Ike Okwuosa, MD, and John Pandolfino, MD, Honored by I Am Abel Foundation
July 12, 2021 | 3 min. to read
Two NM physicians were recently celebrated as champions of people who are underserved by and underrepresented in medicine. Ike Okwuosa, MD, received the Impact Medical Educator of the Year Award and John Pandolfino, MD, received the Hero in Healthcare Angel Award at the I Am Abel Foundation Heroes Gala on May 14.
Both physicians have supported I Am Abel Foundation’s commitment to bridging socioeconomic gaps and promoting achievement among underrepresented minority inner city youth. They have been part of I Am Abel’s Urban Bridges Mentoring Program, which is in partnership with NM. As part of this program, high school students, college students and college graduates are given a blueprint to pursue careers in medicine while they receive the support they need to achieve their goals. The Saturday Morning Professor Lecture Series teaches students “the language of medicine” by exposing them to medical knowledge through clinical cases.
This early exposure to clinical medicine builds skills in critical thinking while simultaneously building confidence and supporting enthusiasm for medicine. Students also receive one-on-one mentoring with a physician and with a medical student as they work toward careers in medicine. Participants receive affirmative academic advising, academic STEM support, and third-party test preparation materials, tutoring and coaching for the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT.
“Dr. Okwuosa and Dr. Pandolfino have helped so many students grow into people who will serve others through careers in medicine and research,” says LaMenta Sweetie Conway, MD, MPH, founder and board president of I Am Abel Foundation. “They have helped us create opportunities for students who dream of careers in medicine and research. Our participants have received support in math, science, public health, research and more, and develop relationships with mentors that last long after they’ve progressed into medical school and beyond.”
As an advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologist at NMH, Dr. Okwuosa provides care for patients with all stages of heart failure. He leads the I Am Abel Heart Smart Program, which introduces mentees to clinical concepts in cardiology. As part of this program, high school students read EKGs and learn the indications for heart transplantation in patients with advanced heart failure.
“I am reinvigorated each time I meet the students who will be our successors as physicians,” Dr. Okwuosa says. “I Am Abel Foundation gives me the opportunity to mentor young people who see my career path as a far-off dream. We give them access to support and resources so they can achieve their personal and professional goals, and it is beyond rewarding to watch them succeed.”
Dr. Pandolfino is the Hans Popper Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at NMH. He specializes in esophageal diseases at the Northwestern Medicine Digestive Health Center. Dr. Pandolfino and his team teach mentees of I Am Abel Foundation about advanced topics in gastroenterology and provide hands-on learning of endoscopic procedures.
“All of the physicians who volunteer with I Am Abel Foundation say we learn as much from the students as they do from us,” says Dr. Pandolfino. “We’ve gained more insight into the disparities that make it difficult for students from underserved communities to become physicians. Our programs directly address some of the issues that affect medical school admissions – it’s hard to study for the MCATs if you’re holding down several jobs, or if you can’t afford the expensive preparatory classes. I Am Abel addresses barriers to diversity and inclusion in medicine, and shows students that with perseverance, they are able to achieve their dreams.”