Patients first

Patients first

Her medical degree from CMSRU in hand, Daisy Obiora’s next step is a residency in urology

It was a necessary and important tool. But when it came to talking to patients, Daisy Obiora didn’t much like the rubric—the bedside protocol--Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) students were expected to follow.

Interacting with patients—learning their medical histories, understanding their needs, being there for them at a time when they were unwell and feeling vulnerable—came naturally to her.

“Initially, you’re really anxious and nervous. But, once you get past the initial anxiety, it becomes second nature. You know you have to ask things because they’re going to grade you on that. But, as you get comfortable, you start to pick and choose your questions.

“A lot of being a good physician rides on knowing the information and having good technical skill. But a lot comes from your interaction with patients—what you do, how you act,” continues Obiora, who grew up in Nigeria. “One of the biggest things I learned is, irrespective of what might be going on with me, our interaction is a big deal for them. I always need to put my best foot forward for my patients. People do better with their health if they have a trusted relationship with their physician.”

Dr. John McGeehan, associate professor at CMSRU, beams with pride when he hears that. Obiora, he says, embodies the mission of the school, which was founded in 2012 and was the first new medical school in New Jersey in more than 35 years. It also was the first M.D.-granting school ever in South Jersey. CMSRU is a partnership between Rowan and The Cooper Health System.

Obiora, who accepted her medical degree as a proud member of CMSRU’s second graduating class on Friday, May 12, is a shining example of the patient-centered approach to medical education that is a hallmark at the Camden-based school, McGeehan says.

Competitive, male-dominated specialty

She is heading off to her residency at Cooper University Health Care, where she’ll specialize in urology—a highly competitive, male dominated field, according to McGeehan.

“Thirty percent of students who apply to urology don’t get in and it’s becoming more and more difficult to get in,” says McGeehan, who was director of admissions and dean of students when Obiora applied to CMSRU.

“I could see Daisy’s spark right away. In her very first semester, she excelled. She is one of the top medical students we’ve had.

“She really listens to patients," McGeehan adds. "The patients feel that she’s there for them. When someone is where they belong, they blossom. Daisy belonged at CMSRU.”

Obiora knew CMSRU was for her immediately—so much so that, once she had her interview, she cancelled all other interviews at other medical schools where she had applied. In order to give her access to the best medical school education they could, Obiora’s parents uprooted their family from Nigeria and moved to New Jersey in 2004.

From Johns Hopkins to CMSRU

Obiora earned her bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular neuroscience in 2011 from Johns Hopkins University and applied to CMSRU mainly because the school’s mission—and its location in Camden—resonated with her.

“I only applied to schools with a more service-oriented mission,” says Obiora. “In my CMSRU interview, people greeted me as if I they had known me forever. I thought, ‘Wow, I really love this place.’ I wanted to have experience working with the people of Camden. CMSRU was a great fit for me.

“I love our dedication to the humanities in medicine and the fact that we’re required to do 40 hours of service a year kept me grounded. I got to know my professors very well. They were invested in seeing us succeed. It was great to be part of that.”

Before applying at CMSRU, Obiora went back to Nigeria and worked at a children’s hospital and in a supervised living setting for people with disabilities who were wards of the state. Both experiences convinced her that medicine was the right path for her. Working in the Cooper Rowan Clinic—a faculty-supervised, student-run medical clinic for uninsured Camden residents—solidified that decision, she says. All CMSRU students begin working in the clinic in the first month of their first year and continue working as student health providers all four years of medical school.

“We worked in every part of the clinic—the front desk, seeing patients, the pharmacy. There’s a lot of learning as you go.

“There are patients who come in who view you as their physician,” she continues. “That level of responsibility in gradual doses at an early stage was really amazing.”

Watching CMSRU grow

A Sicklerville resident, Obiora lived on Camden’s Benson Street during most of her CMSRU years. Though she had thoughts of becoming a general surgeon, halfway through her third year she decided on urology.

“I really like the variety with urology,” says Obiora. “There’s a good amount of surgery and I’ll work with men, women, children and oncology patients.  With urology, you’re able to improve someone’s quality of life with intervention.”

According to Obiora, eight percent of practicing urologists are female. Improving that statistic wasn’t her impetus to go into the field, but she’s excited that she is seeing an uptick in the number of medical school graduates pursuing that specialty. Susan Talamini, who graduated in CMSRU’s inaugural class last year, is in a residency in urology at University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago.

“There are a lot more female urologists in training than actually practicing. We do exist,” Obiora says. “Everyone I’ve met in the field has been very welcoming. And the Cooper Urology Department is really fantastic.”

Obiora is excited to stay in New Jersey to complete her residency. Being at Cooper will allow her to also watch the medical school grow.

“It’s nice to be close enough to see what CMSRU will be like in 10 years,” she says.

Career of distinction

Obiora found out she matched at Cooper in January via an email. So she wasn’t part of the big CMSRU Match Day celebration this spring. But she was thrilled to celebrate that day with her classmates. The class, she says, has become a family. Obiora was one of 64 students admitted to CMSRU in 2013 among 4,000 applicants.

“Cooper is unique because we attract a certain type of medical school student,” says Obiora. “I’ve made some really great lifelong friends at CMSRU. You spend so much time with them that they become a second family.”

Obiora’s CMSRU career has been one of distinction. Admitted to the Chiron Medical Honor Society, which honors student who have excelled academically for four years, she has conducted and published research in the area of osteoarthritis, served as a peer tutor, and represented CMSRU students to the Liaison Committee on Medical Education—the accrediting body for medical education programs leading to MD degree in the United States and Canada.

Moreover, she regularly volunteers with Heart of Camden Housing and Community Development and with the city’s Cathedral Kitchen.

“It’s great to volunteer there. You meet different kinds of people and you get to learn their stories. It’s one of my favorite things to do,” she says.

The Class of 2017’s white coat ceremony—during which students received their white coats, emblematic of their journeys to become physicians—seems like a century ago, says Obiora. So much has happened since that day in September of 2013, she says.

“I remember looking out into the room and thinking, ‘Oh, wow.’ But we had no idea what that white coat really means,” Obiora says.

Now, she’s keenly aware of the symbolism—and functionality—of the white coat she has rightfully, proudly earned.

“It really does feel ‘right’ now. It has great pockets and it’s a hassle to keep up with because it’s white,” Obiora laughs.

“But it represents something when you walk into a patient’s room. For me, the best part about medicine is talking to patients and providing a solution to a problem. The relationship of trust with a patient is as important as any drug out there.”