How One Alumna Discovered Her Passion for Rheumatology

Back in her senior year at Bates College in southern Maine, Samara Khalique was finishing up her psychology degree and applying to master’s programs. As a final step, she printed out her thesis to submit to her advisor: “The Correlation Between Psychosocial Attributes Such as Depression and Metabolic Syndrome Risk Factors.”

After sharing her general feedback, Dr. Khalique’s advisor asked, “Have you considered going into medicine?”

Even as she was poised to confer her psychology degree, with grad school applications already on their way, the question gave Dr. Khalique pause.

She had considered medicine—at the beginning of her undergrad tenure, and pretty much for her whole life before that. Her mom was a psychiatrist, her dad an ophthalmologist. And although Dr. Khalique had never felt pressured to choose medicine, she had always found herself drawn to it nonetheless.

Fast-forward to today, and this Class of 2011 alumna is now a fellowship-trained rheumatologist, practicing at a community hospital in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Taking the Longer Road

For Dr. Khalique, that innocuous question from her advisor was a pivotal moment, one that still stands out nearly 12 years later. It made her reflect on the last four years—how she had started on a premed track but, overwhelmed with the course load as a two-sport college athlete, switched to psych classes instead. She liked psychology and knew it would be rewarding as a career, but realized she’d never quite abandoned her dream of becoming a doctor.

“I didn’t think far enough in the future when I was younger, but I never look back with regrets. I just took a longer journey,” said Dr. Khalique. “I’m a better person, and probably a better physician because of it.”

Although it was nerve-wracking to cancel her grad school applications and take a year off, a series of medical service trips after graduation convinced her that she had made the right choice. Dr. Khalique spent two months in Belize shadowing a surgeon and a general practitioner. Then, she did a six-month program dedicated to community service and civic engagement with City Year AmeriCorps in Boston.

“At that point, I knew I didn’t want to do anything else but medicine,” Dr. Khalique said. “That’s when I started looking at offshore schools, and realized that AUC would be a great opportunity for me.”

Continuity in a Changing Field

Dr. Khalique completed her internal medicine-pediatrics residency at Louisiana State University at New Orleans School of Medicine. She then took on a rheumatology fellowship at the University of Virginia before accepting her current position at Sentara RMH Medical Group. Although her new city is about an hour north of UVa’s campus in Charlottesville, Dr. Khalique has already seen several patients who have followed her to her new location. It’s one of her favorite things about her field—continuity of care.

“I deal with several chronic conditions like arthritis and lupus, so I’m able to see patients in different age ranges and over a long period of time,” Dr. Khalique said. “I also enjoy the challenge that chronic conditions present, the need to pay close attention to multiple organ systems. What’s exciting is that rheumatology is still a new field, with lots to be discovered. Our understanding of the pathology and treatment options is always changing.”

While she didn’t hone in on her specialty until residency, Dr. Khalique still regularly draws on the knowledge she gained from AUC. Concepts she learned in immunology and microbiology with Dr. Kathleen Shupe are never far from her mind. And she has fond memories of the late Dr. Lance Nash, former Professor of Anatomy and Chair of the Anatomy Department at AUC, whom she credits with laying the foundation for her studies in rheumatology.

“I remember how Dr. Nash was always so focused on preparing us for exams, so much that if you happened to walk by him in the café, he’d start quizzing you,” Dr. Khalique said. “I always liked anatomy with Dr. Nash. I think his anatomy lab really helped me in my understanding of rheumatology.”

She encourages students who are interested in rheumatology to contact her at samara.khalique@gmail.com and look into the American College of Rheumatology. Membership dues are waived for medical students or residents, and they offer scholarship opportunities among other useful resources.

Although it took a little exploration to find the right field for her, Dr. Khalique feels grateful to have such a rewarding career.

“It’s amazing being able to truly help people and relieve their pain,” Dr. Khalique said. “I’ve helped patients regain the ability to write, to play with their grandchildren, to wake up in the morning and not have pain—just basic things. But it makes a huge difference.”

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