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

Michael Rohr ’22PhD spent eight years in medical school, doing research on better ways to detect and prevent colon cancer. Amanda Renfrow ’16 ’22PhD spent seven years at UCF, researching therapies to stop breast, lung and pediatric cancers.

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

“I really love what I’m doing,” Rohr says. “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 at least three 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, College of Medicine Professor and Cancer Division Head 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,” he says. “Having her has made it a lot easier.”

Rohr’s research journey had both personal and scientific challenges. He says one of the most stressful periods was when his research mentor, Sampath Parthasarathy, died after the two had worked together for two years. He switched labs and mentors, joining Associate Professor 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 says. “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.

Steven Ebert, a cardiovascular researcher at the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, directs the M.D./Ph.D. program. He says

“[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,” Ebert says. ”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 in Addition Financial Arena.