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New Biotech Faculty Member Helps Students on Path to Medical School

Roza SelimyanDr. Roza Selimyan’s mission is to help students in the Health Science Intensive program tap their potential as they strive to reach the next step on their career path: medical school.

Selimyan is the new program coordinator and lecturer for the Health Science Intensive program, often referred to as HSI.

“The best part about this job, for me, is I can be part of educating future doctors,” Selimyan said.

The Post-Baccalaureate Health Science Intensive Program started at Johns Hopkins in June 2013. It is part of the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences Advanced Academic Programs; all courses are held on the Montgomery County Campus. Seventeen students were enrolled in the inaugural class last year. This year, more than 50 students are enrolled.

Students in the 12-month program take Biochemistry, Cell Biology and Molecular Biology, plus four science electives. In addition to their science classes, students in the HSI program take three non-science courses: Communication for Health Care Professionals; Building and Leading Teams in Health Care; and the Psychosocial Determinants of Health, Implications on Diagnosis.

The idea behind the program is to give students the opportunity to enroll in rigorous courses in the life sciences to prove their aptitude to study medicine. Some of the students enrolled in the program weren’t considered strong enough medical school candidates based on their previous academic performance. The hope is that after completing HSI, students will be more attractive medical school candidates.

“When I advise them one on one, I am so moved,” Selimyan said. “You learn that in most cases, their GPA, for example, was lower not because they wanted to party and were irresponsible but because they were facing some really big challenges. These students still want to help people,”

That they still are interested in pursuing medicine, she said, “shows they are that much more dedicated to their career choice, and for us to be part of that journey is very rewarding.”

Selimyan’s journey to Johns Hopkins spanned several countries, universities and cancer diagnoses.

She was born in Armenia and studied genetics at a Yerevan State University and later moved to Germany to complete her Ph.D. in molecular biology.

Selimyan moved to the United States 10 years ago, accepting an invitation from the National Institutes of Health to be a visiting fellow and then a research scientist. Her research focused primarily on epigenetic regulation of gene expression in health, disease and aging.

Over the course of her career at NIH, she was diagnosed with cancer three times, which allowed her to see the healthcare system as an in- and out-patient. She said she saw the gaps in various areas in the system, including poor patient education. She started talking out about her concerns, promoting the importance of health, education and science. Since 2010, she has been regularly invited to talk on science- and health-related topics. She has talked at Sibley Memorial Hospital, Howard Community College, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the U.S. Department of Labor and elsewhere.

Selimyan said she started realizing she was having an impact outside of the lab in a meaningful and fulfilling way, so she left bench work to focus on promoting health, education and science.

She joined Johns Hopkins as an adjunct lecturer in June and was hired full time in October. Her courses include molecular biology, human molecular genetics and Psychosocial Determinants of Healthy, Implications on Diagnostics.

She teaches only what she is passionate about and she thinks this is why her classes are less about memorizing material and more about student engagement.

A big part of her job here is to advise students. Selimyan tells her students to worry less about what each medical school is looking for and to focus on what they want do achieve personally in their lives as doctors, and then find the medical school that is the best fit.

“One of my biggest hopes for my students is that they have a strong sense that with genuine dedication and perseverance, they can achieve their biggest goals and make a meaningful difference in the world,” Selimyan said. “It is also my biggest hope that the patient’s wellbeing will never cease to be the highest priority for all my students throughout their career in the biomedical field.”

CATEGORY: Academics