Faces of medicine

Meet six students shaping their fields—and their futures

Across 25 doctoral, master’s, and certificate programs, more than 2,800 students are gaining the experience for which Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is known: for its rigorous, customizable, and contemporary curriculum, state-of-the-art technology, exceptional clinical and laboratory opportunities, and an inclusive, diverse community.

But these students know the full Case Western Reserve experience is what you make of it.

They’re finding breakthroughs in labs, providing exceptional clinical care, supporting their peers, and helping the Cleveland community—all while preparing for the realities and demands of the ever-changing healthcare field that await them after graduation.

Get to know six of these outstanding scholars.

Uriel Kim

Medical Scientist Training Program

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine student Uriel Kim poses in a white coat

In less than a decade, Uriel Kim will have earned four degrees: a bachelor’s from the University of Southern California in 2015, a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve in 2020, an MBA from Northwestern University in 2023, and, this spring, an MD from CWRU.

This seemingly insatiable thirst for knowledge is motivated, Kim says, by one goal: “to provide the best care for my future patients.”

It’s why he sought out the MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program at Case Western Reserve and even took a break from his MD studies to pursue his MBA gaining the business, commercialization, and leadership insights that he hopes will enhance his clinical care and research.

Kim’s research, which landed him on Crain’s Cleveland Business' “20 in Their 20s” list, has focused on identifying and understanding health disparities from myriad angles. His dissertation looked at the impact of the Affordable Care Act on cancer outcomes in individuals from low-income communities. He’s published on the effects of expanding Medicaid. He developed a new statistical methodology to accurately estimate the income of patients based on census data—a critical missing piece in understanding the impact of income on health outcomes.

“While delivering excellent clinical care is important, understanding and addressing barriers to receiving care are equally crucial,” said Kim, who hopes his next step is a dermatology residency. “The key challenge we face now is making sure our research findings make their way to key decision-makers who can influence policies or systems that will improve health outcomes for patients.”

Kimberly Parker

Biomedical Sciences Training Program

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine student Kimberly Parker poses

Kimberly Parker always imagined she’d be an editor.

That passion for the written word has paid off—literally—even when Parker pursued an entirely different career path. Today, she’s less than six months away from completing her PhD in pharmacology, studying the role of long non-coding RNA in breast cancer metastasis.

Through impressive grant-writing skills, honed with the support of her mentor, Vice Dean for Research Bill Schiemann, PhD, Parker secured two highly competitive National Cancer Institute grants that cover both her doctoral and postdoctoral work.

Parker’s latest award—the Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award (F99/ K00)—funds the last two years of her doctoral studies, plus up to four years of postdoctoral work. “Essentially,” Parker said, “it gives me the opportunity to find the best postdoc lab for what I want to do.”

Writing the grant application helped her better fine-tune that goal: running a lab in which members of her team look at RNA processing in the tumor microenvironment to better understand how metastasis occurs.

“I got to think about [my goals] in a big, broad picture,” Parker explained. “And then I realized: This is up to me now. I am the scientist in the driver’s seat.”

As she takes on more advanced positions, it’s important to Parker that she continue the culture of support and knowledge sharing that drew her to Case Western Reserve in the first place. She advises other students on successful grant writing, edits their work for Journal Club, and guides them in the lab, where they’re all aiming to bring breakthroughs to patients.

“Cancer research is extremely complex, but that’s part of the reason why I like it,” Parker said. “You can embrace the chaos in the research.”

Maya Sinjo

Physician Assistant Program

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine student Maya Sinjo poses in a white coat

Growing up in an impoverished neighborhood in Lebanon, Maya Sinjo became acutely aware of medical care privileges—and how her community lacked them.

Her family was the only one in the area to own a manual blood pressure monitor a luxury that led to middle-of-the-night visits from ill neighbors. “In most cases, ‘feeling unwell’ actually equated to a heart attack,” Sinjo said. “In which case, my mom’s blood pressure monitor could not help.”

Such disparities—in healthcare as well as in education—led Sinjo’s family to immigrate to Canada when she was 18. (Her parents persisted through multiple immigration processes to ensure their children could have greater educational access.) There, she earned a bachelor’s in kinesiology from York University before learning on social media about the role of a physician assistant (PA) in healthcare.

Sinjo knew immediately that the mix of challenges PAs face daily would align well with her inquisitive nature, driving her to find diagnoses and treatments for her future patients.

Now a second-year PA student at Case Western Reserve, she focuses especially on underserved communities. She is active in volunteering, whether conducting screenings at farmer's markets, educating residents at local shelters, testing students’ vision in inner-city schools, or helping bridge the gap between healthcare providers and their immigrant patients.

She’s seen the need to be that connector firsthand—both in her work as a medical assistant and when attending appointments with her mother, who isn’t fluent in English and is often, Sinjo said, excluded from conversations because of it.

“My career goal is to advocate for patients like my mom who are experiencing health barriers,” Sinjo said, “and to provide a safe place for medically underserved patients to be heard and acknowledged."

Feyi Rufai

Master of Arts in Bioethics and Medical Humanities (Integrated Studies)

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine student Feyi Rufai poses

Most high schoolers enter their college search looking for a home for the next four years—a place at which they’ll earn a degree and gain valuable life experiences before moving on in their journey.

Not Feyi Rufai. As a high school senior, she applied to Case Western Reserve’s Pre-Professional Scholars Program, which offers exceptionally promising students undergraduate admission plus conditional admission to CWRU’s medical or dental schools. Rufai’s goal: eight years, two degrees.

Even before Rufai begins her MD studies in July, she’ll have earned three degrees: a bachelor’s in psychology and another in sociology, plus a master’s in bioethics and medical humanities from the School of Medicine.

In this master’s program, which she’s completing as part of an integrated studies option for driven undergraduate students, Rufai has excelled in classroom and clinical experiences. She’s tackled tough bioethical topics, such as end-of-life care, mental health stigmas, abortion, and drug legalization. She’s been active with the Black Student Union, multiple research projects, and Cheza Nzuri, an African dance team.

And, most importantly, Rufai has enhanced her bachelor’s degree studies with knowledge and perspectives that will drive her future, including significant interaction with “role models of physicians who work at the intersection of health and social justice work.” It’s a crucial experience for the aspiring OB/GYN who hopes to focus on better understanding and combating health disparities.

“If I want to be a good physician—one who people not only respect but also trust—I need to be able to make decisions for my patients based on their best needs and considering multiple perspectives,” Rufai said. “The bioethics program has really helped me learn how to advocate for someone else and communicate that effectively."

Emily Manning

MD–University Program

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine student Emily Manning poses in a white coat

On the way home from taekwondo class, 8-year-old Emily Manning’s world was upended: Her mom suffered a seizure and drove into a ditch, leaving Manning calling for help on the roadside. Shortly after, her mother had a stroke and, later, was diagnosed with HIV. At age 14, Manning became the sole caretaker for her mother, living “on the poverty line.”

“This infiltrated pretty much every aspect of my life,” Manning said, whether it was paying for groceries, juggling school, work, and caretaking, or seeing the healthcare disparities her mother faced as a woman with low income. Still, Manning became the first in her family to graduate high school, before earning a bachelor’s in public policy analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s in physiology from North Carolina State University.

When it came time to apply to medical school, Case Western Reserve was the first to “really embrace me for my personality and my experiences,” Manning said. “I had been told throughout my life that because I was low-income, maybe I shouldn’t apply to college, and maybe medicine wouldn’t be the best fit for me. But Case [Western Reserve]’s admissions team looked at me for me and said, ‘What do you need to succeed?’”

Now in her fourth year, Manning has not only succeeded in the classroom and in clinical, but she’s also enhanced the school’s community, developing a mentoring system, serving on a team to improve the curriculum, serving on the alumni diversity committee, and leading a first-generation club for students whose families are new to medicine. After graduation, she hopes to study and combat healthcare disparities related to gender and low socioeconomic status, or even work in academic medicine to build pipeline programs for low-income students looking to enter medicine— like she once was.

“I lived on the other side of medicine where I was the caretaker, sleeping in the vinyl chairs. I know what it means to hang on to every word the physician says,” said Manning, who is applying for internal medicine residencies. “That’s something that really informs the way I practice. I can’t fix everything, but I might be able to make one person’s day a little bit better.”

Derek Lake

Master of Science in Translational Pharmaceutical Science

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine student Derek Lake poses

Derek Lake was summiting a mountain in South America when he realized he wanted to pursue a career in medicine.

Well, perhaps it wasn’t that precise moment. But as Lake was backpacking from Mexico to Patagonia—often volunteering as an emergency medical technician to accompany climbers on their mountaintop quest she saw the disparities plaguing certain regions, especially related to healthcare access.

He knew medicine was how he could make a difference.

Five years later, after earning a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and gaining extensive genomics research experience at Northern Arizona University, Lake is pursuing one of CWRU’s newest degree offerings, the Master of Science in Translational Pharmaceutical Science.

As Lake expands his pharmaceutical, bioinformatics and entrepreneurial knowledge in the program, he has quickly jumped into the opportunities available: He’s a researcher in a pharmacology lab working on protein purification and cryo-electron microscopy, he’s part of the National Institutes of Health’s I-Corps entrepreneurship training program, and he’s a Case Venture Mentorship Program fellow.

Just a few months into the master’s program, Lake has gained invaluable experiences whether networking with pharmaceutical company founders, working in a wet lab, or learning how to conduct market research.

“I’m looking to apply my research in the real world,” Lake said, “and this program has already given me the practical, applicable skills to do exactly what I want to do.”

His goal: returning to Mexico to open a precision medicine clinic working to improve the healthcare disparities he’d witnessed years ago.