In celebration of Black History Month, Mercy Health is spotlighting some of our many colleagues who are contributing to the health and safety of our patients and the communities of West Michigan.
Nnaemeka E. Egwuatu, MD
Infectious Disease Specialist
Mercy Health Saint Mary’s
Raised in Nigeria and trained on three continents, Dr. Nnaemeka Egwuatu works for Mercy Health Saint Mary’s and practices in a general infectious disease clinic in the Wege Center that also serves patients who are HIV-positive.
Question: How long have you been working at Mercy Health? What is your area of expertise?
Answer: I’ve been at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s for 14 and a half years. I came in 2006. My area of expertise is Infectious Disease.
Q: Positively or negatively, how has race has impacted your experience as a clinical colleague?
A: For me, I always assume that things have not been difficult because of my race, but that may be a little naïve. My relationships with my colleagues have been great. I have been treated really well by my colleagues throughout my time here. Some patients might say something every now and again, but I attribute it to ignorance. I try to make sure they see me for who I am and not my color. That is the way I was raised.
Q: What or who has been an inspiration to you during your journey?
A: My dad is a physician. Seeing him work made me think that is what I wanted to do. So, from very early on, I want to be a physician, primarily because of my dad.
Q: Tell us about your education.
A: I completed medical school in Nigeria and some of it in England, then moved there at age 24. I discussed options including Ophthalmology with my father and then went on to do Ophthalmology training for about four years in England. While doing that I saw a patient with HIV and an eye disease, and I thought I should do HIV/Public Health work internationally. So I came to the U.S. to study Public Health, and I did my studies at Columbia University in New York. Then I thought it would be wise to do more training, so I did a residency and a fellowship. I came to Michigan planning to stay for two years. I am still here. That has been my journey.
A: Would you encourage others to consider a career in health care? What should they do to start their journey?
Q: I think it’s a fulfilling career. Every day I feel fulfilled, mostly, with what I do. With health care you can do so many things. You can do clinic work, hospital work, work with the government or not-for-profits. I think having a mentor would help to guide you. Get some advice and work hard in the necessary subjects.
Q: How has it been different working during the pandemic?
A: The pandemic has been scary because I thought I might get infected and infect my wife and my kids. So, I have this process every day of decontaminating myself after work. It’s been a lot of hours and emotionally stressful. You see lots of people not doing well and not having people around them. Over time, knowing that PPE works, it has been a little better. Long periods of work and seeing more deaths than usual has been more emotionally stressful for me and my family, and for the patients and their families. That has been the challenge for the past year.
I am encouraged by vaccines and that things will get better in the next few months, we hope. I have been vaccinated. I have sent pictures of my vaccination to my social media groups — medical school groups, high school groups, my family, people I know — so we can improve hesitancy about the vaccine, especially in communities of color. I try to reassure them that this a safe and effective vaccine.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers about being Black in America?
A: I think just seeing everyone as human and the same will help reduce prejudice, which is often borne out of ignorance and fear. I think it would improve things for everyone in America and the world if we see all people as wanting the best for their children and their families.