Exceptionally motivated: a Ph.D. and DO in hand, Rahil Kheirkhah envisions a future in surgery and research | rowan today

Rahil Kheirkhah is on a mission.

Graduating her medical degree from Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine (RowanSOM) on May 9, she will head into a five-year general surgery residency program with ChristianaCare Health System in Newark, Delaware.

She brings extraordinary credentials to her patients: a doctorate in osteopathic medicine as well as a doctorate in cellular and molecular biology from Rowan’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, which she obtained in 2020. Kheirkhah is only the second woman DO/PhD in school history.

The Linwood resident always wanted to be a doctor.

“I don’t think I ever considered doing anything else. I knew I wanted to help people and being a doctor was the only thing I ever thought about,” she said. “My family taught me a very central tenet of my life, which is that you want to live your life in service to others and you want to live your life giving back and always listening to the people around you.”

Her parents embodied this message as they struggled to resettle in a new country. Her father was a family doctor and her mother a science teacher in Iran. But after arriving in the United States when Kheirkhah was 11, they worked diligently to build new careers – his father as a nurse and his mother as a real estate agent.

New opportunities

After starting medical school, Kheirkhah discovered other ways to help patients as well as his classmates.

She founded Humans of RowanSOM, a platform that featured everyone at school with photos and short quotes.

Moved by a lecture given by Dr. Robert Nagele, Professor of Medicine at RowanSOM, she was selected for a summer medical fellowship after her freshman year.

“When I worked with them in the lab, I loved what they were doing,” she said. “It was very cutting edge and innovative, like I had never heard of before.”

This led her to earn her PhD in three years, receiving the Dean’s Award for Research Excellence in 2018. She worked on research to develop a blood test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage, which would detect the disease before patients begin to show symptoms. , allowing earlier treatment.

“It was probably the best decision I’ve made in my seven years at Rowan,” she said. “Working with them allowed me not only to grow professionally, but also to grow personally.”

In Nagele’s program, she learned how to conduct and analyze research and hone her abilities to take a critical approach to problem solving. She has also taken on leadership roles on projects.

“It taught me to feel comfortable questioning the material I’m taught, looking for answers and where the answers come from, and approaching situations in a very scientific way.

“It made me more confident that when I practice medicine, I will learn skills and read science-based information and make decisions that are objectively beneficial to my patients,” she said.

Nagele’s advice was invaluable, according to Kheirkhah.

“He taught me not to back down from a challenge and, more importantly, to feel comfortable making big decisions and supporting them,” she said. “He was an amazing mentor to have, and I’m so grateful to have been able to work with him.”

Manage the pressure

After earning his doctorate, Kheirkhah resumed his medical studies. She plans to continue her research in a clinical setting, and she was drawn to the teamwork and the intensity of the surgery.

“There’s an immediacy and an urgency that demands you be completely present in that moment,” Kheirkhah said.

“When you’re in the operating room, it can be unpredictable and intense, and it resonates with the intense unpredictability I’ve felt as an immigrant for the past 17 years,” she continued. .

“I feel like the person I am now was formed in a very pressured environment, which is very similar to what you are when you’re in an operating room.”

Based on her experience as an immigrant, she also believes she will be able to empathize and connect with patients who feel vulnerable.

“These one-on-one relationships are really where you can leave your mark, show who you are and what your signature is as a doctor,” she said.

Marcin Jankowski, DO, MBA, FACOS, associate clinical professor at RowanSOM and trauma surgeon at ChristianaCare, observed Kheirkhah’s strong desire to help others.

“Rahil is unique in that she not only found her passion for the field of surgery, but she also found her purpose in using that passion to serve others. For a mentor, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing your mentee go through such profound transformation and ultimate achievement. I am convinced that she will make an excellent and caring surgeon.

Savoring every moment

Kheirkhah is grateful to the people she met in Rowan who supported and listened to her.

“Your mentors are such an important part of where you end up in life,” she said. “They push you in the right direction, and with the right people behind you, you can go so far.”

She looks forward to the next step in her career.

“I’m going to my dream hospital and doing my dream residency,” Kheirkhah said.

“I look forward to being the best I can be and to seizing this opportunity as fully as I can over time by… savoring every moment. I just want to try to be as present as possible.