Women's History Month 2014 - Medical student stands ready, committed to serveTweet
By Aimee Murray
To whom much is given, much is required. Luke 12:48 is the Bible verse by which Omici Uwagbai lives her life. The fourth–year medical student from Georgetown believes it is her responsibility to give back to the community.
Uwagbai, the youngest of three children, always knew she wanted a career in health care. When she was 13 years old, she shadowed a nurse practitioner for a day and discussed the duties and responsibilities of the position. Ultimately, she decided to go for medical school instead.
After graduating from Claflin University in Orangeburg and completing a post-baccalaureate program at the University of South Carolina, Uwagbai was accepted into the MUSC College of Medicine. Due to the rigors of the program, the first year proved challenging and was quite an adjustment for her, but Uwagbai said things got better once she was able to balance her studies with her personal life. She came to understand she need only strive to be her personal best.
“Being in medical school is competitive,” she said. “Everyone’s the cream of the crop. You do have to let go of the competitive mindset of having to be better than everyone else. You have to come to the realization that instead of trying to compete with everyone, you have to be the best for yourself and for your future patients. To do that, you must put in time, be dedicated and be a good student so you can become a great physician.”
Uwagbai’s second and third years were different as a result of her new approach to school. She got involved in student organizations and returned to her lifelong love: Community service.
A member of the Multicultural Student Advisory Board, Uwagbai was the Student Government Association’s representative for the group. She also served on the community service board and focused on community–based efforts.
Fourth–year medical student Omici Uwagbai helps out at Make a Difference Day creating garden plots at Stono Park Elementary School. Photo provided
Uwagbai said, “We had many kinds of community service projects such as Make a Difference Day. One project involved a retired librarian who had worked at MUSC. She was going to be fined because she was unable to maintain the appearance of her home.
“We cleaned everything up so she wouldn’t be fined. I enjoyed helping because she was a part of MUSC and worked for years to provide services for all of the students. It was nice giving back to her.”
Because rotations took her away from the Charleston area during her fourth year, Uwagbai opted to serve the community in a different capacity.
“I participate in the CARES Clinic, which is a student-run free clinic supervised by volunteer physicians in Mount Pleasant. We provide care to all kinds of patients who may not have insurance or be able to afford health care.”
After finding balance, dispelling her irrational fears about competition in medical school and working tirelessly within the community, Uwagbai had to make the decision about what type of medicine she would practice. During the decision-making process, she thought about her passion for women’s care and working with veterans. She also was reminded of her desire to continue the work she started in middle school as a member of Teens Advocating Smart Choices, a task force that promoted teen pregnancy prevention. It was then Uwagbai knew what she wanted to do: Family practice.
“Many times with family practice, people just think you go see your family doctor in a clinic, but family physicians have a multidisciplinary specialty. They deliver babies, complete minor procedures and provide care for infants, teens, adults and the elderly. I love the idea of getting to grow with your patients; caring for them from infancy to old age.”
With graduation in May and the military match for medical residency early, Uwagbai and her husband are preparing to move to Virginia where she will begin her residency as a U.S. Army physician at Fort Belvoir. Uwagbai said she’s excited about what the future holds and appreciative of all of the opportunities she’s been afforded, not just during her time at MUSC, but throughout her life.
“Being an African–American woman living in the South and being at MUSC, I understand that someone else paved the way for me to be here. It was much more difficult for those who came before me to do what I’m doing now. I’m not going through a struggle compared to women who came before me going through the Civil Rights Movement, getting into medical school, fighting their way to the top and having to be the best. I appreciate that. So now I have to continue their work and try to help others succeed.”
When asked if she had any advice for incoming first–year students, Uwagbai said it is important to have balance in your life. She also emphasized the importance of knowing you’re not alone.
“You have to understand that you will get through. A lot of times students struggle, and they think they’re alone, but it’s important to realize that everyone struggles in medical school at some point and everyone’s struggle is different. Everyone’s trying to maintain balance and succeed.”
Uwagbai also said talking with classmates and those with similar beliefs helped her successfully handle the issues she faced while in medical school. She said it’s critical to find people who are willing to help you and lift you up.
When reflecting on this year’s National Women’s History Month theme, “celebrating women of character, courage and commitment,” Uwagbai credits her mother as the one who encourages her to be courageous, have exemplary character and stay committed.
“My mom has always been there for me. She’s always been my cheerleader, telling me I could do it, even when I didn’t believe in myself,” she said.
Rhonda Walters, administrative assistant in the Office of Student Programs and Student Diversity, said Uwagbai’s character and work ethic make her stand out.
Walters met Uwagbai three years ago and saw the results of her work with the Multicultural Student Advisory Board and the Student Government Association.
Walters said, “Whenever asked to do a task, you can rest assured it will be done with the highest degree of quality. She is dependable, trustworthy, hardworking and unselfish with her time and talents. Omici has always set high goals, stayed focused and has been committed to her aspirations all while displaying an incredible spirit of determination. I have often told Omici that I look forward to reading and hearing great news about her and the work she’ll do serving our country as a health care officer in the United States Army.”
Editor’s note: In honor of National Women’s History Month, The Catalyst will feature women who make a difference at MUSC.