Vanisa Ezukuse - Inspired to Make an Impact in Marginalized Communities
Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, Vanisa Ezukuse remembers seeing a bridge that represented a stark divide in her community. “There was such a strong dichotomy between rich and poor in Lagos—all you needed to do was cross the bridge to see it,” she says. “For example, malaria is a leading cause of death in Nigeria. On one side of the bridge, I saw that people could take malaria medicine even if they just had mild symptoms. On the other side, people were dying from lack of access to the same medicine.”
Vanisa was bothered by the obvious health disparities. “As a kid, I wondered, ‘Why is this?’ It always bugged me. A lot of people have the mindset that ‘it is what it is,’ but it shouldn’t be like that,” she says. “If someone needs help, they should be able to access it, and there should be more people working to help them.”
The fourth-semester AUC UK Track student has dedicated her career to becoming part of the solution. “My main goal is to help marginalized communities,” says Vanisa. “Becoming a physician will give me the tools I need to do the most good that I can.”
From Nursing to Medicine
Vanisa and her family moved several times throughout her childhood and teenage years—in addition to Nigeria, she’s lived in Canada, the United States, South Africa, Singapore, and Germany—but she’s sought out ways to give back, no matter where she is.
During undergrad at McGill University in Quebec, where she studied nursing, Vanisa worked with underserved populations, including indigenous communities and people experiencing homelessness and addiction. Upon graduating, Vanisa traveled back to Nigeria with the Society of Family Health and spent six weeks doing outreach in rural communities to help provide accessible ways to reduce the risk of malaria infection.
She went on to earn her master’s degree in health and rehabilitation science at Western University in Ontario before enrolling in AUC’s UK Track program.
“I chose AUC‘s UK Track for the class sizes and I’ve been really pleased with all the access to professors. Overall, my experience has been great, I really love it here,” says Vanisa. “I feel that the more you can interact with people, the more passionate you can be about learning the material. And if I have questions, I can always ask my classmates—it’s easy to share knowledge.”
Leading the SGA and Supporting New Students
Here at the UK Track, she’s continued to channel her passions and energy into the community around her. She is the president of the UK Track Student Government Association (SGA), tutors Pathology 1 and Medical Microbiology, and has served as a founding member of several other UK Track clubs, including the Surgery Interest Group, the Intramural Sports Club, the Multicultural Association and the Christian Agape Club.
“I’ve always been the person who gets involved and immerses myself in the community,” says Vanisa. “I chose to be involved in SGA because I felt like I could leave an impact in this position. I enjoy being involved and it gives me something to focus on besides school.”
As SGA president, she’s led projects such as the Mind to Mind program, which pairs incoming students with an upperclassman mentor to help them transition to medical school in the UK.
“It was so great to see this program come to life,” says Vanisa. “When I came here in first semester, I felt like if I had a dedicated person to confide in and ask for resources, it would’ve helped me a lot. The whole point is to have someone like a big brother or big sister. For example, if you’re shy you may not want to ask your questions on a forum or talk to classmates you don’t know, but now you have that one person who you can ask what to pack, what bank to use, where to find good food. And if you’re able to have less anxiety starting out and have a smoother transition, I think you’re able to be more successful with your academics.”
Pursuing Surgery to Make a Difference
Vanisa aspires to specialize in surgery and hopes to ultimately practice in Nigeria. “I’m most interested in cardio or orthopedic surgery,” she says. “I know that cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in many communities, but especially in Nigeria, it’s up there next to infectious disease. So that’s part of why I’d like to become a cardiothoracic surgeon, but I think any kind of surgeon can have an impact there as well.”
Her advice for new medical students? “Take a deep breath—it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Vanisa says. “It’s so easy to feel like you need to study nonstop, but you don’t want to burn out. Go smell the roses, do things you like that calm you down. For example, I like anime and I schedule time into my agenda just for anime-watching so that I can relax and know that this is my time, and I can do it without feeling guilty. This is a long journey—make sure to enjoy your life along the way.”