The son of an acrobat, David Bandbaz inherited his father's death-defying instincts. Just a little lower to the ground.
The Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV third-year student relieves stress by zipping around area highways on one of his two motorcycles.
“The first time I was on a motorcycle on the highway, my first year of medical school, it felt like I started out with problems coated on my body, but that the problems fell off as I rode," Bandbaz said. "I didn’t worry about my problems. I felt alive. I still get that feeling of freedom.”
Issues with Motorcycle Licensing
Not long after he started riding a motorcycle three years ago he fell. The fall left him badly scraped up, sore, and with a broken hand. Though the accident didn’t make him fall out of love with motorcycles, it has helped lead him to undertake a medical school research project with the assistance of Dr. Anne Weisman, the director of wellness and integrative wellness at the medical school.
In part, the study, which will use information from the Clark County Coroner’s Office and the Department of Motor Vehicles, looks at whether the method of licensing motorcyclists affects the risk of dying on one. It appears to be a process long on paperwork but short on reality-based instruction, Bandbaz says, and that has much to do with many bikers not even getting a license. Nationwide statistics suggest that as many as 50 percent of those who die on their bikes were unlicensed at the time.
Right now, motorcycle riders can take a weekend course to get license where they don't ever go any faster than 30 mph and only ride smaller bikes, closer in size to a moped than commercial bikes that can have engine displacements from 300 to 500, 750 or more cubic centimeters.
“I watched, as we took the test, some barely passing. I thought to myself, ‘We’re not ready.’ But we got licensed," Bandbaz said of the course he took. "I was free to ride without being afraid of getting ticketed, but I didn’t feel there was a real measure of my competence.”
The project he’s working on could change how motorcyclists are licensed in Nevada, but there was a time when Bandbaz wasn't sure higher education was ever in his future.
Undergraduate Experiences Drive Interest in Medical School
Both of his parents fled Iran during the revolution in the late 1970s. They would later meet while working at Circus Circus.
“My father couldn’t perform acrobatics anymore after a certain age, and my parents had two kids to raise. With a second-grade education, jobs were hard to find, so my dad tried landscaping and eventually moved to truck driving, which he still does. They struggled, but they kept going. I always knew how much stress they were under, and I used to think to myself that maybe I can make a better future for us.”
Bandbaz didn’t like the formality and teachers he found during grade school, so it seemed doubtful he’d use education to get ahead. His parents told him they would be happy if he got a steady job and didn't get himself into trouble.
Yet as much as Bandbaz hated school, he loved reading and learning. His mother would take him to the library to keep him off the streets. He would stay there until it closed every day, reading every book he could get his hands on.
"After that, school started becoming easy enough that I didn’t need to put much effort to get through it,” he said.
As a biology undergrad at UNLV, he volunteered in the children’s hospital of University Medical Center and realized that his dream of becoming a doctor was something he wanted to turn into a reality. He loved to do his part in taking care of patients and his shadowing of a pediatric hospitalist convinced him that a career in medicine was for him.
“From a few encounters with hospitals as a kid, I would associate health care with safety and comfort, so I grew up telling people I wanted to be a doctor," Bandbaz said. "I struggled with college initially, but I knew I couldn’t waste my chance at being a physician once I realized how much it meant to me, so I pushed myself."
Bandbaz's route to becoming a physician is through the military. Now an Air Force lieutenant, after graduation he will serve as a military doctor for six years.
“I love my parents, this city and I love this country," Bandbaz said. "My mom came here as a refugee. I’m so grateful. I’m the first in my family to graduate from college, the first to join the military, the first to go to medical school. I want to dedicate my life and my time to serving others when they’re sick or hurt. It’s my way of paying forward what so many people did for me and my family. That’s why I work so hard.”