The Making of My MD/MBA

Dear Blog,

 “Adult Ed is a Mother, but it’s also a Keeper!”… Dr. Lulu

Last Friday as I found myself finishing up the last day of the last week of my 27-month journey into the land of a Masters in Business Administration at UTSA, my heart was a mixture of all sorts of emotions, the strongest of which was joy! Since I couldn’t keep it to myself, I did an impromptu FB Live and literarily broke into song and dance on screen! I no longer have to stay up late studying and doing homework EVERY NIGHT. I can now stop using “school” as my excuse for everything (I really don’t want to do). I get to add those coveted three letters to the other two after my name. I can now get much-needed rest (umm, say what?) Let me rephrase that, I shall try going to bed at 11pm every night (yeah right!) I finally, realize my dream of walking on an American stage wearing the black gown and black “crown”, and as an added treat, I get to wear VA cords!

In September of 2016, my 4yr term as a Lt Col. in the United States AirForce came to an end. In deciding what to do next, I realized I had multiple options to pick from; join the Air Force Reserves, go back to school and get a Masters Degree, or get a regular job as a pediatrician. I decided to go for the last two options. And no, I had no specific “why”, I simply wanted to use the VA educational funds I was entitled to, it was more like a “why not?”. The decision was met with a combination of gasps, shock, surprise and some reluctant encouragement from friends and family. Never one to waste too much time chewing on a thought, I jumped in with two feet (before I lost my nerve) Coincidentally, my first son was about to go into college at the same time and my spouse had also decided to get her Masters degree as well…so, I was in good, no, great company! (That sh** just about cost us our union, but that’s another day’s blog, LOL)

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Later that month, as I was walking out of my job interview at Communicare Health Centers, I remember wondering to myself how I would manage a full-time work schedule and a full-time school schedule. I had initially wanted to do the combined MPH/MBA program, but FEAR and its close friend DOUBT, proceeded to discourage me and talk me out of it, so I settled for just the MBA. I was as excited as I was anxious! My colleagues, (after getting over the initial disbelief) quickly got on board and started cheering me on. I still had no idea how I was going to “manage” it, but I put my best Naija Igbo Woman foot forward (as per we no de eva carray last) and started the regular MBA at UTSA. Not online, in person, albeit, nearly 30 years post graduation from medical school, owning my own private practice for nearly 15 of those years and doing a brief 4yr stint as a Lt. Col in the US Air Force! I was going about mine backwards.

The first semester went like a breeze (or did it?) I now only remember that I had a hard time getting used to not only going back to school but also going back to school in the tech age! Just like my initial shock when I first came to the USA which I shared here in this earlier blog, going back to school, in America, was FULL of new experiences…!

Crocs store-1.jpgFirst off, I was one of, if not the oldest student in that regular MBA class! I was not happy about that at all. I hated the fact that I was in class with late teens and early twenty-something-year-olds. Their mannerisms were a total lack, they were disrespectful, noisy, lackadaisical, and sometimes rude to the professors(s). What struck me the most was their tendency to not do the work! They were very content with not showing up for class, joining in class discussions or even doing their portion of the school work at all… (I guess I am seriously old school) This bothered me so much that after that first semester, I went back to my student adviser and requested to disenroll. Luckily, she was kind enough to understand my position and suggested I sign up for the Executive MBA program instead. I was really lucky because I literally made the interview on the last day! Reminds me of a similar incident with Howard University Hospital Residency interview, I also talked about here. Thankfully, I got in! Since my paperwork was already in the school of business, all I needed was an intradepartmental transfer. She hit the jackpot with that suggestion because once I understood what an Executive MBA was, I TOTALLY LOVED the idea! However, a couple of my “friends” queried the “executiveness” of it all…”make sure it is not a watered down version of an MBA”, is it an E-MBA as in online/electronic? “are you going to have a real MBA degree when you get done?” and, “why de heck are you even going back to school, aren’t you tired?” Hmmm…how does one respond to all that love?IMG_0818

At the Executive MBA program, my cohort comprised of people closer to my age, adults. managers, business owners, entrepreneurs, vice presidents, CEOs, executives, parents, grandparents, wives, and husbands. A fair number of them were still younger than me, but the age gap was not nearly as much. The youngest in my class was 31 yrs old. They had all seen life and lived it a little. A lot of them were well-traveled. They were much more experienced and for the most part, wanted to do their school work. My kind of people. We were different, yet the same. A few were veterans like me, a few were foreigners like me, a few were mothers of kids in college like me, a few were divorced like me, and one was not only the other one Black person, he is also Nigerian like me! Awon Naija sha! I believe I lucked out!

In spite of all that, the school work was still a huge challenge for me. I had to get used to school the American way. Folks actually call their professors by their first names around here, huh? Not in Nigeria, tufiakwa! I went to medical school in the 80s, graduated in the very early 90s. We had real chalkboards, not smartboards. Our blackboards were not virtual, they were really black and physically present in the classroom. I had no concept of the word office-hours, luckily, my son who was then a freshman at Stanford University explained what that meant to me. I had no idea what it meant to access library books online, and be able to “check them out” virtually? What de? As shocking as these findings were to me, there was more to come.

IMG_0841As the only physician and one of 2 Blacks of the lot, 33 of us to be exact, I had no one else wearing my exact shoes, hmmmm. I had no one to hold on to when Statistics got tough (yea, I know, I did biostatistics in med school, so I recalled sensitivity and specificity, but certainly not Anova or Covariance Analysis) I had no one to hold on to when Accounting reared its ugly head, or when Finance got crazy (my poor mom, a retired accountant, who was visiting at that time, got a daily dose of complaints from me). As a self-proclaimed hater of numbers (except those on my paycheck and bank account) I loathe Excel…still do! First of all, I had never really heard about it, furthermore, I not only had to learn its basics, but I also had to learn to apply it to Accounting, and Finance, WHY!? All of which made for many a tear-filled day at the professors’ office. Every now and again, I did feel lonely and left out in my cohort, but my resilience and adaptability would kick in and I would win the little battles.

IMG_0800Economics was good as long as it was Macro Economics and the professor who worked for the FED was a kindly older gentleman with a thick Texan accent and a friendly smile. Still, I spent too many afternoons in his office at the high-security Federal Building downtown San Antonio. Corporate Restructuring was okay at the start until we got deeper into the mathematical aspects and calculations, then it ceased to be fun. Since I love words, Organizational Behavior was great, Ethics was a bit confusing. Marketing, Negotiations, Business Strategy, and International Business Studies were easy for me because I had no numbers to worry about, furthermore, I LOVE reading and discussions. Looking back now, one of my favorite subjects was Leadership. Not only was our professor really cool and soft-spoken, but the cases were also interesting, intriguing and thought-provoking. I enjoyed learning about exemplary leaders. I learned about myself and my own flavor of leadership. I thoroughly enjoyed the final TEDx talk we each had to give at the end of the class. Oh, my talk was on the power of the word, NO.

One of my favorite experiences during my business school was Executive Coaching. As a matter of fact, I owe my executive coach, my entire career journey today.  She is one cool Chica. She used to work for NASA, so she is equal part brains, beauty, class, and control. I absolutely admire her poise and her presence. She exuded knowledge and she helped me figure out who I am/was, and what I wanted to do with my life after school. Truth be told, I only signed up for the MBA partially because the VA was footing the bill, and partially because I used to counsel my subordinates in the Air Force to take advantage of the GI Bill and Post 911 educational grants and go back to school and further their education. I never even thought I could do it, but I had to heed my own advice.

Singapore 4.jpgI must say the highlight of our entire MBA experience was the 12day international trip to South East Asia! A trip that cost me the attendance of my youngest brother’s wedding in Nigeria, which just happened to have been scheduled for the exact same day. We left San Antonio bright and early that January morning and went through LAX. The 17hour flight both ways was no match for the excitement I felt in finally seeing the world famous Singapore and Vietnam! I grew up in the 70s and 80s and remember listening to the song “Vietnam” by Jimmy Cliff, so, this was a sort of homecoming for me. Singapore, a country born with a golden spoon, is eating its cake and having it too. It is an example of how hard work pays off no matter what. Vietnam, a country that is well on its way back from the ashes of multiple wars, betrayals and “destruction of men in their prime, whose average age was 19” a la Paul Hardcastle in his Jazz Masters hit (one of my faves).  After everything she has been through, her people still wake up every morning, practice Tai Chi, get on their motorcycles and ride!

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I cannot put in words the excitement of Singapore! Its clean streets, ultramodern Singapore 2.jpgarchitecture, eclectic suburbs, fine dining, high-end shopping, educated minds, and multiracial indigenes all living harmoniously in spite of differences in religion, language, customs, cultures, etc. A hard lesson for all African countries to learn (sadly). Singapore welcomed me with open arms. I even got a chance to sing old Karaoke tunes with a local band at a local pub! Vietnam was different. More real, dirtier, noisier, almost “happier” than Singapore. Our class got to visit the Crocs factory, eat with the locals in a traditional Vietnamese home, and take a canoe ride on the river to the coconut village, where my sense of smell was completely mesmerized by the indescribable smells of coconut. Since my wife is part Island girl, and I am the quintessential Tropical Chic, this, was HOME! I was immediately taken back to my childhood, my grandmother’s hut…her smell, her heart, the essence of her being my Nne Akuobu.  As unbelievable as the trip was, I topped it up, by finishing the final edits of my first of many Amazon bestsellers on the plane ride home! BTW, get your copy on Amazon or on my website, it is the best parenting book ever! 😉Singapore 3.jpg

I shall miss school. I have always been studious. I have always had a quest for knowledge. Though old age is setting in and my memory is not quite as good as it used to be. I am proud to say that I completed the MBA and can now print out my new business card with all five letters in their proper order MD/MBA 🙂 I earned it. Considering I got the degree after I have already been in private practice for nearly 30yrs, and considering I have no idea what I am going to do with it…yet, I am still thankful for all the potential doors it will open for me. I admit I had NO WHY, I simply did it because I could, because the funds were available through the VA, and because I might have needed to prove to myself that I still gat it after all these years, or simply because…

In ending, I would like to say; just like that, my 27month program is done. Was it hard? Yeah! Is it doable? Hell yeah! Can you do it? All day! So follow your heart, try something new, push yourself. No one ever died wishing they spent one more day playing a round of golf. This is my legacy, what is yours? What is holding you back from following and fulfilling your dreams? Work? Kids? Family? What are your priorities? Are they in proper order? Remember, life is what happens while you are busy planning…so get off your phone, get off your couch and just do it! If I could do it, with my schedule, you can do it too! Peace still.

My name is Uchenna Umeh, MD/MBA, and I approve this message.

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UU

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My name is Dr. Uchenna Umeh and I am an immigrant (Physician)

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Dear Blog,

As far back as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be an architect. My journey to becoming a physician started somewhat as a dare. I was born in Nigeria, the first child of six children from middle class parents. My father served in the Nigerian Air Force, my mother, a Banker.

Towards the end of my secondary education (I attended an all-girls boarding secondary school, F.G.G.C Bakori, making me a Bakorian for life!) my father asked me the natural question, “So what are you going to study in the university?” I eagerly answered “Architecture!” He went on to say the words which hit me like bricks. “Nne, you are a woman, architecture? why don’t you study pharmacy like your (female) cousin? I was bewildered but not for too long, you see, in the Nigeria of my father’s and my childhood, certain professions were still “meant” for certain sexes. I gently and calmly explained to him that I would rather study medicine if I must do something in the “medical field”. Then he added, “But medicine is for men, why don’t you do something more feminine?” At this point, I promised him I would work really hard to prove to him that I could and would become a doctor, regardless of my sex. After completing medical school (I was one of a few females in my majority male graduating class) I decided I would like to go to the US for my residency, and I wanted none other than Howard University in Washington D.C. This decision was again met with “But you are a single female”, “America is so huge, and we really don’t know anyone there”, “How are you going to manage on your own?” “I hear that everyone uses drugs out there”, “You are not married yet”, “What about children?”, “Will you meet a nice Naija guy to marry?”, “Don’t forget your Igbo o”, on and on and on …

Foreign medical graduates take the ECFMG/USMLE exams to get into residency in the US. These exams are tough, they are expensive, and those of us from Nigeria, had to travel to Ghana to take them, because it was the only country with test centers in West Africa at that time. After scaling each exam with one try, I applied for residency. After my experience with the entire process, I became a believer in the power of speaking one’s destiny into existence. I applied (from my home in Nigeria) to a total of seventy-five different residency programs. Eight of them responded, six turned me down, and only two invited me for interviews. In the process of raising money for my trip, obtaining a visa from the US Embassy, and finally “coming to America”, I made it just in time for my interview at Miami Children’s Hospital, but I arrived at Washington D.C, one day late for my interview at Howard University Hospital.

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Now I need to explain to you that while I was in Nigeria, I somehow managed to keep and maintain a line of communication with the secretary of the department of pediatrics at Howard University Hospital. I called her frequently, closely following the progress of my application, and folks, that singular act, ended up saving the day. She amazingly recognized my voice, the lady that had been bugging her all the way from Nigeria! Thankfully, she was able to secure another spot for an interview for me, only by the good grace of God. I must mention here, what my odds were: I was a day late for my interview, there were over 4000 applicants, there were fourteen positions, and I got matched! How’s that for fulfilling my destiny?

As a “newbee” in America, I had many memorable firsts. My first greyhound bus ride from New York to the Nation’s Capital, the first Bratwurst hot dog I ate on the streets of New York, the sounds and smells of the subway stations of Washington D.C and New York, the sheer number of homeless people on the streets, the huge number of teen-aged mothers pushing baby strollers on every corner of the streets of Queens, my first encounter with a flasher on a Brooklyn-bound New York subway train, etc… but the cherry on top was undoubtedly the golden opportunity to train at Howard University, and to have matched at my very first try!

Residency itself, was not particularly difficult. The hospital had enough Nigerian residents and faculty for my comfort. However, as a recent immigrant, I had to adjust my ears to understand the American English, its many accent(s), and its unique vocabulary. I remember especially having a hard time with phrases like “glove compartment” not pigeon hole, “flash light” not torch light, and “diaper rash” not nappy rash. Never mind the new spellings of words like color not colour, tire not tyre, pediatrics, not paediatrics or estrogen, not oestrogen. I also had to re-learn old medications with new names like “Tylenol”, instead of Paracetamol/Panadol, “Amoxicillin” not Ampiclox, and the fact that there are absolutely no antimalarials, or typhoid medications being prescribed anywhere! I was puzzled by the fact that most people I met were impressed by my English language and vocabulary. “Where did you learn how to speak English?” they’d ask, “You ain’t gat no kids at twenty-seven years old?” and one of my favorites was “How did you get to America, did you fly? to which I would usually respond “No, I sailed on La Amistad to the shores of Georgia, and swam the rest of the way”(seriously??, rolling eyes emoji), and there was the occasional “So you are Nigerian, do you happen to know Hakeem Olajuwon?”, to which I would gladly say “No, but maybe you know Michael Jordan?”… I tell ya…! SMH

I eventually completed residency, got married, moved to South Carolina and started a private practice. With a J-1 VISA, I had to start up in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) in Lancaster county, South Carolina. I adjusted well. I had one son at the time, and my practice was doing okay, until one fateful day, a disgruntled mom reminded me that I was far away from home with the words, “Go back to your country and stop taking our jobs!” I’m like…what? These words came from an unemployed citizen who felt I had to give her child antibiotics for a cold or else…(…more eye rolling) Funny enough, these days, I sometimes ponder on her words, how she could have ever imagined I was taking her job? or how I could have been of any sort of threat to her source of livelihood? Other than that, and a few other interesting comments like “Ma’am, I love your accent”, or “Doc, I don’t want to mess up your name, so I will just spell it out”, or, “You have an accent, is it Jamaican?” life in these united states has for the most part, been good.

It has been nearly twenty-five years since I first came into this country, nervous, afraid, but bright-eyed and determined to get into residency, at none other than the Howard University Hospital.

H.U!

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“Obstacles do not block the path, they are the path”       -anonymous

 “I didn’t come this far, to only come this far”       -anonymous

“Believe in yourself and all that you are, and know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle…”          – Christian D Larson

 

PS: My website dedicated to fighting teen depression and teen suicide, teenalive.com is LIVE, click the link to check it out!