From Construction to Physician: AUC Alum Follows Blueprint to His Calling
Growing up in East Meadow, NY, Athanasios “Tommy” Tzaras, MD, ’18 spent his childhood and much of his young adulthood at his father’s side laboring on construction sites throughout New York City and Long Island.
He was poised to take over the business from his father, Konstantinos Tzaras, who started Lazer Electrical Corporation, shortly after immigrating to New York from Greece. But instead, he followed his heart and calling “to help the community,” volunteering at several hospitals in the evening after work and changing his career in his twenties to medicine.
“It was a tough decision,” he says. “I always had a lot of self-doubt, however watching my father build his business without being able to speak a word of English taught me that anything is possible with determination and hard work.” Dr. Tzaras graduated community college with honors while working full time and continued his studies in pre-medical science at USF in Tampa. During his undergraduate studies and following graduation, Athanasios spent his free time volunteering and giving back to the community.
Recently Dr. Tzaras, 35, a graduate of American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine and a first-generation immigrant, matched to his top choice for a Pain Medicine Fellowship at West Virginia University. He will start in July 2022. Currently he is a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Resident and the Academic Chief Resident at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, which was his number one program.
He was drawn to Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation after he witnessed his grandfather obtain a higher level of independence following months of physical decline. This allowed his grandfather to enjoy the final days of his life.
Upon completing his first year of residency, Dr. Tzaras was awarded Intern of the year. Due to his passion for teaching, he hosted several lectures for medical students and residents, and started the PM&R Interest Group for the Brody School of Medicine.
During his second year of residency, he collaborated with the Sports Medicine department at ECU and helped start a Musculoskeletal Ultrasound Workshop for medical students. He presented several abstracts and research at a variety of medical conferences, including the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, to name a couple. In his fourth year of residency, he was elected the Academic Chief Resident.
“I have always been interested in nutrition, holistic healing, and treating a patient entirely, focusing not only on the symptoms at hand but on ways to improve a person’s quality of life and functional independence,” he says. “I love that what I do helps alleviate a patient’s pain and allows them to live their life to their fullest potential.”
These days he is shaping his practice of medicine to reshape the art of healing. He sees much of his role as bridging the gap between what is clinical in a hospital setting, and the individual needs and emotions of patients and families. He’s also a husband, father to a 15-month-old daughter, and has another baby on the way.
“The day I got into medical school was one of the happiest days of my life,” he says. “My time spent at AUC was truly unique and a time I will never forget." Not only did he make lifelong friends, he says, but he values the training he received.
His advice to medical students is to always remember why you started, always treat your patients with compassion and respect, and pay attention to your own self-care.
Looking ahead, he would like to someday open his own pain clinic, where he can treat all aspects of a person’s well-being through a compassionate and multidisciplinary approach.
“I understand how important it is to treat and relate to every person and tap into their humanity,” he says. “A smile and a hand on their shoulder can make all the difference to someone who is vulnerable and suffering.”