Emmanuel Ofori, MD, (’12) found community at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) before he even arrived on campus.
On the initial plane ride down to St. Maarten from Baltimore, Dr. Ofori and his fellow passengers shuffled off the aircraft to wait out the layover in Charlotte, North Carolina. To pass the time, Dr. Ofori struck up a conversation with those nearest him: “Hey, are you going to medical school too?”
As luck would have it, they were.
“That was when we all realized we were in the same boat,” says Dr. Ofori. “It was a strong connection right from the get-go.”
Fast-forward to today, and Dr. Ofori is beginning a gastroenterology fellowship at Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York, following an internal medicine residency during which he was Chief Resident for 2015-2016. His colleagues are similarly dispersed across the country, but he’s still friends with that tight-knit group from his flight eight years ago.
“We kept each other accountable and made sure we took care of our studies, but we also enjoyed the experience,” says Dr. Ofori. “I figured this was the only time I’d get to live on a vacation island for two years and get a medical degree out of it.”
Becoming a “Ninja Chief”
Dr. Ofori grew up in Ghana and moved to Maryland at age 16. He was always good with the sciences, especially biology and physics, and knew he wanted to be in the medical field. But when his first round of applications to U.S. medical schools didn’t pan out, he started exploring other options.
Nervous to take a year off before reapplying to U.S. schools, Dr. Ofori talked with a close mentor about whether to go abroad instead. He decided it was worth a shot and began looking into Caribbean medical schools. AUC “appealed to him the most,” he says. Having earned his bachelor’s degree in biology at a small college, Xavier University in Cincinnati, Dr. Ofori liked the small class size and greater opportunity for personalized attention at AUC.
“AUC is a school that really believed in me when everybody else said I had to wait on becoming the doctor I wanted to be,” says Dr. Ofori. “It’s an opportunity—a very real opportunity—to have the career of your dreams.”
After completing his medical sciences curriculum on the island, Dr. Ofori headed to Brooklyn Hospital Center for residency in internal medicine. In the last year of his residency, he was selected as Chief Resident along with three of his colleagues—all of whom called themselves the “Ninja Chiefs.”
“It started out as a joke but eventually it caught on,” says Dr. Ofori, laughing. “We did everything from resolving personal conflicts to being disciplinarians while ensuring the program ran smoothly. At the same time, we were supporters of residents—you need to make them feel comfortable through their journey. And we were supportive of each other as chiefs.”
Asked what factors led to his earning the Chief Resident position, Dr. Ofori emphasizes the foundation he built at AUC during his medical science courses.
“My initial goal was to be the best internal medicine resident I could possibly be,” says Dr. Ofori. “So first and foremost, I made sure I knew my medicine. Otherwise I strived to be a good person, treating my colleagues as I’d want them to treat me, being a good friend and a good leader.”
A Legacy of Community
Dr. Ofori’s compassion and service-oriented style is evident in his role in developing an AUC tradition while he was still on island—Community Action Day. This once-per-semester daylong event brings students and faculty together to support communities and citizens around St. Maarten through activities that focus on health, education, animal welfare and environmental awareness.
While still at AUC completing the medical sciences curriculum, Dr. Ofori got the idea from a similar event that was held at his alma mater, Xavier University. He worked with his then-classmate Dr. Beatrice Kenol ('12), and faculty advisors Dr. Sue Atchley and Dr. Ron Testa, to make it a reality at AUC.
“For students who don’t have time to commit long-term to a cause or organization, it gives them a chance to give back at least once a semester,” says Dr. Ofori.
The inaugural Community Action Day offered various activities for students to volunteer at, including a beach cleanup, visiting residents at a local nursing home, spending time with at-risk youth in the community, and painting a local school.
“The community was very receptive,” says Dr. Ofori. “I think it helped better our relationship with them—giving a sense that we as international students really do want to contribute and make the lives of the local people a little better.”
While Dr. Ofori hasn’t been able to be on the island for another Community Action Day since, he enjoys seeing the photos posted on social media. He’s glad to know the community-focused mindset has only strengthened over time, and he enjoys sharing his experiences with new and prospective AUC students.
“I always tell them that, in the midst of undergrad or medical school, it can be hard to see it’s actually possible to get your MD,” says Dr. Ofori. “My hope is that when they see grads like myself out there doing it, they realize it’s very possible.”
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Posted July 14, 2016 09:27 AM