Second-year COMP student Fady Guirguis was selected as a fellow for the NIH Medical Research Scholars Program.  (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific student Fady Guirguis is the first WesternU student to be selected for a prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) research program. 

NIH’s Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP) attracts the brightest talent from across the country. Medical, dental and veterinary students live on the intramural campus of NIH in Bethesda, Maryland and conduct basic, clinical or translational research for one year. 

Guirguis credited the support he received at WesternU for motivating him to apply. He joined COMP’s Biomedical and Clinical Research longitudinal track as a first-year student, led by COMP Associate Professor Hendrik Szurmant, PhD. Among his many research accomplishments since starting medical school are multiple poster and oral presentations at the American Physician Scientists Association Western Regional Meeting at UC Davis in December 2018 and at the Western Medical Research Conference in January 2019 in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, along with several published abstracts. Szurmant, COMP Assistant Professor Sebastien Fuchs, MD, PhD, and WesternU Vice President for External and Clinical Affairs David Baron, DO, MSEd, helped Guirguis prepare for his MRSP interview. They also provided letters of recommendation, along with COMP Dean Paula Crone, DO ’92. 

“They supported me every step of the way,” Guirguis said. “I am very glad I am offered this opportunity because I realize the significance of the experiences and the skills I will acquire from the MRSP in preparing me for my career.” 

Guirguis’ goal is to become a physician-scientist. 

“I want to use what I learn in medical school, clinical training and clinical practice to know what problems need to be solved to determine the questions that need to be addressed in my lab. And then how to translate my findings in the lab to the bedside,” he said. 

Guirguis, who was born and raised in Egypt, became interested in research at age 9.  

“My parents provided me with the means to further my interest in the sciences,” he said. “The more I learned about the sciences, the more I recognized the significant impact I could have as a physician-scientist on the health and well-being of a huge number of individuals, an impact that can last a long time.” 

He took advanced chemistry and biology classes in high school and moved to the United States at age 18. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology at Cal Poly Pomona and worked in the lab of Cal Poly Pomona Professor Jill P. Adler-Moore, PhD. 

“She has mentored me to become a physician-scientist up until this day,” Guirguis said. “She is still supporting me and providing me guidance.” 

Guirguis will take a one-year leave of absence from COMP for the MRSP fellowship, and will return in fall 2020 to start his third-year rotations. At MRSP he will participate in the full continuum of biomedical research, attend lectures, seminars and clinical rounds, and network with nationally-renowned teachers. As part of the fellowship, he will receive a stipend to cover expenses. 

“This will be an important step in his developing career,” Fuchs said. “It will forge what Fady will be in the next 50 years of his life. This will bring him lots of opportunities for residencies and future positions. Being able to spend a full year at NIH will put him in contact with people influential in their fields and will hopefully allow him to be a leader in this area.” 

Fuchs and Szurmant are helping COMP students pursue and expand their interest in research. Attendance at the Western Medical Research Conference has grown from a handful of students a few years ago to more than 20 student participants from the COMP campuses in Pomona and Lebanon, Oregon. 

“To us, Fady stood out as someone who really had dedication to that dream he wants to make happen. We wanted to support him as best we can,” Szurmant said. “We feel Fady will be a trailblazer and give other students the knowledge that it can be done. That is where credit goes to Fady. He is the first WesternU student to make it. He had that extra determination to make this happen.” 

All medical students in the 21st century should have medical research experience, whether or not they will continue to conduct research in their career, Fuchs said. 

“Nobody wants to see a physician who is stuck with knowledge acquired in medical school 20 year ago,” he said. “The way to keep up to date with medical knowledge is acquiring new information from research. The best way to do that is having done it and understanding how research is done. Fady should be seen by other medical students as someone to look to as a role model.”

Left to right: COMP Assistant Professor Sebastien Fuchs, MD, PhD, COMP student Fady Guirguis, and COMP Associate Professor Hendrik Szurmant, PhD. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)