U-M dual MD/PhD student named Rhodes Scholar

November 26, 2008
  • umichnews@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—A University of Michigan medical and doctoral student who plans to become a neurosurgeon so that he may “mend with my hands some of the defects I cannot avert through my research” has been named a Rhodes Scholar.

Abdul El-Sayed is currently pursuing both a medical degree from the U-M Medical School and a doctoral degree in epidemiology from U-M?s School of Public Health, as a student in the prestigious dual degree Medical Scientist Training Program.

El-Sayed, who earned his U-M bachelor’s degree in biology and political science in 2007, will enter the Rhodes Scholars program next fall. He is one of 32 scholars named nationwide. Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.

El-Sayed?s current research interests include the social determinants of health, Arab-American health, the social determinants of neurological disorders, and the etiology of neural tube defects in Guatemala.

He explained in his application why he was pursuing degrees in research as well as a medical degree.

“My religion teaches that if one saves a life, she has saved all of humanity. I remember reading this verse with my father as a boy: ‘How great,’ I thought, ‘would it be then to save a life every day?’ Quick to share my thoughts with Baba, I told him that I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. My father, a professor, thought for a moment, and reasoned, ‘Abdulrahman, wouldn?t it be better to learn why people die, and then teach everyone around you to save lives? Wouldn?t that save more lives?’ His reasoning stuck; but so did mine.”

During his U-M commencement address in the spring of 2007, El-Sayed, a first-generation Egyptian-American from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., told the crowd he “realized I loved Michigan because the person who leaves here today is better than the one who came.”

His words inspired the praise of the main speaker, Bill Clinton, who himself became a Rhodes Scholar in 1968.

“I don’t want to embarrass your senior speaker, but I wish every person in the world who believes that we are fated to have a clash of civilizations and cannot reach across the religious divides could have heard you speak today,” Clinton said of El-Sayed. “I wish every person in the world could have heard you speak today.”

El-Sayed was named a Rhodes Scholar just days after being offered a Marshall Scholarship, which finances young Americans of high ability to study for a degree in the United Kingdom. Up to 40 Marshall Scholars are selected each year to study at graduate level at a U.K. institution in any field of study. Named in honor of former U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall, the Scholarships commemorate the humane ideals of the post-World War II Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe.

As an undergraduate, El-Sayed played on Michigan Men’s Lacrosse team and was an active member of the Muslim Students’ Association. Already during his first two years of medical school, he has co-founded a student organization that has raised more than $4,500 and coordinated in excess of 500 hours of community service for a local non-profit clinic, founded a student Neurosurgery Interest Group and led a medical mission to Peru.

U-M Provost Provost Teresa Sullivan said “The University is very pleased that Abdul El- Sayed has been chosen to be a Rhodes Scholar. The Rhodes selection criteria include ‘excellence in qualities of mind and qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead.’ I can?t imagine a better description of Abdul. His intellectual curiosity and dedication to solving human problems is impressive. He is also a warm and thoughtful individual. The University is proud to claim him as both an alumnus and a current student.”

“Abdul is the epitome of the engaged intellect?smart and thoughtful, always curious, and above all dedicated to using his talents and skills to benefit his fellow humans,?? said Ken Warner, dean of the U-M School of Public Health. ?We are ever so fortunate to have the opportunity to impart a few of those skills to this outstanding student. We hope that the Rhodes experience will contribute as much to him as he will to the program.”

His academic adviser, Dr. Sandro Galea, added, “Abdul has an exciting intellect and an uncommon dedication to improving the health of populations. I am excited to see what Abdul does in his time at Oxford, and what he does in his career. It has been a pleasure to work with Abdul thus far and I look forward to working with him for many years in the future.”

“Abdul is one of the most accomplished, mature and goal-directed students at Michigan,” said Ronald Koenig, director of the U-M Medical School’s Medical Scientist Training Program. “His personal warmth and caring nature, combined with his already substantial skills in medical epidemiology, indicate that he is ideally suited to the demands of a career as a physician scientist.”

James O. Woolliscroft, dean of the U-M Medical School, said, “Abdul has an exceptional future ahead of him, and we are proud to call him one of our own.

“Despite his busy schedule as a medical student, he has already demonstrated his commitment to global health by leading a medical mission to Peru. We support and aim to provide an environment in which he can pursue his passion for improving the health of people around the world. We expect that he will continue to be part of the ‘Michigan Difference’ as he progresses through his training and joins the ranks of Medical School graduates who have contributed to the betterment of humankind around the world,” Woolliscroft said.

The Rhodes Scholarships were established after the death of Cecil Rhodes, who hoped to bring students from around the world to Oxford to aid in the promotion of international understanding and peace. Each year, 32 U.S. citizens are among more than 80 Rhodes Scholars worldwide. The first American Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1904.

Besides Clinton, who became a Rhodes Scholar 40 years ago, other famous Rhodes Scholars include: Robert Penn Warren, former U.S. Poet Laureate; U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk and ABC News commentator George Stephanopoulos.

“Typical of Abdul, he came to talk to me prior to applying to the MSTP, to make sure he understood the application process and to assess his chances,” Koenig said. “Five seconds into the meeting, my mind was thinking, ‘This is a very special young man and I would do just about anything to get him to apply.'”

U-M?s Medical Scientist Training ProgramRhodes Scholars programMarshall Scholar program