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Interdisciplinary Health Sciences (IHS) Meet Alum Frederick Okoye III IHS Program Class of 2016

Frederick Okoye III, Drexel Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Program Alum

Hometown: Morristown, New Jersey
Undergraduate: Lehigh University, BS in Biology
Student's next step: Entered Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Fall 2018

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself before you came to Drexel?

I graduated from Lehigh University with a biology degree. I've always been passionate about the biomedical sciences and the healthcare field, but I knew the credentials I had weren't strong enough. I was looking for various post-bac programs to boost my application credentials. I began working as an assistant manager at an infectious disease clinic and realized that all the things I wanted to do, I couldn't do without having an MD or a DO, so I decided to go back to school.

What was it about the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences (IHS) program that was attractive to you?

I began in the Master of Biomedical Studies (MBS) program, but I transferred to Interdisciplinary Health Sciences program because of the courses they offered. I had never been exposed to classes like embryology, histology, or neuropharmacology before so it was really interesting to get an introductory look into what I'd be doing or aspiring to do as a healthcare professional. More importantly, the program gave me an opportunity to tackle four or five higher level biomedical classes simultaneously. I appreciated the challenge at that stage of my life.

Can you tell me what your relationship with the faculty was like in the program?

My experience was very positive at Drexel. The faculty was really supportive and I had a really good relationship with Dr. Gaurnier-Hausser, my professors, and most of the graduate school. I'm grateful for the confidence they instilled in me. I worked as an admissions counselor while in school, helping review applications of prospective graduate students and recommending what program may suit them best. Ultimately, the decisions were made by the admissions board, but I was able to polish my interpersonal and presentation skills by giving tours and answering questions about the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences program.

What was your relationship with your classmates like?

I met some amazing people in my program and at Drexel in general. The relationships I cultivated here are different from my undergraduate experience because my Lehigh circle doesn't contain anyone in the biology field. Now I see my friends becoming practicing physicians and healthcare professionals from all over the world. It's awesome to see the growth. Since graduating two years ago, I still regularly keep in touch with my Drexel family.

What are you doing now?

I coach swimming, work at a lab, serve as a graduate tutor at Drexel and do a lot of community organizing. Later this month on April 28, 2018, I am hosting an event at Drexel's New College Building called "Alzheimer's in Our Community: Continuing the Conversation," focused on Alzheimer's disease and how it affects the Philadelphia community with a few non-profit organizations and institutions. In November 2017, I organized the first event with University of Pennsylvania Penn Memory Center and had keynote speaker Jason Karlawish, MD. This upcoming event will feature keynote speaker Jerry Johnson, MD, the chief of geriatrics at the Penn Medicine.

Have you always been interested in the topic of Alzheimer's disease? What do you hope to achieve with the event you're hosting?

It was pretty innocuous how I came to this topic. I had looked up the top ten leading causes of mortality in the United States, which were cardiovascular, cancer and at about number five or six was Alzheimer's disease. That had never occurred to me, so I started looking back through the Center of Disease Control (CDC) records for the last few years, and it has regularly been in the top five or top ten causes of death.

The baby boomer generation are all reaching their early or mid-sixties. The onset for Alzheimer's is around 50-65 years of age. The prevalence seems to be trending up, so this can become a serious problem for our aging population. Most importantly, it is going to cost a lot of money and I haven't seen or heard of any comprehensive plan for this disease. Research has hypotheses of the causes of Alzheimer's but it is still idiopathic (unknown). I want to bring attention to this issue so folks can be proactive, know the facts, know why they should get screened and how to locate support services for loved ones and caregivers. Currently, in the most diverse American communities, the likelihood of getting Alzheimer's is higher but receiving treatment and support are unfortunately not. If we get on this now, there's a chance this won't be detrimental.

Also, this initiative combines my passion for neurodegenerative disease and public health awareness. I want to sound the alarm, and, hopefully, folks will pay attention. So far, a few remarkable institutions and non-profit organizations have. Drexel has given me a platform and a set of transferable skills like public speaking, and I truly appreciate that. But I'm hoping that larger amounts of resources are allocated to research and development for a cure rather than for treating symptoms, because that's what seems to be the case now.

Have you always been interested in medicine?

Definitely. The fact that these unknowns like the cause of Alzheimer's disease can manifest in our finite bodies astonishes me. How science has discovered quite a bit, yet there is still so much to learn about our bodies is something I've been fascinated by. I've been in many different fields of work: from the lab to manual labor, coaching/personal training, retail, organizing and even some accounting, but this is the only one that I've volunteered whole summers to just to learn something new. I always feel like it's worth it. It's definitely something that I am obsessed about.

What advice do you have for current students and future students of the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences program?

Take the initiative from day one. The resources to succeed are all there. Also, network effectively. Take advantage of meeting terminal degree professionals and successful business owners. Remember: Post-baccalaureate education is an investment in yourself and you're worth it, but only you can make it work.

Graduate students in a Interdisciplinary Health Sciences lecture at Drexel University College of Medicine.

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