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The Catalyst

Delores Gibbs scholarship awarded to Orangeburg medical student

By Jane Ma
Public Relations


Orangeburg native and first-year medical student Kemi Chukwuka, right, joins her scholarship namesake, Dr. Delores Gibbs. Chukwuka is the  first recipient of the Rose Delores Gibbs M.D. Endowed Scholarship. photo provided

Kemi Chukwuka is the first recipient of the newly established Rose Delores Gibbs, M.D., Endowed Scholarship Fund. This scholarship, which will help minority students with the costs of attending medical school, just recently reached full endowment and represents the completion of a longtime objective for Gibbs.

Gibbs, a Moncks Corner native, was the first African–American woman to graduate from the MUSC College of Medicine. In fact, she’s had giving back to medical students on her mind since the 1970’s.

“I started a scholarship back in the 1970s that no one knows about, because it wasn’t official.” Gibbs recalls, laughing. “I went to the dean’s office, found recent African–American graduates, and left some financial aid for them. I always wanted to create something more sustainable, self–perpetuating and official, but I just wasn’t sure how to at the time. A few years ago, it became more of a reality. I started raising money for an endowment, got donations and finally achieved my original goal.”

Enter Chukwuka, a native of Orangeburg. Like Gibbs, she left the state for her undergraduate degree, but returned to her home state for medical school. She was born and raised in Orangeburg and says she chose to attend MUSC because she wanted to be closer to the network of support her family would provide, and also because she hopes someday to give back to the state that made her achievements possible. In describing her medical school interview process, Chukwuka says, “I just felt like I could be more myself with MUSC. I interviewed with five schools, but I felt genuinely comfortable here. Attending MUSC just seemed natural, as though I were coming full circle, returning home.”

It was this home where the seeds of Chukwuka’s passion for medicine and service were planted: “It really all began when I was three. I was diagnosed with Vitiligo, a disease in which the skin pigmentation cells are destroyed — my first exposure to medicine in any significant form. The dermatologist who made the diagnosis, and has been responsible for my treatment since, inspired me, and we’ve maintained a close relationship throughout my life. So I guess you could say I’ve been with her for 25 years. My experience with her influenced me to attend medical school to be a dermatologist, although recently my heart has been drawn to family medicine. The need in that field seems to be the greatest.”

This scholarship will allow Chukwuka to pursue these plans and fulfill that need. She applied for a broad range of scholarships, and her reaction upon learning she received the Gibbs Scholarship was one of delight: “At first, I was grateful and excited. Of course I was… It’s wonderful not to have to worry about debt.”

However, after actually meeting Gibbs, the scholarship took on more meaning and greater significance.

When asked about her benefactor, Chukwuka said, “She is amazing. She is absolutely a role model for me. I had no idea who she was, and then I learned that she’s had this incredible career. I found out that she was the first African–American woman to graduate the College of Medicine; that means a lot to me, as a double minority pursuing the same dreams. It was so reassuring and humbling to be in her presence, to know that I was following in the footsteps of the trail that she had blazed — to believe that if she did it, then I can too. In a lot of ways, Dr. Gibbs is providing emotional support, not just financial support. And I’m so thankful.”

This scholarship has already started a perpetuating ripple effect of influence that will extend far beyond this first award. Gibbs reveals creative plans that she has in the works to continue sponsoring the scholarship, “I started collecting paintings early in my life as a medical student — a piece here, a piece there. They served as points of meditation and focus for me. Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection. It is my intention to start showing the collection for the benefit of the scholarship, to raise funds for it. Eventually I hope to donate the entire collection to MUSC, with the understanding that they are either to be shown or sold, with all proceeds going to the scholarship fund.”

As for Chukwuka, she says that her hope is to one day give as well. To her, the scholarship serves as a constant reminder to pay it forward and help other prospective students, just as Gibbs has helped and inspired her.

October 23, 2014



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