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Dual degree doc does double time
Kathryn Rizzo ’95

octors recommend that the average adult get approximately eight hours of sleep each night. Medical student Kathryn Rizzo ’95 is lucky if she gets enough z’s in one week. In her first year of residency at the Virginia Commonwealth University, Rizzo works at least 10-12 hours a day, five days a week. She may be tired, but the bright-eyed doc does not show it. “Sometimes it’s long hours,” she says, “but I love it.”

Rizzo found her love for science in high school. A curious person by nature, she said, “Science allowed me to express my curiosity through learning and understanding mysteries while coming to conclusions about them.”

Earning a degree in biology, Rizzo found guidance from many professors, including recent Lindback Teaching Award winner Maria Tahamont, with whom she still keeps in touch. “Maria Tahamont was, and has been a great role model for me,” Rizzo says. “In fact, the entire science faculty was great. I was always comfortable approaching them with any questions I had because they always had an answer and were very enthusiastic about my learning.”

With a desire to enter the medical field, Rizzo attended the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). A student in the School of Osteopathic Medicine as well as the Graduate School of Biomedical Science, Rizzo became the first person in UMDNJ history to earn a dual degree with a doctorate of osteopathic medicine and a Ph.D. in molecular biology.

A Vineland native who enjoys hiking and painting, Rizzo took an interest in pathology (the study of the causes, nature and effects of diseases) while doing her thesis research at UMDNJ. During the research program (sponsored by the UMDNJ and the National Institutes of Health), Rizzo received acclaim for her discoveries of chemo-resistant proteins in cancer cells. “A lot of cancer research is geared toward understanding resistance to chemo agents,” she explained. “It’s always been my dream to do research and find or uncover something that no one else has found.”

This summer, Rizzo will leave the Virginia program and return to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where she originally did her thesis work. Rizzo will continue her residency, geared toward academics and research, at the two-year NIH program.

When her education is completed, Rizzo would like to teach in a university setting and continue researching in the area she has come to love—pathology. Though she’s bound to lose more sleep, she’s willing to do so. “Pathology is a great field because research-wise it really bridges clinical medicine and basic science by investigating the how and why of the disease process,” said Rizzo. “To know that you might have a little part in trying to help cure a disease is very meaningful.” Now if only she could catch up on those z’s.

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