Ogochukwu Marietta Ezeoke

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Motivated by a personal family experience with cancer, Ogochukwu is pursuing oncology and medical research.

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Undergraduate: Binghamton University, 2011
Major: Cell and Molecular Biology
Medical school: SUNY Upstate Medical University, 2019
Residency: Pediatrics, at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My first instinct as a child had been to follow my parents’ footsteps and be a lawyer. That lasted until middle school, where I was first introduced to research and science. And then, I wanted to be a forensic detective, the thought of scientific investigation being my impetus.

What led to your interest in medicine?

My interest in medicine was spurred largely by my interest in oncology. And that was the result of personal family experience. I couldn’t understand cancer, and I wanted to. It seemed insidious, aggressive and complicated. At the time, I didn’t fully understand how complicated, and even now struggle with that. My hope is to work toward exploring therapeutic approaches to cancers.

What experiences did you have that confirmed medicine was the right career for you?

I was blessed with the opportunity to shadow physicians in the hospital, in the outpatient clinic, and even in the office. I can think of no better way to explore medicine than from the inside, by learning what the life of a doctor can be. Hard work, dedication and tenacity; there are no substitutes for these, I learned.

Who or what inspired you?

I have had truly incredible mentors while working at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: oncologists who have believed in me and inspired me to be better. Their support throughout the process, from taking the MCAT exam, to applying, to interviews has been invaluable. I’d especially like to mention Dr. William Tap, Dr. Mark Dickson, Dr. Gary Schwartz, and Dr. Michael Postow.

While oncology can seem so depressing and cancer is inherently sad, taking care of cancer patients is nothing short of inspiring. I dare say it would be impossible not to be inspired by the courage of patients facing of this disease and the determination of their physicians to help them. This, I’ve learned, is the nature of medicine, and I can think of no higher calling.

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

I can’t recall anyone specifically discouraging me from applying to medical school, although there were instances when people questioned my desire and ability to make it in the field. My parents however, have always supported and encouraged my journey toward medical school. I cannot overstate the importance of family support in this pursuit, and  believe I wouldn’t be in medical school without it.

Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?

Dr. William Tap, Chief of the Sarcoma Medical Oncology service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, was my first mentor. I first went to Dr. Tap when I was taking post baccalaureate courses, and I had questions about how medical schools would view these courses in comparison to my undergraduate work. He always had an open door for questions and would share stories of his journey to medicine.

As a non-traditional applicant, having support through the process of studying for the MCAT, writing my application essays and preparing for interviews was invaluable. And perhaps more valuable was the practical advice Dr. Tap provided; he spoke frankly, he spoke from experience and he spoke from a desire to see me succeed.

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT® exam?

My biggest fear was disappointing myself on a test that seemed to determine my future, and so I would have moments while studying where I had to take a break to refocus and avoid being overwhelmed by the enormity of the exam.

What is your top MCAT tip for applicants preparing to take the exam?

Take many, many practice tests. Don’t practice until you know it; practice until you can’t get it wrong! In retrospect, this is what medicine is. The practice of medicine is a continuous one. This, the MCAT, is just the first in a long line of tests what will assess your ability to practice knowledge in a variety of scenarios.

Did you have any fears going into medical school?

Initially, I would say my excitement to finally begin overrode any fears I might have had. I remember pouring over our first unit handout the weekend before classes started, thrilled to be studying medicine.

What made your medical school the right fit for you?

I knew Upstate was the right place for me when I went there for my interview. I sat in on a radiology lecture with Dr. Cohen and was entranced by the energy of the first year class. Nothing can replace student satisfaction, and I knew I wanted a place I would be able to thrive in. I believe I’ve found that here in Syracuse, with faculty who are dedicated to my success, classmates who I would not trade for the world, and a truly beautiful campus!

What memory stands out the most from your first day of medical school?

The one memory that stands out is being on the elliptical in the student gym after a day that started at eight o’clock in the morning. I remember feeling an immense sense of gratitude at being able to have had that first day. I had entered the gym with my “Medical Student” ID, and a few of my classmates were already there. I waved to them, I started on my machine, and I could not stop smiling.

Please describe your participation in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.

One of the best parts about my medical school is how much they offer in terms of interest groups, clubs, volunteering and shadowing opportunities. Right now, I’m a member of two oncology interest groups, the Upstate Writing Club, the Somali Upstate Folk Art Partnership Group and a few other groups. There are also a lot of opportunities to shadow in various fields of medicine, which are very well coordinated by the student groups and the University Hospital.

What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?

I would say having certain courses at Upstate, like Practice of Medicine (POM) and Excellence in Care (EIC), are a great way to stay motivated.

In POM, we have met our first standardized patients, practiced history taking, written SOAP notes and more. (SOAP stands for subjective, objective, assessment, and plan. It a standardized way that health care workers write notes in patient in-patient charts).

In EIC, we’ve discussed ethics in medicine, and are starting on public health. These classes for me are a connection to the other side, post-medical school. They allow us to work with physicians who encourage our participation, respect our ideas and support our medical growth.

Writing has always been a great way for me to relieve stress and so being part of the Writing Club here is quite helpful. We often get short prompts to free write from and I am able to let out my thoughts in one of my favorite mediums.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?

Going to the gym, putting on my headphones and being on an elliptical has been my way of disconnecting from medical school, and just exploring my own thoughts. I’ve told myself I won’t study during this time, I will not text, or respond to messages – I’m not so good at that! – but try to make sure it’s just me and my music. It’s an effort sometimes when studying seems to be a better use of time, but I do try to give myself these breaks.

How did you balance the demands of medical school with any additional obligations or challenges?

I’m very keen on research, and so, exploring grants and writing research proposals sometimes feels overwhelming when added to schoolwork. I’m also serious about honing my skills as writer within the medical community, and so I’m continually working on manuscript submissions. It’s definitely a challenge, but I’ve found that by setting realistic goals, and giving myself deadlines, I’m able to complete what I need to get done.

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

Shadow. Shadow a lot, as much as you can, because there is so much to learn about medicine; there are trials and joys, and the only way to know about either is by seeing it for yourself. I would also say seek out mentors for yourself, because other people have stood in your shoes and they can be incredibly supportive. Finally, be stubborn about your success; don’t assume that it will be easy, and don’t give up because it is hard.

If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell him/her, off the top of your head?

Know what you want and why you want it. When school is stressful, and there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, knowing why you want to go into medicine will be the single most important reason you stay on your path. Talk it through with your friends, your family, and your mentors, because when you are at that point, they will remind you if you forget.

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