Born in Nigeria, Ifeanyi Nzegwu—who is about to enter his second year of medical school at the UC College of Medicine—has known since age 10 he wanted to be a physician. He was recently selected for the American Hematology Oncology Society’s 2012 Minority Medical Student Award Program. The program encourages minority medical students to pursue hematology research and will provide Nzegwu with funding to conduct research this summer on a fatal clinical presentation of sickle cell disease called acute chest syndrome. He will relocate to Atlanta, Georgia, for eight weeks this summer for the research program. Here, he tells us about what fuels his interest in medicine and his aspirations.
Tell us about your decision to enter medical school. Why do you want to be a physician?
"My interest in medicine came as a result of my many visits to the hospital and encounters with the one primary care physician in my childhood neighborhood. I was impressed with his demeanor, intelligence and the rapport he had with almost everyone in the neighborhood. I basically wanted to be like him when I grew up.
"However, I made a firm decision as an undergraduate (at the University of Iowa) to pursue medicine when my youngest sibling was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 10. As the oldest sibling, I knew I had to care for her and all the other children that I encountered in the hospital when I accompanied her for appointments. That desire to care for my sister has broadened; I want to care for people, especially the medically and economically disadvantaged to help to improve their quality of life.”
You recently were selected for an award with the American Society of Hematology. How did you hear about this opportunity?
"I discovered the ASH scholarship online while researching summer opportunities during the Christmas break. I came across a listserv of various summer internship opportunities on the University of Kansas’ website. The ASH scholarship, about third or fourth on the list, stood out to me because of the flexibility and numerous opportunities they provided. They were basically making money available to conduct research on any hematology topic at some of the finest institutions in the country. I was sold.”
Do you have a mentor you will be working with for the ASH program?
"Actually, having a mentor was one of the prerequisites. I will be working with Solomon Ofori-Acquah, PhD, an assistant professor of hematology/oncology, in the Emory University School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics.”
What do you hope to get out of the ASH program?
"I’m interested in health issues that are prevalent in minority groups. Being a minority myself, one of the biggest issues I was aware of growing up was sickle cell anemia and its devastating effect on children and their families. My ASH research will look at a fatal clinical presentation of sickle cell called acute chest syndrome (ACS). ACS causes hemolysis and deadly respiratory distress. The underlying etiology of ACS is not known.
"My primary research aim is to understand the cellular and chemical process that underlies ACS and hopefully identify potential targets for therapy. Besides contributing to scientific knowledge, I hope this opportunity will further develop the skills and qualities I possess as a student and future physician. I believe conducting research with an expert like Dr. Ofori-Acquah will further develop my investigative skills and decision making—skills that will serve me well in the future.”
What do you like to do when you are not studying and going to class?
"In those rare moments, I live and breathe soccer. I watch, read about it, debate/argue and play. I like to exercise, eat and take naps (sometimes in that order). I try to practice my guitar, but this is becoming rare. I hope to step it up this summer. I also enjoy reading articles on Wikipedia."
Who are your mentors here at UC?
"I am yet to find a full-time mentor here at UC as I’m not sure what field of medicine I would like to go into. However, I have been seeking the advice of my learning community leader, Stephen Baxter, MD, who is an associate professor of emergency medicine. He was one of my recommenders for the ASH award.”