From High School Dropout, To Thriving Doctor On The Nashville Frontlines

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Dr. Gerald Onuoha is an internal medicine physician working in acute hospital care in the Nashville area. Dr. Onuoha grew up in Huntsville, AL and moved to Nashville when he was 17. 

Looking back over your life there are always pivotal moments guiding your course. Moments where you know taking a left vs. right would have switched up the whole game for you. For Dr. Gerald Onuhoa his discerning moments led him to helping and healing people in our Nashville community. For this millennial doctor, his path was not traditional and his story is one to take in for all those whose journey may not be so linear. Cool, if you just call him Gerald, he shares, “that was my name before I was a doctor.” It was refreshing to get a look into an industry that is so common yet at times the inner workings are extrinsic to many of us. 

What inspired you to pursue a career in the medical field?

The first time I ever went to Nashville, I visited Tennessee State University. At that time, I had just gotten back into school after dropping out in the 10th grade. My cousin asked me to come to a summer program with him. I was offered a spot in this summer program and loved it. I was really into physics and astronomy and thought I was going to be an astrophysicist or an astronaut. However, when I was doing the research, there were some aspects of the career path that I did not like. I loved the science of it all, but I did not like the idea of working alone. I wanted to find something where I could help others and work with people. At one of my summer internships at the University of Chicago, I did a medical and biophysical internship. It was there where I fell in love with medicine.

The first time I ever visited Nashville, I visited Tennessee State University. At that time, I had just gotten back into high school after dropping out in the 10th grade.

Coming from Huntsville, what made you want to stay in Nashville?

Coming to Nashville, I got a chance to really interact with the community and loved it. Myself along with some of my colleagues started a program called Project Dream to inspire and motivate inner city high school students to venture into healthcare fields like medicine and dentistry. It was working in this program that really made me fall in love with the community. I consider this my home now. When I first moved to Nashville, it was so small. I considered it to be similar to Huntsville, but Nashville is booming now! It’s been cool to see.

How does your work day look now vs. pre COVID-19?

Before COVID-19, I was working as an acute care doctor. I also had plans of opening an internal medicine clinic. My mind was focused on making sure I was out there, giving the community what they needed in terms of health care. Once COVID-19 hit, all of that changed. It used to be that I could work 7 days and then off for 7 days, not really thinking about anything work related. Now, I am thinking about COVID-19 all day long. I am really in the pursuit of trying to beat this monster. Doctors are working around the clock trying to make sure that we give patients adequate care while trying to figure out the best way to treat the disease. As of right now there is still no cure or vaccine for COVID. We do have experimental drugs that have shown some benefits, but we still don’t have all of the data.

In the midst of COVID-19, how have you been able to have a work-life balance?

It’s tough but I have obligated myself to do it. There’s no way that you can work nonstop like this without freeing your mind, so I’ve altered my schedule. I wake up early in the morning to pray, meditate, and read. If it’s my work week, I go to work and try to do all the work there between my 12 to14 hours. When I come home, I catch up with my family. I don’t really have much time to watch TV, but I do try to listen to a little D-Nice every now and then, to keep my peace. Overall, I try to have that balance even though it can be hard to do.

COVID-19 has definitely changed the way we view the world. It has also disproportionately affected African Americans. How can we combat these stats and what role does food play into it? 

COVID-19 has revealed a lot of things about our world. If you look at the data, you will see that African Americans are impacted the most by this disease and have the highest rate of mortality. This pandemic has put a light on just how important healthcare is to everyone and how at times African Americans benefit less from our healthcare system.

I think that we have to do something we have never done before: transition our mindsets.

I think that we have to do something we have never done before: transition our mindsets. In the past, our ancestors and grandparents told us we had to eat these certain foods (that came from the pig and the cow) because that was all that was given to us during those times. Now that we have more opportunities, we have the room to transition our mindsets to assist with living and eating in a healthier way. There are ways to keep those cultural meals and still remain healthy, and of course, everything is okay in moderation. Small steps like increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in our diet, eating less fatty meats, exercising, and drinking more water will dramatically change the disparities that impact African Americans. 

However, there are factors that we cannot control. For example, is there a park near your community? We know that barriers exist, but that creates more reason for us to come together and develop a plan for the healthier living of the community. Individualism is no longer going to help the state of African Americans. In the future, collaboration is going to be the new “bag.” That is what will make our community a lot stronger when it comes to health, wellness, and even wealth.

In the future, collaboration is going to be the new “bag.”

With the recent events of social injustices around the country, do you feel you have a greater responsibility to share your story?

I think it is very important for me to use the network and resources that I have to bring people together and draw them in, especially African American men and also people of all groups. There are a lot more things that we have alike than we have different, so helping other people understand that is important. African Americans have gone through a lot. It’s very important for us as a group to come together, love each other, support each other, and put good energy into the atmosphere. That is what should guide us and be the narrative surrounding us.

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