An Interview With Impact Leader Pearl O. Ugwu-Dike, MD

We’re shining the ProjectIMPACT Spotlight on Pearl O. Ugwu-Dike, MD, an individual who is making a positive impact in healthcare by reducing racial bias in medicine. Dr. Ugwu-Dike is interviewed by Iain Noel Encarnacion, Eastern Virginia Medical School student and VisualDx Student Advisory Board member.

Tell me a little about yourself. Where you are from, where did you go to medical school, and where are you in your medical journey?

Dr. Ugwu-Dike: I went to medical school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where I was part of the global medicine program. I am now completing an Internal Medicine preliminary year at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School. It has been an incredible experience, and while I am saddened that my intern year is ending, I am excited for the next chapter of my journey—beginning dermatology residency at NYU Langone’s Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology.

What are your responsibilities as a resident physician and what are your favorite aspects of residency?

Dr. Ugwu-Dike: My responsibilities as an internal medicine prelim are to my patient: to continually strive to progress the highest quality of healthcare. I work together within a multidisciplinary team to evaluate complex medical presentations and identify comprehensive health solutions. We address medical issues—but we also address social issues and emotional issues as we work to develop care plans.

I also have a responsibility to be a continual learner. As I have progressed in training, I have come to understand that this is not just a responsibility to acquire new skills and knowledge. It involves a daily frame of mind that includes curiosity, humility, critical thinking, and reflection as I work to learn more about medicine, and the world around it in which my patients navigate.

I am fortunate to be at Beth Israel Deaconess, where through direct patient care, involvement in our communities, didactics, and reading—my senior residents and attendings have cultivated a community that encourages learning and growth.

My favorite aspects of residency… goodness, that is a tough one. It has been quite a journey, but there is so much to enjoy. Although this year has been rigorous, I believe that that rigor has taught me how to think more deeply about my patients, and further refined my problem-solving skills. I think one of my favorite aspects of residency has been my patients, and I have been so touched by some of the medical stories I’ve been a part of this year. I think additionally, the people at my residency program are absolutely my favorite. At Beth Israel, there is an underlying pulse to be both good doctors and good humans—and an understanding of how the two go hand in hand.

What are you currently working on that addresses healthcare equity? 

Dr. Ugwu-Dike: I have a few projects that I am currently working on that address healthcare equity—both in dermatology and in internal medicine. Regarding dermatology, I think one project that is at the forefront of my mind is the Dermatology Trainee Advocacy Day, which I have helped to develop with Dr. Avery LaChance. This is an initiative that began 3 years ago with a purpose to empower dermatology trainees with the necessary knowledge and skills to effect tangible change within the advocacy sphere: specifically as it relates to improving patient access to care and diversity, equity, and inclusion within the specialty. I have been fortunate to be involved for the past 2 years, where we have seen immense growth.

This program is essentially trainee driven in each state. We help teams to develop advocacy day curriculum to gather residents and medical students across their state for a day of learning what it means to be a dermatology physician advocate and engage with health policy and advocacy at all levels: from local, state, to federal.

Over two years, we went from 1 state and 2 medical schools/training programs involved to this year, 7 states and 32 medical schools/training programs. I am so energized by the team this year, and am excited to see the different Dermatology Trainee Advocacy Day’s executed across each of the seven states.

What or who inspired you to become a physician?

Dr. Ugwu-Dike: My family is the inspiration for a lot of what I do. My dad specifically inspired me to be a physician. He has long since passed away, but I was lucky to have him as a part of my life until I turned 18 and still learn from him as I think about the wonderful dad and doctor he was. My mother and my father are just wonderful humans. I draw a lot of strength from thinking about my family through the days when things get tough—and they do get tough!

What advice would you give to medical students or residents interested in addressing healthcare disparities?

Dr. Ugwu-Dike: Make it your mission to learn. The world is such a big place, and unfortunately our patients go through so much. If you enter the field of disparity work with a mindset to learn about the problems, you will expand your ability to develop solutions. Additionally, find like-minded people. The opportunity to create and exist in teams that march towards a unified purpose is invaluable.

How do you pledge to make an impact to improve health equity?

Dr. Ugwu-Dike: I pledge to be a relentless learner regarding the sphere of health equity and to continually refine my ability to examine medical issues through a lens of health equity. I pledge to incorporate a determination to improve health equity, not only in my clinical and academic work but in the ways in which I engage with my communities and the world.

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