UC medical student Stephanie Nwagwu pursues her passion for public health

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Even during her toughest days in medical school, when long nights studying turned into long days standing in the hospital, one thing kept Stephanie Nwagwu going: her passion for underserved communities. .

It’s a passion that has resulted in several twists and turns during her medical school career, including taking a year off to earn a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from Harvard University and being promoted to National President of the National Association of Medical Students (SNMA), an organization she first joined as an undergraduate student at Baylor University in Texas.

“I was elected SNMA chapter president at CU and then served as regional director for two years,” says Nwagwu, a fourth-year student at the university. University of Colorado School of Medicine. “Now I manage the overall operations of the national organization while trying to balance my status as a fourth-year medical student. But for me, the mission of SNMA is really worth defending. Our mission is to meet the needs of pre-medical and medical students from underrepresented minorities, as well as to serve underserved communities and increase the supply of clinically excellent, socially conscious, and culturally competent physicians.

Personal relationships lead to medicine

Nwagwu was also influenced by her family’s experiences with health care. She was introduced to the medical field by her mother, a pharmacist with a degree in University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

“I was in middle school when I first came to the Anschutz campus to see my mother cross the stage and get hooded,” she says. “I dreamed of the day when I would walk the same stage and also be hooded. My mother always encouraged me to work hard to achieve my goals, and ever since my mother did, I knew that it was possible for me too.

Understand the needs of underserved communities

Work rotations at Denver Health and volunteering at the student-run DAWN Clinic in Aurora opened Nwagwu’s eyes to the needs of underserved communities. As she waits for game day and the reveal of where she will be training as a resident, she is eager to learn more about those needs and how to meet them.

“My top five programs all have a very strong and compelling case for serving underserved communities, especially when it comes to serving black and brown patients,” she says. “As a black woman, I’m really interested in black maternal morbidity and mortality and how the structures that are put in place in hospital systems and in the community and society at large really prevent black women from get the care they deserve and need so they can have successful pregnancies.

Recent research from the Maryland Population Research Center at the University of Maryland found that black women are more than three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. The majority of these deaths were due to postpartum cardiomyopathy (a form of heart failure) and blood pressure disorders, preeclampsia and eclampsia.

Focus on public health

Her interest in black maternal mortality and morbidity led Nwagwu to pursue a residency in obstetrics and gynecology, a field that combines her medical interests with her interests in public health.

“I always knew I wanted to be an OBGYN going into medical school, because I had taken a black OBGYN as an undergrad, and I loved it,” she says. “I really wanted to be a surgeon and I really loved women’s health. I wanted to be able to advocate for maternal morbidity and mortality and help change the numbers and perspectives on it. I think OBGYN is really well situated for advocacy work in areas that interest me.

Nwagwu enters his residency with an enlightened view of the challenges faced by underserved communities through his MPH. She continued her education after being inspired by an attending physician who supervised her during a rotation at Denver Health.

“I had an assistant there who was really interested in healthcare administration and systems-level thinking about how our hospital policies affect our patient outcomes,” Nwagwu said. “I thought it would be really cool to go do a master’s, take a break from med school, and look at the healthcare system in a different light — more of a commercial light and a focus-oriented light. public health.”

Seeds of success

In addition to his leadership role at SNMA and his detour to Harvard, Nwagwu looks back on his time in medical school with special gratitude for mentors like Shanta Zimmer, MDSenior Associate Dean for Education and Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at CU School of Medicine, and Regina Richards, PhD, MSWvice-chancellor of the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement for the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

“Dr. Richards was a huge mentor to me even before I entered medical school,” Nwagwu says. “I met her at an SNMA conference when I was a premed student, and I told him that I really wanted to come to CU. She was a strong advocate for me and was one of those faculty members who really helped me along the way.

It was this combination of experiences and personal connections that led Nwagwu to medical school and prepared her for the challenges of residency.

“I look back on the leadership, professional, personal, and character development that I experienced over the past five years in medical school, and it really changed my outlook on life,” she says. “It made me a better advocate for myself and my patients. It was never easy, and there were definitely times when I felt like I didn’t want to continue in med school, that it was just too hard, but I always remembered , even in the most difficult times, that there was something worth fighting for. . At the end of the day, I really want to be there for my patients.

Nwagwu was matched with Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland.

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