July 19, 2007

Candidate for dual JD/MD degree enjoys challenge

by Pete Rosenbery


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CARBONDALE, Ill. — Earning a dual JD/MD degree from the Southern Illinois University School of Law and the SIU School of Medicine means hard work for Sameer S. Vohra.

The effort also presents opportunities for the 24-year-old Vohra, who is spending the summer as an intern at Boston Children's Hospital. He works in the adolescent medicine wing studying, eating disorders as part of a research fellowship for the American Pediatric Society.

Pursuing the dual degrees through Southern Illinois University Carbondale was an easy decision, said Vohra, the son of Saifi and Fatema Vohra of Westmont.

"I have always wanted to be a doctor," he said. "Just the ability to immediately impact a person's life through their health, I don't believe, has any sort of equal measure in today's society. At the same time, there is more to medicine and more to health care than single-patient interaction, and there is a lot of good that can be done through policy and the law."

Preparing to enter his fourth year of the six-year program, Vohra spent 10 weeks last summer as an intern with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Involved with the agency's Public Health Law Program, Vohra worked on projects discovering how the law "can be used to impact public health in a positive way."

"The unique thing about these internships is I'm trying to find locations where I can maximize my MD/JD degree," he said. "With the CDC I was working with other MD/JD's — people with great knowledge of medicine and the law — and using those things with government resources to positively influence people."

The CDC experience, along with his time at Boston's Children's Hospital, a wing of the Harvard Medical School, is invaluable, said Vohra, whose eight-week internship ends July 27.

The work is "fascinating," where "you have arguably the brightest minds in the world … doing real tangible research and you are working with a group of people who know the subject in great detail," he said.

The program is "tough," and requires two different forms of study and thinking, making students "find the balance to do well in both disciplines," he said.

"Not only do you have to learn a set of skills from your legal knowledge, but you also learn a set of skills from your medical aspect that at times are completely different," he said.

Vohra earned his undergraduate degrees in political science and science in human culture from Northwestern University. The unique dual-degree program offered by SIUC is one of a handful nationally, said Vohra, who loves his experiences at SIUC and in Southern Illinois.

The opportunity allows him to not only look at medical research but also focus on primary care and patient treatment, he said.

"I've met a lot of great people. It's given me a great education — not only in law and medicine — but that in America, even in your home state, there are so many wonderful, different, diverse types of people. Not only diverse in race and religion, but also different in personalities and what is important to each person," Vohra said.

Once he completes his studies, Vohra plans to enter the pediatrics field.

"What kind of pediatrics I'm not sure — but using that pediatric knowledge to impact children's health policy," Vohra said, noting he also plans to take the bar exam at some point.

The dual-degree program started in 1989 undezr law school professor W. Eugene Basanta and Theodore R. LeBlang, now-retired professor and former chair of the Department of Medical Humanities at the SIU School of Medicine. Since 1995, 23 people graduated from the program.

The program's first two years are at the law school, with students enrolling as medical school freshmen at SIUC for the third year. Two more years of study follow at the School of Medicine in Springfield. Students in their sixth year take a specially designed set of law, medicine and health policy elective courses to attain their degrees. A minimum of two years of residency work follows the six years of study.

There are nine students currently enrolled in the rigorous and selective program, which requires applications to both the law and medical schools, along with interviews. Generally, two students are admitted each year, Basanta said. He serves as program co-director, along with Ross D. Silverman, associate professor in the Department of Medical Humanities at the SIU School of Medicine.

"You have to be highly motivated," Basanta said. "This isn't something you do on a lark."

All of the program's graduates completed their residencies, "which I think is reflective of the kind of people that we have in the program," Basanta said.

Vohra is an example of the "very strong students we have come through here," he said.

"Sameer is very bright and that comes across right away," Basanta said. "He is grounded and used to hard work. Sameer is also ambitious; he is, and wants to be a high-achiever.

"To me, that is the ideal person for our program," Basanta said. "It's not just to be an MD/JD, but to take the opportunities that come with the program and to use those opportunities to do something of value … to be successful in life … but to also do good things."


Enjoying the challenge — Sameer S. Vohra, who is in his fourth year of a six-year dual JD/MD degree program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, relaxes earlier this month during a brief visit to the SIU School of Law. Vohra, 24, of Westmont, is completing an eight-week internship at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is working on dual law degree and medical degree, and will begin this fall with classes at the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.

Photo by Jeff Garner, University Communications