Arshad was one of the first students at South to be named a Goldwater Scholar by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.
By Carol McPhail
When Arslan Arshad was growing up in Saudi Arabia, his father contracted a rare neurological disorder that stumped the doctors. “He was losing sensation from his feet up, and he was losing his balance,” said Arshad, a second-year medical student at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. “All of his tests were coming back negative.”
As a sixth-grader, Arshad had become accustomed to getting ready answers to science questions from his father, a radiologist, and his mother, an obstetrician-gynecologist. This time, they had no answers, and neither did the physicians they consulted. “We went to a lot of doctors,” he said. “All of them were dumbfounded.”
Eventually, his father was given immunoglobulin therapy, a mixture of human antibodies, with the hope that it would address what could be an autoimmune disorder. Fortunately, the hypesthesia, or numbness, stopped spreading.
Arshad said this formative experience engaged his mind in medicine and led him to seek it as a career. “It shaped a large part of my life,” he said.
After immigrating with his family to Gulfport, Miss., Arshad finished high school at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus, Miss. He then became an academic standout as an undergraduate at South, where he majored in chemical and biomolecular engineering with a minor in biomedical sciences. He also received early acceptance to the USA College of Medicine.
Arshad was one of the first students at South to be named a Goldwater Scholar by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. In his sophomore year, 271 scholars were selected by academic merit from a field of 1,107 students.
As an engineering major, he also conducted research on hyperspectral imaging technologies with Silas Leavesley, Ph.D., and Thomas Rich, Ph.D., who have dual appointments in USA’s engineering and medical colleges. As a second-year medical student now, he attends classes in the same building where he worked on the project -- developing a new type of camera for use in colonoscopies.
Arshad hopes to apply similar skills in internal medicine or neurology. “I like critical thinking – the puzzle part of solving cases,” he said. “All cases are, in a way, like unsolved puzzles.”
When he’s not watching recorded lectures and taking notes, Arshad uses his free time to lift weights. An avid soccer player, he served as a midfielder for a co-ed medical school team that took South’s intramural championship in 2019. Now there’s not much time for team sports as he prepares for the USMLE Step 1 exam, which tests basic scientific principles.
Nonetheless, Arshad has proven himself as a leader. While at South, Arshad founded Omega Chi Epsilon, a chemical engineering honor society, and the Biomedical Engineering Society. In 2018 he joined with fellow medical student Dala Eloubeidi to form a new interest group at the College of Medicine – the Muslims in Medicine group – to foster clinically relevant discussions around the Islamic faith.
“We saw a possibility for fellowship for Muslim students and education for our peers and colleagues,” he said. So far, the group has hosted a presentation to medical students focused on mental health for physicians and patients, and how faith can contribute.
“Faith has always been a part of my life. It’s been what gives me direction and a lot of comfort and peace,” he said. “I’m also a big fan of learning. The more educated you are, the more you’re benefiting yourself, and you can benefit other people as well.”