a particular achievement (professional or personal) that has been most gratifying to you?

I did two fellowships in three years! It was an intense chapter in my academic career, but I am so glad I had the opportunity to do that at UNC, because it has shaped the professional career path I’m on today. It also provides a unique perspective for the care and understanding of patients with immune, allergic and autoimmune diseases.

On a personal note, I went through two very challenging pregnancies, but I have beautiful children as a result, for whom I am infinitely grateful.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

My mom is one of the kindest individuals I know, and she instilled in me the importance of striving to “be the hand that gives rather than the hand that receives.” I try hard to live up to that every day through devoting time, service and whatever it is that I can do for others. It makes me very happy!

If you weren’t a physician, what would you like to be doing?

It’s possible that I may not know how to do anything else! Ha!

What hobbies do you enjoy?

I enjoy interior design and decorating, and find it to be relaxing, whether I’m thinking of new ideas for a space in my house or office, or helping a friend decorate. I also enjoy reading, travel and spending time with my family. Our son is 8 and daughter is almost 2 years old, and right now they enjoy “hide and go seek.” So we play a fair bit of that at home. The kids hide, while I get dinner on the table, and then I go seek! Multi-tasking for the present day parent!

Do you have a favorite quote or life motto?

“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why…I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” —Robert F. Kennedy

View Dr. Sheikh’s profile.