Inspiring the next generation of medicine to dream big

September 9, 2016  //  FOUND IN: News,
5/16/16           Health Equity and Inclusion

Tochukwu Ndukwe, fourth from left in the back row, and the rest of this summer’s Career Development Academy participants.

A U-M program designed to increase interest in health care and science careers among minority youth has inspired one student to dream big.

U-M senior Tochukwu Ndukwe plans to attend medical school and pursue a master’s degree in public health so he can create a program for underprivileged students in disadvantaged areas.

“I really want a program that focuses on mentoring, tutoring and providing a pathway toward scholarship,” Ndukwe said. “I want to get kids interested in the sciences or medicine. It’s really important to diversify the medical field.”

Not coincidentally, his goal to bolster kids’ interest in health and science follows his own participation in just such a program. For the past two years, Ndukwe participated in summer academies run by the U-M Medical School’s Office for Health Equity and Inclusion. He attended the Undergraduate Research Academy in 2015 and the Career Development Academy this past summer. Both programs are geared toward underrepresented minorities.

“These programs that OHEI put on were so important for me and so important for the medical field,” Ndukwe said. “I’m really just hoping to have the chance to pay it forward for other students as well.”

The Undergraduate Research Academy promotes health and health-disparity research among college students, while the Career Development Academy prepares students for the medical school application process. OHEI also hosts the Pre-College Exposure Academy, which promotes health education and sciences to kids before they attend college.

“It is such a pleasure to see these students learn, grow and be inspired to do work in their community,” said Kristie Marria, strategic outreach coordinator for OHEI. “Their passion is what keeps these programs thriving.”

Each academy is geared toward helping the future leaders of medicine address health disparities — social factors such as where people live, work and play that impact health outcomes. For instance, a community with a disproportionate number of fast-food restaurants tends to have more health issues among residents, including diabetes and obesity. Participants in the summer academies spent time in the community to learn first-hand about these issues.

“We were able to take a closer look and see factors such as if homes were broken down, indicating lower income levels,” Ndukwe said. “Experiencing those things drove me to find a solution. That’s why I want to create a youth program.”

Nduwke said his program, which would be based in his hometown of Detroit, would be targeted at younger children, typically in elementary or middle school. It would offer mentoring and tutoring opportunities typically unavailable for families at lower income levels.

In the end, Ndukwe hopes to play a role in creating a more diverse generation of health care professionals. He points to OHEI as his inspiration.

“Every OHEI participant was interested in medicine, yet we were all so culturally different,” Ndukwe said. “Maybe one person, with his or her specific background, would think of an issue a certain way. Because of that, we realized we all needed each other on this journey into health care. Medicine demands collaboration.”