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The day I decided surgery was for me…immunity and diversity.

Authors: Michael Okoreeh; 4th year medical student at The University of Chicago, Pritzker School of Medicine; Chicago, USA; @OkoreehM

I am in the last few months of an eight-year journey in medical school where I completed a PhD in Immunology, studying molecular mechanisms of immune tolerance, engaged in mentorship and advocacy for high school students on the south side of Chicago and found my clinical home in surgery. On the day that I made the decision to become a surgeon, I was filled with a sense of excitement and determination. I knew that it would not be an easy road, but I also knew that it was a journey that I was fully prepared to take.

I decided to pursue surgery as a career because it aligns with both my personal and professional goals to make a positive impact on the health of underserved communities. My academic and clinical interests centre on issues affecting socioeconomically disadvantaged and minority communities. My reason for studying immune tolerance stems from data showing diagnosis of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and lupus are overrepresented in African American people, with subsequently poorer prognosis. Some patients require surgical intervention and further still, minorities have poorer outcomes. These data have frustrated me but have led to my mission to investigate and eradicate these health disparities.

Currently, I am interested in abdominal transplant surgery, at the interface of immune tolerance research and surgical intervention for chronic illnesses. Reflecting on my third-year clerkship and sub-internship, I know that I will thrive in a surgical career. The teamwork that occurs in surgery, especially in the operating room, excites me the most. I view surgical expertise as the intersection between technical skill, creativity, innovation, and ingenuity. Additionally, I am drawn to the unique patient relationship that exists between patient and surgeon. This relationship is emblematic of shared decision-making that may sometimes not require immediate surgical intervention but medical management and risk stratification. Overall, I look forward to a surgical career rich with both technical skill and strong patient relationships.

As I look back on the day that I chose to be a surgeon, I am filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment. It was a decision that required a lot of hard work and dedication, but it was also a decision that has brought me great joy and fulfilment. As a member of a group underrepresented in medicine (URiM), I bring a unique perspective and understanding of the cultural and social factors that can affect the health of communities of colour. I hope to serve as a role model and mentor for African American and other URiM medical students and residents, helping to increase the diversity of the medical profession. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to make a positive impact on the lives of others, and I am confident that my journey as a surgeon will be rewarding and fulfilling for many years to come


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