Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences

Pathway to Medical School

Opportunities abound for CDS alumna with specialization in pre-clinical professions

Women and man wearing lab coats

Samantha Pfiffner, pictured in the blue lab coat, with Dr. Sumi Dinda, professor of clinical and diagnostic sciences and department chair. Photo credit: Garrett MacLean.

icon of a calendarApril 5, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Nina Googasian

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Samantha Pfiffner, SHS ‘20, is the epitome of relentless determination.

She was a recipient of the OU Presidential Scholar Award, a merit-based scholarship that covered the entire cost of her undergraduate tuition. The Davison, Michigan native initially came to Oakland as a direct admit nursing student in the fall of 2017. “After taking a few nursing courses during my freshman year, and a brief stint as a Pre-pharmacy major, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career as a physician instead,” she says.

Earning her Bachelor of Science in Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences (CDS) with a specialization in Pre-clinical Professions in just three years, Pfiffner graduated summa cum laude last April.

“Since graduating from high school, I have worked as a hospice certified nursing assistant (CNA) with The Medical Team Hospice, based out of Flint,” Pfiffner says, “and patient care is what motivates me to become a doctor.”

For the past three years, she has also worked as a laboratory research assistant for Dr. Sumi Dinda, professor of clinical and diagnostic sciences and chair of the CDS department. “Once Sam finished her training in February 2019, she began working solely on her own research project with my guidance,” says Dinda. “She has also helped to edit and perform experiments for other projects and manuscripts that are in the process of being published. My research assistants perform the entirety of procedures and experiments that are necessary to finish a project and also draft the manuscript for publication.”

Pfiffner has been researching the effects of TBHQ, a preservative commonly used in food items, on two different types of breast cancer cells. 

Last year, Pfiffner assumed the role of Dinda’s laboratory manager. “Sam brings a level of enthusiasm and teamwork to the lab that has never been there before,” Dinda explains. “During COVID, she made videos of all of the experiments we do in the lab to use for training purposes to limit individuals’ contact and exposure. She has trained the entire group of research assistants that I have in the lab now, and they all have been instilled with her work ethic and optimism. The lab is a cohesive, productive, and positive environment with Sam as the manager.”

Participation in scientific, hands-on research with Dinda has had a meaningful impact on Pfiffner’s Oakland experience. “I have learned so much from him. Dr. Dinda is an amazing mentor, and he has helped me immensely with my future goals,” she recalls. “He advised me that a CDS degree would prepare me well for medical school.

In the Pre-clinical Professions specialization, Pfiffner learned the same advanced techniques and cutting-edge technologies used by clinical laboratory scientists in support of health care providers. “Many classes use case-study based analysis as part of their assessments. This type of critical thinking and problem-solving are exactly what I will be doing as a medical student. And, I will need to apply these important skills when I take my board examinations,” says Pfiffner.

She took a gap year between graduation and medical school to finish her research project and to continue saving money. Having put away almost all of her earnings over the past four years, Pfiffner will be able to graduate from medical school debt free. 

Pfiffner has been accepted to more than a handful of medical schools, including four in the state of Michigan, but has yet to decide on where she will attend in the fall of 2021. She is excited to see what the future brings. One thing is certain: Pfiffner’s diligence and perseverance will pave the way to her continued success.

Learn more about the Pre-clinical Professions specialization by visiting 

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