Medical Doctors-Turned-Public Health Researchers Spur Each Other On
By Karen Angelo
When married couple Samia Binta Rahman and Tanimul Islam graduate together from the Master of Public Health (MPH) program in May, it won’t be the first time they chose to pursue the same educational program.
They were trained as medical doctors in Bangladesh, earning their Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degrees from M. Abdur Rahim Medical College & Hospital in Dinajpur, Bangladesh, a city of about 3 million people. Rahman and Islam, who got married six years ago, decided to switch their careers to public health when they treated patients in hospitals and clinics in Dinajpur.
“We worked as medical doctors in poor communities that lacked the knowledge of how to prevent chronic and infectious disease,” says Rahman. “We decided that we could make a bigger impact by studying public health research and clinical research to prevent and control the spread of diseases and identify effective treatments in populations.”
Once they made the decision to pursue their MPH degrees in epidemiology, Rahman and Islam moved to the U.S. in 2019 and stayed with family in Nashua, New Hampshire. Then the pandemic hit. It was difficult to make friends, get jobs or even drive – or to find a public health program. But they persevered.
The pair connected with Assoc. Prof. Leland Ackerson in the Zuckerberg College’s Department of Public Health, who guided them throughout the application process. He let them know about the Provost Graduate Fellowship Scholarship that’s offered to high-achieving, newly admitted master's students with a residency status of international, out-of-state or regional.
“We both applied for the scholarship and fortunately received it, which helped us a lot,” says Rahman.
They began the MPH in Epidemiology program’s online courses in January 2021.
“We were impressed that UMass Lowell is a high-ranking research university that provides an affordable education,” says Islam. “With internationally recognized faculty, UML prepared us with the knowledge and experiences that developed our ability to analyze problems to find the best solutions.”
They took the same classes and, for the most part, supported one another. Sometimes a bit of healthy competition would sneak in.
“I remember when she got a better grade than me, and I said that I tried my best but would do better next time,” says Islam. “We encourage one another to improve.”
Once the grip of the pandemic eased, the couple was able to take some classes in person, which helped them connect with students and gain experiences in their internships.
“I was so happy to be on campus to make friends with people from different countries,” says Rahman, who interned at the Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace (CPH-NEW) and the Lowell Community Health Center. “I’ll be working again for CPH-NEW this summer, which is a great opportunity for me to further develop my research and analytical skills.”
Islam is currently interning at Lowell General Hospital’s Regulatory and Compliance Department, where he analyzes patient data from electronic health records to identify risk factors associated with hospital readmissions. As Commencement approaches, Islam is applying for jobs in the U.S. such as epidemiologist, public health data analyst or clinical researcher. Eventually, he’d like to work as a researcher for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Rahman is interested in working as an epidemiologist, clinical research analyst or research scientist.
“I want to develop effective interventions to prevent and control disease as well as evaluate the safety and efficacy of new drugs and treatments, or interventions to improve patient outcomes,” says Rahman.
At Commencement, they look forward to celebrating with Islam’s brother, who lives in Nashua, and his parents, who are here from Bangladesh.
“My parents arrived weeks ago and are very excited to see us receive our diplomas,” he says.
It may not be their last commencement together, though: They both plan on pursuing doctoral degrees.