When Passion Fuels a Physician’s Educational Journey
Dr. Stella Onuoha-Obilor
When Dr. Stella Onuoha-Obilor, a Nigerian-trained physician, left her practice in her home country to join her husband in the U.S. more than 10 years ago, she knew she could leverage her medical background and continue making a difference through the field of public health.
“I have this great passion to impact the lives of people around me,” says Dr. Onuoha-Obilor, a senior medical management clinician for CenterLight Health System in the Bronx, where she instituted an exercise program that includes Zumba fitness classes during lunch and after work.
Her inspiration for earning her Master of Public Health (MPH) and Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) is to help improve the delivery of value-based healthcare. Dr. Onuoha-Obilor looked for higher education opportunities that would not only align with her personal mission but also accommodate her busy lifestyle. “When I read Walden’s mission of positive social change I said, ‘Wow, this is for me. I am an activist for social justice.’” And, she says, “Anyone can do it; it’s all about determination.”
When she’s not working, studying, or taking care of her family, Dr. Onuoha-Obilor is making a difference in her community. She credits her MPH experience with helping her encourage community and church members to exercise more. As a result, she has developed six Body & Soul fitness programs in local churches in the Bronx to increase physical activity and promote healthy eating to fight obesity.
As a lifelong learner at Walden, Dr. Onuoha-Obilor shares some tips for other online students who are working toward their educational goals:
Know what you want. Set goals based on your needs and priorities. However, she cautions, always have a timeline for what you want to achieve. You are your own advisor, so figure out which approach works best for you. “I always say one has to be disciplined; it’s key to learning. I have time to do homework and to care for my children, and I study after they go to sleep.”
Take it step-by-step. Dr. Onuoha-Obilor recommends starting with the end in mind. “Once you say you can do it, no one will advise you better than yourself. You have to be your own cheerleader.” In addition to strong self-motivation, build a network that includes family, friends, and colleagues and allows time to connect with them. Remember, your success is the success of your community.
Ask for help. If you don’t ask for help, you won’t receive it. She frequently writes to her instructors, which has led to a good rapport and allowed her flexibility when she needed it. “We have good teachers who give their time to help us.” She also says it’s critical to make use of all of the university’s resources. Walden creates a community of learning to support its students through help from faculty members, peers, personal advisors, the Student Support Team, and staff at the Writing Center, the library, and career planning and development. “Take advantage of all of the resources available to you,” she says.
Dr. Onuoha-Obilor hopes her doctorate from Walden will help her achieve a leadership role that will allow her to impact policy, regulations, and rules that pertain to healthcare in the U.S. She also would like to return to Nigeria and help transform its healthcare system. “Having practiced in Nigeria, I can’t close my eyes; I can’t forget my humble beginnings. If I can effect change back home, I must share my knowledge and do all that I can.”