Rahil Kheirkhah is on a mission.
Earning his medical degree from Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine (RowanSOM) on May 9, he will be heading 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 cell and molecular biology from the Rowan Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, which she earned in 2020. Kheirkhah is only the second female DO/PhD in the school history.
The Linwood resident has 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 on my mind,” she said. “My family taught me a very central principle of my life, which is that you want to live your life serving others and you want to live your life giving back and always listening to the people around you.”
His parents embodied this message as they struggled to reestablish themselves in a new country. Her father was a family doctor and her mother a science teacher in Iran. But after they came to the United States when Kheirkhah was 11, they worked diligently to build new careers: her father as a nurse and her mother as a real estate agent.
After starting medical school, Kheirkhah discovered additional ways to help patients and her classmates.
He founded Humans of RowanSOM, a platform that showcased every person in the school with photos and short quotes.
Moved by a talk given by Dr. Robert Nagele, professor of medicine at RowanSOM, she was selected for a summer medical research fellowship after her first year.
“When I worked with them in the lab, I loved what they were doing,” he said. “It was very cutting-edge and innovative, like nothing I’d ever heard of before.”
This led her to earn her Ph.D. in three years, receiving the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research in 2018. She worked on research to develop a blood test to diagnose early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, which would detect the disease before it develops. patients begin to show symptoms. , allowing earlier treatment.
“It was probably the best decision I’ve made in my seven years at Rowan,” he said. “Working with them gave me the opportunity not only to grow professionally, but also to grow personally.”
In Nagele’s program, you learned to conduct and analyze research and refine your skills to take a critical approach to problem solving. She also took on leadership roles on projects.
“It taught me to be comfortable questioning the material I’m being taught, looking for answers and where the answers come from, and approaching situations in a very scientific way.
“It gave me more confidence that when I practice medicine, I will learn skills and read scientifically sound information and make decisions that are objectively beneficial to my patients,” he said.
Nagele’s guidance was invaluable, according to Kheirkhah.
“It taught me not to walk away from a challenge and, more importantly, to feel comfortable making important decisions and supporting them,” she said. “He was an incredible mentor and I feel very grateful to have been able to work with him.”
After earning his doctorate, Kheirkhah returned to his medical studies. She plans to continue conducting research in a clinical setting and was drawn to the teamwork and intensity of the surgery.
“There is an immediacy and urgency that demands that you be fully present in that moment,” Kheirkhah said.
“When you’re in the operating room, it can be unpredictable and intense, and that resonated with the intense unpredictability I’d been feeling growing up as an immigrant for the last 17 years,” she continued.
“I feel like the person I am now was brought up in a very high-pressure environment, which is very similar to how you are when you’re in an operating room.”
Drawing on her experience as an immigrant, she also believes she will be able to empathize and connect with patients who feel vulnerable.
“Those individual one-on-one connections are really where you can make your mark, showing who you are and what your signature is as a doctor,” he said.
Marcin Jankowski, DO, MBA, FACOS, clinical associate professor at RowanSOM and trauma surgeon at ChristianaCare, has observed Kheirkhah’s strong drive to help others.
“Rahil is unique in that she has not only found her passion in the field of surgery, but she has also found her purpose in using that passion to serve others. For a mentor, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing their mentee go through such a profound transformation and ultimate realization. I am confident that she will be an excellent and caring surgeon.”
savoring every moment
Kheirkhah is thankful for the people she met at Rowan who supported and listened to her.
“Your mentors are such a big part of where you end up in life,” he said. “They push you in the right direction, and with the right people behind you, you can go a long way.”
She eagerly awaits the next step in her career.
“I’m going to my dream hospital and I’m going to do my dream residence,” Kheirkhah said.
“I really want to be the best I can be and take advantage of this opportunity as much as possible as time goes on… savoring every moment. I just want to try to be as present as possible.”