Pursuing An Even More Distinctive Degree

Pursuit of a doctor of medicine degree (MD) requires extreme dedication and commitment to science and clinical medicine. While the MD is distinctive for the sheer number of years needed to practice (medical school plus residency training), nearly 20 percent of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School students decide to enrich an already rigorous curriculum by signing on for one of the distinction programs.

The creativity and commitment of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School faculty have led to the creation of seven programs focusing on seven specialties: Distinction in Bioethics, Global Health, Leadership in Academic Healthcare, Medical Education, Medical Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Research, and Service to the Community. All are designed to further inspire students’ already piqued interests in divergent facets of medicine.  “It gives students the opportunity to develop a passion with depth,” says Carol A. Terregino, MD ’86, associate professor of medicine, senior associate dean for education and academic affairs, and associate dean for admissions. “It distinguishes the individuals as students who go above and beyond and enrich their medical education. Medical school, in many ways, can be like a liberal arts education. You learn what your interests and strengths are. The distinction programs afford the opportunity to develop expertise.”

Each distinction program is tailored to the discipline and includes seminars, presentations, and a final, individualized scholarly project. A student pursuing distinction in research completes a hypothesis-driven research project.

Students apply to the respective distinction through faculty committees.  An additional benefit of the distinction program is that by reaching beyond the required classwork, students graduate better prepared, with broader horizons, evident as they interview for their residencies.

“It gives them the opportunity to talk about something unique during interviews,” Dr. Terregino says. “These are students who thought about a problem, selected a program, and made sure it was sustainable. It gives them a niche. It makes them stand out among academic peers.”  Seven students and graduates, representing each of the distinctions, share why this program has been rewarding.


Oby Ibe, MD ’18, MPH

Distinction: Service to the Community

Residency: University of Pennsylvania

Villanova University, majored in psychology and minored in biology; master’s from George Washington University in community-oriented primary care 

Neshanic Station

Why this distinction program:
I have a master’s in public health, with a concentration in community-oriented primary care. The program enabled me to continue my passion for community health in medical school.”

Specific project:

Dr. Ibe developed innovative ways to educate 16- to 24-year olds about sexual health; in turn, they could use their knowledge to teach sexual health to peers. She and colleagues devised materials, fliers, PowerPoint presentations, and games, such as STI Bingo and Family Feud on eight sexually related topics.

How the program added to 
your medical school experience:
“This project is one of my proudest accomplishments during medical school. This was a venture that I envisioned, worked with the community to assess their strengths and concerns, and implemented with guidance from community members. The experience pushed me out of my comfort zone, challenged me to discuss sensitive topics, and helped prepare me to have these conversations with my future patients.”


Roxana Amirahmadi, MD ’18

Distinction: Research

Residency: University of Maryland

Education: Cornell University, majored in chemistry

Hometown: Princeton

Why this distinction program:
I completed research at Cornell in chemistry, which I liked because I naturally ask questions about why things work the way they do. The distinction program allowed me to pursue research during medical school and tap into my natural curiosity about medicine in an organized way.”

Specific project:
Researching specific genetic patterns to identify women at risk of developing pelvic organ prolapse and then to provide preventive measures. With the recognition that not many studies have been conducted on this topic, and that minority women seemed disproportionately affected, the research looked at genetic markers that could serve as predictors.

How the program added to your medical school experience:
“It helped inform who I want to become as a physician.  During medical school, we learn not only how to help people, but ways of analytical thinking with the freedom to shape our careers. The program gave me the freedom to work in medicine and academia to research community service policy. It also helped me gain better insight into what it means to be a better investigator as a physician.”

Lauren Sheidler Crafts, MD ’18

Distinction: Medical Education

Residency: Boston Children’s Hospital

Education: Georgetown University, majored in human science and minored in theology

Hometown: Pennington

Why this distinction program:
While working at Deloitte before medical school, I was involved in teaching by developing training on financial management. The position at Deloitte solidified my love for teaching.”

Specific project:
Researching medical students’ quality of life during the stress of board exams, Dr. Crafts queried medical students, and a separate control group, to compare the quality of life during the regular second year versus dedicated study time. She presented at conferences and wrote an article currently under review for a medical journal.

How the program added to your medical school experience:
“It helped me learn and incorporate the scientific method in my education applying for Institutional Review Board. The program also teaches you about the importance of medical education and the pathways for future physicians who will become teachers as residents and as attendings, and how to improve those skills in the medical community.”


Matthew Joseph Michel, MD ’18

Distinctions: Medical Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Service to the Community

Residency: New Jersey Medical School, Department of Orthopedic Surgery

Education: Lehigh University, majored in bioengineering; master’s
from Rutgers in biomedical science 

Hometown: Wall Township

Why these distinction programs:
It’s always important to give your time to helping others, and it seemed like the Distinction in Service to the Community would be an excellent way to give back. For the Distinction in Medical Innovation and Entrepreneurship, classmates John Dutton, Steven Shterenberg, and I created a program for medical students that would allow them to turn their solutions to clinical problems into real products and businesses. I had experience in this as a bioengineer and in my previous career as an engineer. It was a constructive outlet for my creativity that I thought could benefit other medical students and ultimately provide new innovations that could help our patients.”

Specific projects:
For the Service to the Community Distinction, Dr. Michel helped develop a mentorship program for pediatric HIV patients. This evolved from a monthly group session to helping students in various facets, including assisting with college applications and advising on safe sex practices. For Medical Innovation and Entrepreneurship, he helped develop a special catheter that delivers chemotherapy directly to tumors in the lungs instead of spreading it throughout the body.

How the program added to your medical school experience:
“There are not always outlets for creativity in medical school. I created something that allowed students to think outside of the box and come up with solutions to real problems and help people. I am not necessarily an artist, but I am a thinker. And I wanted to be able to take those ideas and make them a reality.”


Deesha Sarma, Class of 2019

Distinction: Global Health

Education: Princeton University, majored in public policy and minored in global health and health policy

Hometown: Plainsboro

Why this distinction program:
I’ve been interested in global health and policy since college.  At Bain & Company [the consulting firm where she worked before medical school], I worked on projects that were healthcare oriented and gained very useful, transferable skills, such as time management, communication, and working with a wide range of people. But what I realized was missing was the personal impact that is present in medicine, the ability to talk to a patient, complete a history and physical, come to a diagnosis, and recommend management. Going into global health through an MBA would have been higher-level policy work that has an impact on a lot of people, but takes a long time to accomplish. By going to medical school, I have the ability to work with people—patients one-on-one—while still pursuing larger global health and policy research projects.”

Specific project:
Working with mentors to ensure access to surgical care in Colombia, Sarma traveled to Medellín and examined what data existed and the infrastructure for available care. She also explored establishing contacts with the Ministry of Health and joined ride-alongs in ambulances.

How this program adds to your medical school experience:
“My experience in the back of the ambulance informed and led me to choose emergency medicine as my specialty.”


Peter Trinh, Class of 2020

Distinction: Leadership in Academic Healthcare

Education: Princeton University, majored in molecular biology and minored in global health policy. He is in the midst of applying to enter an MBA program

Hometown: Roseland

Why this distinction program:
I eventually want to be an administrator in a hospital and need the skills I am learning in the distinction program to be a successful leader. Leadership in Academic Healthcare has given me the right tools to foster those skills.”

Specific project:
Trinh’s project involves shadowing institutional leaders and attending monthly meetings. He observed the chief strategy officer at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, and spent time at the Cleveland Clinic to widen his perspective on how different health systems operate. He is now working with the senior associate dean of safety, quality, and clinical affairs to implement a leadership and quality improvement project inspired by his experiences.

How this program adds to your medical school experience:
“I love the leadership program, and I am not sure many schools allow you to have this experience. Typically, there were only a handful of students at the sessions, allowing for more intimate conversations with the administrators giving you the ins and outs of what they do for a living. Speakers who represent various aspects of the health care industry, such as legal, finance, and academic, all addressed students in the leadership distinction. They were very open and candid and gave real insight.”


Stephanie Latham, Class of 2021

Distinction: Bioethics

Education: U.S. Naval Academy, majored in English

Hometown: North Easton, Mass

Why this distinction program:
Bioethics resonates with me. The more amazing advances that are made in technology, the more ethical situations we will address as physicians, and I enjoy talking about them.  There aren’t many black-and-white issues.”

Specific project:
Latham is researching how physicians can talk to healthy patients about death and dying so that patients consider creating end-of-life directives when they are still relatively healthy.  Latham is in the early stages of the project, conducting background research and talking with potential mentors.

How this program adds to your medical school experience:
“Unlike mandated courses and programs, the distinction program allows me to explore unique aspects of the medical profession.  Medical school is centered on learning the basic tenets of medicine, but I also believe that the art of medicine lies in the intangibles.  Working on my distinction project will allow me to pose questions that are compelling to me and develop into an independent lifelong learner. When I graduate medical school, and return to the Navy, there will not be syllabi, or project due dates, but hopefully working on this project will set the foundation for me to know how to continue to search for answers.”