Ph.D. Grad Uses Grit and Determination to Forge Own Path to Medical Residency

 

 

Mahboob Ur-Rehman often heard “no” on the journey to his doctorate degree, but the physics student has a knack for opening closed doors.

Ur-Rehman adds Ph.D. to his name at the end of this semester, a remarkable achievement for someone who left school during the 10th grade. A brief attempt at becoming an electrician and an equally short-lived stint running his family’s store convinced him education would be the key to leaving his village in rural Pakistan.

An interest in the application of physics to medicine led him to the United States, where his first pursuit of a terminal degree abruptly ended with his father’s death. He left the Ph.D. program at SUNY Albany in 2015, but ultimately decided to honor his father’s final wish and enrolled at UCF in 2016.

“My father believed strongly in education, and he stressed how important it was to moving ahead in life,” Ur-Rehman says.

UCF had one of the most attractive physics programs, he says, and Ur-Rehman received personal encouragement from Professor of Physics Talat Rahman to attend the university. There was one catch.

Ur-Rehman wanted to study medical physics, a branch of physics that focuses on the diagnosis, detection and removal of cancer through radiation. It was a personal mission for Ur-Rehman, inspired by both the personal loss of friends and a desire to curb a disease that killed more than 600,000 people in the U.S. in 2020, according to the National Cancer Institute. The only problem: UCF doesn’t offer a Ph.D. in medical physics.  Ur-Rehman enrolled in the program anyway, determined to find a way to adjust his coursework, find a relevant capstone project and pursue the required certifications.

“I wrote a lot of hospitals in Central Florida, told them my story, told them about my research and asked them for an opportunity to complete my training” he says.

The opportunity came from Orlando Health Cancer Institute and .decimal (pronounced dot decimal), a Sanford-based manufacturer of devices that delivers proton, electron, and photo therapies for cancer treatment. Ur-Rehman teamed up with a proton therapy physicist and a chief technology officer to develop a novel, pencil-beam scanning algorithm. The algorithm increases the precision of radiation treatment, effectively eradicating more cancer and damaging less healthy tissue by using heavy charged particles (protons).

That gave him a capstone project to pursue, but it wasn’t enough to land a job after graduation. To gain certification from the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs (CAMPEP), Ur-Rehman enrolled in classes at Florida Atlantic University. Now, in addition to raising a family, developing a project at .decimal, and working enough to support his immediate family and his mother back in Pakistan, he was driving twice a week to Boca Raton for classes.

Exhausting? Yes. Worth it? Totally.

“It wasn’t enough for me to just get a Ph.D. I wanted to put this degree to use. I wanted a way to give back to my community,” he says.

The onset of the pandemic paused the need for driving to Boca Raton as classes shifted online, but it didn’t slow down the workload for Ur-Rehman. His last major hurdle was passing the exams from the American Board of Radiology and landing a residency for post-graduation work. He achieved medical physics residency in April 2021.

Ur-Rehman will pack up his family this summer after officially becoming a Knight alumnus and head west to Arizona University.

As he puts one chapter behind him, Ur-Rehman is already writing a new one. His future plans include developing a program to educate other young people in underprivileged areas of Pakistan about the opportunities school can unlock. He also wants to elevate the quality of health care in his native home.

Wherever he lands, Ur-Rehman has already forged a legacy at UCF. His work forging his own medical physics degree has opened up the possibility of a future track becoming formally developed in the Department of Physics.

“This is my chance to pay it forward for all the encouragement and validation that’s been given to me,” Ur-Rehman says.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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