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Radiation oncology, assistant professor
UT Southwestern Medical CenterVIEW PROFILE
The family of Chika Nwachukwu, M.D., Ph.D. (MED ’14), moved to the U.S. from Lagos, Nigeria, in 1998, for better educational opportunities for the family’s eight children. Dr. Nwachukwu has taken full advantage of those opportunities. She received a Ph.D. in cancer biology at the University of Chicago and a medical degree at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, and completed residency in radiation oncology at Stanford University. She’s now a radiation oncologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Nwachukwu is very interested in global health and is determined to share her knowledge so that people around the world have access to lifesaving cancer care.
“The farther along I went in medical school, the more I admired the way Mayo functions — putting the patient first. In my experience, that’s unparalleled. Mayo is so efficiently run, and everyone functions at the highest level of their job description.”
I told my dad I wanted to be a doctor when we still lived in Lagos. A cousin I grew up with was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 20s. Her disease progressed quickly, and she died because nothing was done for her cancer. The medical system in Nigeria is broken and has a significant lack of resources.
In college I thought I’d go straight to medical school. Then I was exposed to research and thought it was amazing. I decided to become a researcher. I loved biology and enjoyed asking questions and seeing projects through to completion. I received my Ph.D. in cancer biology at the University of Chicago. Then I decided I wanted to see patients and continue to ask relevant research questions that affect their lives.
I was living in Chicago, and my family was in the Midwest, so I was interested in staying in the area. I looked at schools with small class sizes. I was really impressed by the resources at Mayo Clinic and the fact that we got to interact with faculty members who were leaders in their fields. Our lectures were phenomenal.
The farther along I went in medical school, the more I admired the way Mayo functions — putting the patient first. In my experience, that’s unparalleled. Mayo is so efficiently run, and everyone functions at the highest level of their job description.
I considered staying at Mayo for residency. I loved it, including the radiation oncology department. My mentors at Mayo were supportive no matter what I decided; they’re still my mentors today. Eventually I decided I wanted to do something different and venture out of the Midwest. I went to Stanford in California for radiation oncology residency.
I knew I wanted to do oncology of some kind. At a lunch for medical students during my first year of medical school at Mayo, I met radiation oncologist, Nadia Laack, M.D. (RADO ’06), who described what she did. I thought it sounded amazing. She saw patients and did research. She offered to let me shadow her, and I fell in love with radiation oncology.
Mayo Clinic taught me how to put into practice that the reason we do what we do is because of the patient. I go above and beyond for my patients because of Mayo Clinic. Mayo really trains you and makes you believe the patients are the most important part of what we do, and they are.
I finished my residency in June and moved to UT Southwestern in Dallas to practice radiation oncology in September.
I feel like I’ve been training for 20 years. I’m eager to have a real job and be independent. I hope I’ll be a good steward of that opportunity. However, my learning and training will never stop.
I spend a lot of time outdoors and hiking. I also love traveling and learning about new cultures. My best friend and I are on a quest to go to as many new countries as we can find mutually agreeable time to visit together. Sometimes it seems like all I do is work, but I have an active social life. I have a lot of friends in different places.
I’m interested in global health. I’m passionate about improving the way cancer care is delivered in low-income countries.
I believe everyone should have access to lifesaving care regardless of their birthplace. People die unnecessarily in places where resources are scarce and limited. My mission is to transfer what I’ve learned so others can use it in the context of their settings to improve their population’s health.
For the last couple of years, I’ve been involved with two hospitals in Kenya and Tanzania that had been treating cancer patients with old technologies and outdated techniques. Their patients weren’t completing treatment, and the outcomes were poor. I developed a training curriculum to help the hospitals transition to more modern ways of treating patients. The training has been implemented, and our goal is that the hospitals will measure outcomes with the new treatment strategies. Both hospitals worked with their local and national governments to secure the necessary resources.
I’ve also done some oncology work in Nigeria, and I have a couple of other global health projects in the infancy stages.
I don’t sleep very much, but I’m passionate about global health and find the time to do it.
See past New Chapter stories here.