Chigozirim Ekeke

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After being discouraged and teased about his Nigerian heritage growing up, Chigozirim shares his journey to medical school with students from his hometown.

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Undergraduate: The Ohio State University, 2011
Medical school: The Ohio State University College of Medicine, 2015

What led to your interest in medicine?

My interest in medicine began as a child, most of which can be attributed to family woes and parental influence. As I matured, I garnered interest in the mechanics of the human body, from understanding the dynamics of the heart to the power of the brain. My taste for science and mathematics only furthered my interest as both subjects strengthened my analytical, problem solving, and spatial intelligence. After witnessing my first open heart surgery at the Ross Heart Hospital, I solidified my decision to pursue medicine.

Who or what inspired you?

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, surgeon and Dr. Vivien Thomas, surgical technician were two prominent pioneers of cardiovascular medicine. Both of these men have shaped the world of medicine and continue to serve as an inspiration as I undergo my medical career. Dr. Thomas was known for his pioneering contribution to the Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt that was used to treat blue baby syndrome. Dr. Williams was one of the first physicians to perform a successful open-heart procedure.

 Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to medical school?

 During my high school career, I was famous among my math professors for two things: my Nigerian name and my substandard handwriting. My 11th grade pre-calculus professor discouraged me and seriously insisted that I do not enter medicine because “I would kill patients because of my handwriting.” Although an apology was never given, her remarks served as further motivation towards my career in medicine.

Do you remember your first day of medical school? What memory stands out the most?

It was 8:00 AM on August 15th, 2012; my clinical anatomy class was filled to the brim. Before class started, I overheard the second year students discussing their "long hours in the lab to find that little nerve." I took a seat in the first row on the professor’s right side. I glanced back and noticed every seat was filled. Lecture commenced and the professor discussed the expectations of the course and the lectures’ objectives. After lecture dismissed, I walked to the anatomy lab where my classmates and I dissected cadavers. Two of my group mates already began dissecting and I decided to read the directions as they continued to work. Shortly after, I assisted with retracting the skin of the cadaver so that we can expose the fascia and subcutaneous tissue. As I read the anatomy guide, I felt a blade stroke my index finger. I drew blood and it leaked through my gloves. I was embarrassed because I became a victim to the first error of cadaver dissections: “Never get cut.” This marked the beginning of my medical school journey.

What was your first year of medical school like?

The first year of medical school was an interesting and challenging phase in my career as a student. When I attended high school and college, my expectations were two-fold: “excel in all of your courses and get into medical school.” Getting acquainted with the rigor and nuances of medical school, my first year served as a humbling step, because it challenged my ability to balance my academic endeavors with my commitment to service. During my undergraduate years, I was involved in a numerous community service activities, from tutoring middle school students to feeding the homeless. As I started medical school, I worried that the field that had allured me since childhood would polarize me from my hobbies, friends, and family. I have fond memories of me and my classmates studying in the anatomy labs until 2 A.M reviewing muscles, vessels, and clinical vignettes. As I walked home from a day’s worth of studying, I asked myself, “Am I being efficient?” As the first year progressed, I sought out mentorship from upperclassmen and faculty. Both parties instructed me on time management and how to maximize my learning in medical school.

What makes your story unique?

Towards the later end of my summers, I would return to my hometown and elementary school. I would update my former teachers of my progress, and inform students of my journey to medical school. I told them about the teasing I had endured growing up; I was ridiculed because of my heritage and was dismissed by various individuals that considered my goals and dreams unattainable. As an aspiring surgeon, with educational roots in Atlanta’s southwest district and familial roots in Nigeria, it was these experiences that motivated to excel inside and outside the classroom, and bring me one step closer to my goal of becoming a physician.

Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.

One of my most memorable experiences was my involvement in the cardiothoracic surgery internship at the Ross Heart Hospital. One of my best friends in high school died of a heart ailment, and this incident lead to my interest in heart medicine. I shadowed and learned from doctors who operated on the hearts of children and adults, and observed surgical procedures on cancerous patients. Rounding with physicians at 6 AM and observing in the operating room made me appreciate the momentum and drive that are needed to run the healthcare setting. Lastly, this experience provided me an opportunity to speak with clinicians about their opinions on healthcare policy and the future of medical education.

What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?

I urge young students, to remain focused despite the pressures to stay in “style” and engage in irresponsible activity. Respect your professors and keep a counsel of friends, family, and mentors that are supportive and not manipulative. Lastly, always respect time because it is your most valuable currency.

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