Pain management specialist to aspiring Black doctors: Just keep going
Uzondu Osuagwu, M.D.
I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a physician. I was diagnosed with asthma when I was 6, and my doctor back then just had the greatest bedside manner. He made me feel like a normal kid, even when I was struggling to breathe. I wanted to do that someday for other people. So, I never really thought about doing anything else.
My parents were always very supportive. They made sure I knew I was smart enough and capable enough to reach my goals. But today, there are a lot of students — especially minority students — who may not have that same kind of support. They don’t have people in their lives to help them along or keep pushing them down the road if they get discouraged. So, that’s a big part of why I do what I do.
The importance of being visible
It’s hard to be something that you can’t see. And, if you don’t regularly see people who look like you that are physicians or scientists or CEOs, it’s hard to imagine that option really being in the realm of possibility.
But exposure enhances expectations. So, my goal is to be a role model for aspiring minority students. As an anesthesiologist and a pain management specialist at MD Anderson, I want to show them the many opportunities that are available. I want to open students’ minds to the possibilities — and really make them consider things they might never have thought possible before.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed so involved in academics: because I really enjoy working with trainees, residents and fellows. I like helping them develop their skills and build their knowledge. And I feel it’s my responsibility to be visible, vocal and available to them.
Rejection taught me the value of perseverance
I also feel very fortunate to have launched my medical career at MD Anderson, because it’s a place that truly values diversity. I did my pain fellowship here in 2017, then had an opportunity to join the faculty. Today, I serve as an assistant professor in the department and an associate program director, alongside Christina Le-Short, M.D.
But my path here wasn’t exactly the straightest. And I didn’t even get into medical school the first time I tried. So, one thing I always try to convey to the next generation of doctors is that rejection isn’t necessarily the end. Sometimes, you get knocked down, but you just have to get right back up.
Even when I was seeing rejection letter after rejection letter come back during that first year, in a weird way, I just felt like, “OK. Maybe this isn’t my time. What do I need to learn from this? And what can I do better, so that the next time I apply, the outcome is different?”
Rejection gives us a chance to recalibrate, so we can learn about ourselves and become better people. It may seem like doors are closing at the time. And that certainly doesn’t feel good. But they’re actually just leading us down the right path. And if we’re willing to be patient and persevere, there are lessons to be learned from those experiences.
I look back on those times now and I’m actually thankful for them. Because they helped me develop this grit — this determination to succeed — that continues to serve me well today.
Don’t let anyone else define you
Growing up, one thing my dad always taught me and my siblings is that nobody can define you but you. So, don’t let anyone else try to limit you or tell you who you are. If there’s something you really want to achieve, and you’re willing to put forth the effort and persevere, you will be able to do it.
That’s why my advice to aspiring minority doctors who experience setbacks is this: just keep going. You didn’t get to where you are today by accident, and you are capable of reaching your goals. You studied hard. You’ve sacrificed. So, keep going. Continue to pursue your dreams. And don’t let anything stop you.