By Tran Huyen (Lilly) Van   | May 16, 2024 5:16 pm

Friday’s UCF College of Medicine commencement brings the program’s first M.D./Ph.D. graduates – physician-scientists who conducted advanced research while learning to care for patients. 

Michael Rohr (left) and Amanda Renfrow are the College of Medicine’s first M.D./Ph.D. graduates.

Michael Rohr spent eight years in medical school, doing research on better ways to detect and prevent colon cancer. Amanda Renfrow spent seven years at UCF, researching therapies to stop breast, lung and pediatric cancers. 

 “Science is what got me interested in medicine,” said Renfrow. “And then the people are what makes me want to stay.” 

Added Rohr: “I really love what I’m doing. It’s definitely a long, long journey, but I think it’ll pay off.” 

Students in the combined program develop a Ph.D. dissertation project in the first two years of medical school, while they take the required M.D. program courses. Once they pass a national licensing exam in their second year, they enter the Ph.D. program full time for 3+ years. Then they return to medical school for the final two years of clinical education.  

Renfrow’s medical journey began in a high school science classroom where she heard a heartbeat for the first time. She earned her undergraduate, graduate and medical school degrees all at UCF. She credits the support of her parents, husband, siblings, fellow students and her research mentor, Dr. Annette Khaled, for helping her reach her combined degree. 

A valuable lesson that she learned was to continue to have patience with herself. “It’s okay to take a step back, relearn it, and be patient, and then move forward again,” Renfrow says.  

After commencement, she will go to West Virginia University for her internal medicine residency. She says she wants to become a physician who can provide personalized care for each patient and identify research studies that suit their specific needs. She also hopes to spark a research interest in other physicians. 

Rohr discovered his passion for medicine and research during his undergraduate studies at Florida Atlantic University and a Scholar Program at the Cleveland Clinic.  

He credits his wife, who also graduates from the College of Medicine Friday, with helping him navigate the M.D./Ph.D. journey. “I’ve been very fortunate in having gone through this track with my wife, Trina, who also went through the medical school,” he said. “Having her has made it a lot easier.”  

Rohr’s research journey had both personal and scientific challenges. He said one of the most stressful periods was when his research mentor, Dr. Sampath Parthasarathy, passed away after the two had worked together for two years. He switched labs and mentors, joining Dr. Deborah Altomare. Under her guidance, he received a National Institutes of Health grant to support his research into ways to suppress early onset colon cancer. 

“I definitely would not be where I am currently without her help,” he said. “She did more than mentor me. She took me under her wing, so I very much appreciate that.”

Rohr hopes to become a gastroenterologist and will continue his medical training at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where he will be do a combined internal medicine-research residency.   

Dr. Steven Ebert, a cardiovascular researcher at the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, directs the M.D./Ph.D. program. He said Renfrow and Rohr “have done a remarkable job throughout this arduous journey with numerous high-quality publications, conference presentations, and even an NIH pre-doctoral fellowship. I don’t think we could’ve asked for finer examples of pioneering efforts than those represented by these extraordinary students.” 

The two will be among 117 M.D. candidates who receive their degrees today at 10 a.m. at Addition Financial Arena. The medical school will stream commencement live on its YouTube channel and Facebook.   

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