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Okey Enyia

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Okey explains how cultivating a love for reading, surrounding himself with positive people, and minimizing distractions helped him realize his dream of becoming a doctor.

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Okey Enyia

Undergraduate: Lewis University, 1999
Medical School: Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

"Pace yourself, work with the end goal in mind...and enjoy the journey."

What made you decide to go to medical school?

I have always had a passion for service and medicine is just one way I can fulfill my purpose as a servant-leader.

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

No, it was a communal effort. But I would like to especially thank my parents, the Rev. Dr. Samuel and Mrs. Irene Enyia. An African proverb states that "it takes a village to raise a child." I've had the blessing of very supportive family and friends who have encouraged me every step of the way.

Did you have any concerns about applying to medical school?

I took the MCAT exam four times and had some concerns about attaining a score competitive enough to get into medical school. As a non-traditional student, I had to be very persistent in my efforts. I applied to medical school three times and applied to post-baccalaureate programs twice. There were moments when I was discouraged, but I maintained my determination to get into medical school and it happened.

Tell me more about the application process and why you think some barriers may be more challenging than others for minorities?

Many students of color find standardized tests to be their biggest challenge. I had a solid GPA, research experience, participated in extracurricular activities, and had strong letters of recommendation. But my primary challenge was achieving a competitive MCAT exam score. I also think that many students of color are not exposed to or do not have access to the resources and experiences that make for a competitive application. A high quality, culturally sensitive education starting from kindergarten is especially critical to the success and well-being of students of color or those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In fact, my fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, implements a couple of national programs that work to address some of these challenges. Namely, "Go to High School, Go to College," "Project Alpha," "College Life to Corporate Life," and "From the High Chair to Higher Education."

Once you got through the application process and got accepted into medical school, what was your first year of medical school like?

If I were to characterize the first year in a phrase, it would be "success in the face of adversity." From an academic standpoint, nothing really prepares you for the plethora of information that you will be asked to learn. As they say, it's like drinking water from a fire hydrant.

How do you see your medical career progressing in the future? What do you hope to do?

My vision is global. I currently serve on the Health Policy and Legislative Affairs Committee for the Student National Medical Association. In addition to the medical degree, I am also looking to attain degrees in public health and business with concentrations in health policy and administration. While it is still early in my medical career, I am considering cardiology as a sub-specialty. Seeing patients will also afford me the opportunity to inform policy and effect long-lasting, positive change, particularly as it relates to the underserved and underrepresented.

If you could do it all over again, would you?

Without a doubt, yes! I would not be the man that I am today without having overcome some of the aforementioned challenges.

Was there anything in your experiences that you were not prepared for? How would you change that given hindsight?

As a man of African descent, the journey is going to be different. Knowing this going in will make the journey even more enjoyable because then you are better able to navigate the system astutely. There are times where I have felt isolated and even ostracized. At a predominately white institution, this sense of isolation is magnified. In daily discourse, the student of color is more likely to have their competence questioned, to have to work harder, and to be disrespected by the ignorance of some colleagues knowingly or unknowingly. The first step toward change is awareness. When one has to divert energy from their studies in an effort to cope within an oppressive environment, it takes away from one's ability to perform at their peak consistently. The Handbook of Competence and Motivation by Elliot and Dweck speaks to this phenomenon including stereotype threats, teacher expectations, and cognitive load. This and other sources substantiate my experience and observations. There is nothing that I would personally have changed in terms of preparation. Often times, experience is the best teacher. My goal is to always leave a place better than how I found it.

Talk for a moment about your thoughts on health care and health disparities for minorities?

In my mind, it is about embracing difference and using diversity as a strength. There has to be the political will from the top in terms of leadership and grassroots efforts from the bottom to create and sustain a health-related culture of inclusivity. What is also needed is increased implementation of diversity and cultural sensitivity training into the curricula of not just medical schools but throughout the educational system. A patient of color is more likely to provide critical information to a health care provider who shares a similar background and cultural experience, so it stands to reason that every effort should be made to recruit and retain health care providers who reflect the patient population. Every effort must be made to level the playing field and minimize adverse health outcomes that lead to health inequities.

How about turning the tables. If there is one person that you could sit down and interview for inspiration, who would it be?

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Offer one piece of advice to aspiring doctors?

Cultivate a love for reading, surround yourself with positive people, minimize distractions, pace yourself, work with the end goal in mind, maintain your sense of identity, and enjoy the journey. Most important: never give up! Your vision will come to pass at the appointed time.

What one word would you use to describe yourself?


What do you enjoying doing most in your spare time?

Leisure reading, community service, church-related activities, and working out

What is your favorite book/what was the last book that you read?

The Bible, and "Storm Warrior: A Believer's Strategy for Victory," by Mahesh and Bonnie Chavda

Who is your favorite musician/band?

Shekinah Glory Ministries

If you were not going to be a physician, what other career would you have considered?

Full-time church ministry

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