For This Student, Public Health Is the Best Medicine
While growing up in Nigeria, Nero Akpowowo always dreamed of getting an education in the United States.
He got his opportunity, at 14, when his aunt moved to New York City to work as a liaison officer to the United Nations and brought him with her.
When it came time for college, although Akpowowo hadn’t selected a major, he knew that whatever he decided, he would go on to pursue a doctorate.
He thought he might be interested in computer engineering, so he enrolled at City College. “It is CUNY’s crown jewel in that field,” he says.
But when his father, who suffered chronically from uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension, became increasingly ill, his interests began to shift toward public health.
“I had no idea of going into medicine,” he says. “I come from a small town, Sapele in the Delta, where there aren’t many medical resources, so I kept doing research and sending information home to help his treatment.”
It wasn’t long before Akpowowo switched to the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education physician assistant program at City College.
“I would have loved to pursue a medical degree,” he says. “But I couldn’t get any student loans and had to rely upon the beneficence of my family for tuition. I decided that being a physician assistant would offer me the exposure to medicine I wanted and wouldn’t require as substantial an investment in time or money as would medical school.”
When he completed his training as a physician assistant, Akpowowo got a position in internal medicine at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, where he collaboratively managed 12 to 18 inpatients with an attending physician. Now, he works in critical care medicine at Montefiore Medical Center’s ICU.
“My work in these inner-city hospitals and at the CUNY School of Public Health has showed me that much of the disease presentation and treatment outcomes I was faced with are reliant on a distal confluence of socioeconomic status, health coverage, food and environmental policies,” he says.
His interest in public health sparked, Akpowowo went on to earn a master’s degree from the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College in the health policy and management track in 2010 and plans to apply for CUNY’s doctoral program in fall 2011.
“My public-health interests have evolved toward global health policy and advocacy, particularly malaria elimination in sub-Saharan Africa,” he says, adding that malaria was the subject of his master’s essay. “As a child in Nigeria, I survived malaria numerous times. It is assumed there that if you have a fever, it’s always malaria, and people often use herbal remedies and self-prescribed chloroquine regimens even though there are numerous other causes of fever that require different treatments. This has contributed to the resistance of malaria strains to conventional treatments and the high incidence of morbidity and mortality. It is a monumental public health issue in my country and for me personally.”
As a prelude to his doctoral work, Akpowowo continues to work full time at Montefiore and is a volunteer for Malaria No More, a nonprofit, non-governmental global organization that aims to end fatalities from this mosquito-induced fever.
“I don’t quite have an ultimate plan for my career,” he says. “But I know that upon completing my doctorate, I would like to travel throughout sub-Sahara Africa and identify core public-health issues like malaria and work with governmental and non-governmental agencies to do something about them.”