Class of 2016
A first-generation immigrant from Nigeria, Chioma Enweasor ’16 was always encouraged by her family to pursue medicine; however, during her years as an undergraduate, Enweasor questioned that path. As she looks back on her journey to Weill Cornell Medical College, she sees it as one of discovery and clarity. It turns out her parents were right all along.
Enweasor was first introduced to Weill Cornell when she was studying pre-med and anthropology at Pomona College in Claremont, California. With the Travelers Summer Research Program, she spent time at the New York City campus doing research, gaining clinical experience, and learning about the wide range of careers available for healthcare professionals.
“It just made sense to me,” she says. “We held health fairs and talked a lot about issues that affect people of color. And I thought that it was a great beginning step for me to really start thinking about medicine as a career, not just as a tangential idea that my mom planted in my head, but as a reality.”
Future in focus
In the last few years, after several meaningful experiences, Enweasor decided she wants to focus on adolescents and global health.
After graduating from Pomona College in 2010, Enweasor spent two years working with HealthCorps as a teacher in California. HealthCorps is a non-profit organization that works to improve the four points of health and wellness (physical activity, nutrition, sexual health, and mental resilience) in disadvantaged communities. Enweasor’s job was to engage high school students in activities and conversations that would lead them to embody healthy lifestyles in every way.
“One of the best parts of that job was when my students would come to my office and sit across from me and talk honestly about their issues,” she remembers. “All they wanted was 30 minutes to talk during lunch. They have so much going on that sometimes they just want you to stop and make eye contact with them while they tell you their story.”
It was the connection to these “awesome, hilarious, and amazing” young people, as well as her desire to help them, that convinced Enweasor to go into medicine. Once she receives approval from the Institutional Review Board, her research will focus on obesity in the same age group she worked with—adolescents.
“HealthCorps got me really interested in adolescent health,” she explains. “Watching my students enter a path that leads to onset obesity put it in my mind that it’s not entirely their problem. Their school is surrounded by fast food, and fast food companies target them. There is nothing between these teenagers and the onslaught of sugary, fatty foods.”
To contribute the most she can to the field, Enweasor planned to work in marginalized communities after medical school, but a recent trip to Nigeria introduced her to healthcare issues on a global scale.
Healthcare in that country is vastly different from what we understand it to be in the United States, she explains. The nearest rudimentary clinic is about 30 minutes from her father’s village and hospitals are assembled in what she calls a “glued together” fashion.
“When I think about global health now, it’s not just this far away idea,” she says. “It’s about basic needs. People don’t have a place to go if something is happening in their lives and they have to figure it out themselves. That’s when it hit me.”
Enweasor realized that, at the very least, basic healthcare should be available to the people of developing communities like the one she visited in Nigeria. Since her trip, Enweasor is committed to having a global mindset.
“I don’t think we can think of ourselves as being in one place,” she says. “I know everyone wants to hold onto that, but our world is shrinking much too rapidly for us to pretend that something that affects people half way around the world doesn’t somehow inadvertently affect us, too.”
The next frontier
Right now, Enweasor’s focus is on helping local communities in New York City, but her long-term goal is to return to Nigeria and provide medical assistance.
Before that time comes she will spend three more years at Weill Cornell, where she hopes to learn as much as possible about healthcare and the future of medicine. Her curiosity, she says, has driven her to take in everything she can while she’s here.
“It’s strange for me to be in class talking about the next frontier of medicine and all these innovations that are forthcoming. Then it occurs to me that people like my parents are not going to see this or have access to it,” she says. “This is years away from the healthcare that’s being delivered to them.”
As an aware global citizen, Enweasor is taking steps to ensure future generations at home and abroad get to experience healthcare that is accessible and affordable—beginning with the extraordinary teenage population that she has come to admire.