The long run to becoming a physician-scientist


MSUCOM student working toward dual D.O.-Ph.D. degree as a marathon runner  

Jazib Gohar is a fourth-year D.O.-Ph.D. student in the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM) Class of 2026. When he’s not working on research or in classes for medical school, he is running marathons.

This September, Gohar will be competing in the Berlin Marathon. Two weeks after that, he will be running the Chicago Marathon for the second time.

He is running both marathons for the American Cancer Society (ACS) — an organization he has been volunteering with since he was in high school. “As a future oncologist and cancer epidemiologist, and as someone who has lost several loved ones to cancer, this organization means the world to me,” he said.

The path to medical school

Gohar was born in Pakistan and spent much of his childhood growing up in a suburb of Chicago. He completed his undergraduate studies at Northwestern University in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Biological Sciences, Economics and Global Health. He then received his Master of Public Health in Global Epidemiology from Emory University in 2020.

He knew he always wanted to pursue medicine, but it wasn’t until he went to Emory when Gohar fell in love with cancer epidemiological research. “That experience really drove me toward dual-degree programs where I could pursue medicine and research concurrently, bringing me to MSUCOM in 2020.”

Gohar knew that he wanted to explore neighborhood-driven disparities in cancer as a long-term research interest. At the same time, he missed studying the biological aspect of disease and had his heart set on pursuing medical school. “I wanted to continue attacking cancer at every angle that I could, so oncology became my medical specialty of interest.”

Running into new hobbies

Gohar began focusing on health and fitness as an undergraduate and decided he wanted to run a half marathon to kick off his senior year. In his first year of medical school, he took a leap of faith and signed up for the 2022 Chicago Marathon.

“Training for that was one of the most challenging experiences I’ve had — there were so many moments of doubt, injuries and setbacks that made me really question if I wanted to even continue,” Gohar said. When he hit physical and mental obstacles with training, he would find inspiration in the ACS, remembering the people he was running for and the strength they had when enduring their battles with cancer.

“Losing loved ones is an experience no one should ever have, but it gives me a little bit of warmth each time I run knowing that they’re with me in spirit and giving me that strength to get a little better each time I hit the pavement,” he said.

His “why”

Gohar lost his grandmother — his best friend growing up — to breast cancer in 2009. When he started high school, he learned about Relay For Life, an extracurricular program that raised money for the ACS. He joined in honor of his grandma, but didn’t get too involved until he met, his Advanced Placement (AP) English teacher and the high school cross country coach who would eventually be diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Gohar said his teacher powered on to be present in class as long as he could when he wasn’t undergoing treatment, and fondly remembers the summer he got his AP test score back and shared his excitement and gratitude with his former teacher. His teacher replied back with joy, ending his email with “see you soon!” A month later, he passed away. That year, Gohar helped dedicate Relay For Life to his memory, making it the biggest event the school had ever put on. “It was really special and emotional,” Gohar said.

Gohar’s involvement with the ACS continued into college. In graduate school, he adopted a dog named Bear, a senior dog who lived for two more years before passing away of metastatic kidney cancer. “I think out of all of the losses to cancer I’ve experienced, this was the most difficult one I had ever endured,” Gohar said. “They were certainly the best two years of his life and mine.”

When signing up for the marathon almost a year after Bear’s passing, Gohar had to select a charity to run with. Scrolling through the options, the ACS popped up pretty early and it was a “no-brainer.”

“It felt like a homecoming of sorts, going back to my roots and raising money for ACS,” Gohar said. “Now, it feels nostalgic to be back with the ACS and re-dedicating myself to a cause that really shaped a lot of my formative years, and I’m excited to continue making an impact with an organization that’s given me a lot of meaning and purpose in my life.”

After the finish line

For his two upcoming marathon races, Gohar hopes to get his time under four hours and beat his record four-hour, nine-minute run time. After Berlin and Chicago, he hopes to complete the six world marathon majors in Tokyo, London, New York City and Boston.

Career-wise, Gohar hopes to practice as a medical oncologist while continuing his passion for cancer epidemiological research: “Providing personal, compassionate, patient-centered cancer care while also addressing systemic disparities that disproportionately affect specific populations in cancer morbidity and mortality would, I believe, allow me to make my greatest contribution to the field.”

He hopes to continue balancing both and loves that they are two very separate parts of his life. It allows him to disconnect completely from one world and immerse himself in the other. “I get to come back to my medical schoolwork or my dissertation research with a fresh, clearer mindset after stepping away to run for a bit, and I’ve found that helps me stay engaged with my work,” he said.

Gohar said studying at the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine has allowed him to pursue medicine alongside his other passions thanks to the flexibility and comprehensiveness in the curriculum. He was able to save time and re-invest that into himself, which helped him avoid burnout and pursue his education the way that he learns best. Gohar encourages other students to chase the hobbies and experiences that fill their souls in order to create space for themselves outside of their medical careers.

“Give yourself some grace,” he said, “and remind yourself that you deserve to put yourself first and invest in things that make you feel whole.”

Cheer on Gohar and support the ACS

If you would like to support Gohar in his upcoming marathons, you may contribute to the fundraiser benefiting the ACS. Gohar said that any amount will make a substantial difference in the lives of cancer patients and in funding cancer research.