Uche Medoh: MSc/PhD Student, Stanford University
"I want to use my success as a way to motivate students and get them excited about science. I think that would be an effective way to give back."
Uche Medoh is a MSc/PhD studend at Stanford School of Medicine. He earned his Bachelors in chemistry at Yale and is the son of Nigerian parents.
We sat down with Uche to find out about his career trajectory and all things medicine.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I grew up in Upper Marlboro, Maryland in Prince George's County. It was a predominantly African American community, and I spent most of my childhood and adolescence there. I am of Nigerian descent, and my parents immigrated here about three decades ago. They immigrated here to provide me the opportunity to pursue a successful education that they weren't necessarily able to pursue back in Nigeria. They gave me and my two other siblings all the resources and guidance we need to do just that
My schooling—elementary and middle school—was through the Kettering school system. I would say those experiences weren't the best for providing me a good education. Fortunately, a new school opened up on Prince George's Community College's campus, known as the Academy of Health Sciences, which essentially gave young precocious students the opportunity to pursue a college degree and high school diploma upon matriculation. Having that opportunity, I decided to forgo my scholarship to go to DeMatha High School to play football as a wide receiver and immediately go to pursue a career in science.
What motivated you to pursue medicine and research?
I have always loved sports growing up and playing football, but I didn't have any science exposure at that time. It's hilarious, but I found a show on the History Channel called Ancient Aliens—one of those shows that try to connect an unexplained event in history to visitation by aliens. It was very much science fiction in that regard. But that show was instrumental in exposing me to science. I would watch that show, then go to football practice later that afternoon and just look into the sky wondering, “What's out there? Are we alone? This universe is so vast. It’s mind boggling. I want to understand it.” Astronomy became a real passion of mine, which later shifted into more biology and health-focused sciences. That's really how it started. I'm incredibly thankful for having been exposed because I don't know if I would have made the decisions following that.
Tell us about your experiences in college?
I decided to matriculate at Yale. For me, that was a very clear decision. Although I was set on pursuing an MD/PhD, I didn't really want to go to a school that limited me to just the medical sciences. I wanted to pursue a liberal arts education that made me a multifaceted academic. I certainly think that Yale did that for me, so I am thankful. Yale was a very transformative experience for me. It was really the first time where I left a predominantly Black community and really became a minority. I think it was a good environment to be in, because it's a very progressive campus, and there are many mentors and resources available to you early on to truly pursue whatever you want in life. People are there to support you every step of the way. That is the crux of the Yale experience for me—the limitless resources and mentorship and guidance that you can receive there. Because of the pretty high teacher to student ratio, you do have the opportunity to make close connections with your professors, and they have the time to invest in your growth so you can maximize your potential. I really enjoyed it for that reason.
Were there any home values that you carried with you to Yale?
My dad played a pivotal role. He would lecture my brother and I every Sunday growing up about core values to have—core approaches and philosophies. He really instilled a good work ethic. He would always say, “work before play.” And that's certainly something I took into college, understanding that I'm here for a reason. Although I was young, and it was an opportunity to experience life, it is really an opportunity to make the most out of four years that can really define your entire career. I came in with that energy. I'm also a Christian and that was always with me. Despite being in a different environment and despite being somewhat far away from home, it definitely kept me on a straight path.
What happened after you got your undergraduate degree?
I made a decision to pivot from pursuing a MD/PhD to a PhD in biochemistry during my senior year when I learned about the pharmaceutical industry and how [we can improve] at developing drugs and cures that will help people, especially with rare or refractory disease like Alzheimer's or cancer. These are the chronic diseases that are going to be facing the majority of the population as we age. Looking at how absorb the costs for these medications really motivated me to immediately make a difference, to not wait to pursue a combined degree. As a result, I applied to PhD programs in biochemistry, and I was fortunate enough to matriculate at Stanford University to pursue my PhD in biochemistry and Master's in medicine which affords the opportunity to pursue the first two years of medical school, largely the preclinical curriculum. There, you get a theoretical understanding of medicine, human biology, and disease. In my experience, taking the first year thus far, I've realized how critical it is for me to think with the end in mind, which is ultimately the patient. I really can't undervalue the insight I could gain from treating patients and how that would inform what I'm doing within the lab. For that reason, I decided to finish the last two years of medical school.
What are your future aspirations?
My future ambition is to have completed my MD/PhD and start my own lab as a principal investigator at an R1 research institution. In addition, I want to start my own bio-pharmaceutical company, particularly geared towards addressing age-related diseases. The idea is to shed light on a particular sort of path: academia and biotech entrepreneurship. I think it's important for people to recognize it is available, because this is the way you make an impact. By being the one not only to make the critical discovery in the lab, but also to directly provide the impetus for drug projects to begin to develop a cure for diseases. That's what I want to do throughout my entire career, to study very difficult diseases and develop cures directly through biotech entrepreneurship.
What is some advice you can give people interested in pursuing a medical career?
Get involved in research early. For me, that meant high school, but it doesn't have to be that early. Secondly and most importantly, seek mentors.
"Seek people who will believe in you, who will provide guidance and early advice on how to best situate yourself to be competitive... and to ultimately realize your dreams."
I had mentors very early on. They exposed me to different careers and provided a path forward to attain them.
Those are the two most important things to do. Pursue research early. It can be through internships or through academic year research assistantships within labs. Then just reach out and talk to as many professors as possible. Find ones that you jive with and who will believe in you to get you to where you want to be.
What is the ultimate legacy that you want to leave behind?
I have grand ambitions. Through my biopharmaceutical entrepreneurship I want to be able to develop cures for refractory diseases that will help people long after I’m gone. I want to use that to establish a monitoring platform from which I can give back to the communities that helped me get where I am today. That means Prince George's County in Maryland, a place that doesn't have the most resources to provide the best education to students of color. I look at someone like Kevin Durant who is from that county. He gave $10 million to support the Prince George’s County public school system. And that's certainly something that I want to be able to do in the future—really engage in some philanthropic efforts to establish programs so that people growing up can achieve whatever they want uninhibitedly.
Also, I want to directly engage in science education. I look at Neil deGrasse Tyson and how he's been able to motivate students all across the country and also internationally to pursue science careers. I want to use my success as a way to motivate students and get them excited about science. I think that would be an effective way to give back.