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MERP: Student Closer to Dream of Providing Care in Underserved Communities

Ozioma Nwaigwe, RUSMWhile growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, Ozioma Nwaigwe was close with her extended family. But something odd started happening—or so it seemed. All Nwaigwe understood as a young child was that three of her aunts started moving away, one by one, only returning after years of absence.

It wasn’t until later on that she learned what was really going on. Her aunts had gone to Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) on the island of Dominica to become doctors—specializing in cardiac electrophysiology, infectious disease and neonatology, respectively.

Now, Nwaigwe is following in their footsteps at RUSM, currently completing clinical rotations at Florida University Hospital in Tamarac.

“From talking with my aunts, I knew RUSM was a great choice,” she says. “They said Ross prepared them and they couldn’t imagine having had a better education.”

Nwaigwe’s aunts weren’t the only influence on her interest in medicine. Her mom was a nurse, and Nwaigwe volunteered in a hospital during middle school. In addition, her family roots played a role in showing her the importance of health care.

“I was born in America, but my parents are from Nigeria,” she says. “I remember going back to Nigeria and seeing the dire need for doctors, nurses, and health care practitioners in general.”

Paving the Way for Success

Nwaigwe was accepted to RUSM on the condition that she successfully complete the Medical Education Readiness Program (MERP) beforehand.

“First I was disappointed that I was recommended for MERP, but looking back, I’m really happy I did it,” Nwaigwe says. “If it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t have had the GPA that I had, or been on the dean’s list.”

She explains, “One of the key benefits of MERP is that it helps you figure out your learning style. There’s so much personal attention, which helps you understand what your hang-ups are and improve them. MERP taught me that it’s okay to go to an instructor’s office and ask for help if I’m struggling.”

One example of how Nwaigwe benefited from the individualized attention was getting help with test-taking. She had a habit of frequently changing her answers during exams—but didn’t realize how often they were correct in the first place.

“My professor watched the way I answered questions and helped me figure out that changing my answers was doing more harm than good,” Nwaigwe says. “She taught me to rank each one 1, 2, or 3—1 if I was really sure that it was correct, to 3 if I wasn’t sure at all. So if I went back over the test, I might change the ones I marked 3 but I wouldn’t touch the 1’s and I’d try to avoid changing the 2’s.”

Besides learning not to second-guess herself, Nwaigwe also credits the program with teaching her how to work efficiently in groups, and helping her discover the best study habits for her.

“I’ve learned that I am someone who has to be totally engaged in lecture. I need to sit there, turn off my phone and pay attention,” she says. “Then after class, I go home, reread everything and rewrite my notes using a million different colored pens.”

All in all, MERP helps you find what works for you, Nwaigwe says.

Her advice for MERP students: “When you go, remember you’re there for a purpose,” she says. “You do have to put in a lot of hours. But it’s all so you can eventually become a physician and care for patients well.” 

Building Healthier Communities

Between her visits to Nigeria and having grown up around underserved communities in Baltimore, Nwaigwe is passionate about giving back and ensuring access to quality care for all. While completing her bachelor’s degree in public health, she conducted smoking cessation programs, taught children CPR, and did health screenings at nursing homes. She wants to combine these kinds of experiences with her medical training to help promote community wellness.

“I see myself going to health fairs on my off days and offering free blood pressure screenings, educating people on health and teaching them how to take care of themselves and their families,” Nwaigwe says.

And in the meantime, if she ever needs a reminder of the opportunities that are possible through hard work and persistence, all she has to do is look to her three aunts.

“People may think it matters where you go to school,” Nwaigwe says, “but what matters is the education you receive and the person you are.”