Sometimes listening to your patients is what they need to be able to get better- I truly believe our mind affects our bodies and our health. I have noticed that when I take time to listen to my patients, I find out other ways I can be of help and encouragement to them which inturn makes providing proper and well tailored healthcare.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Sewuese Akuse.
Dr. Sewuese Akuse is a Nigerian-born medical doctor and clinical researcher. Through her life-saving work, she aims to close the gap in health disparities in the United States for marginalized and minority women. Gender bias persists in health care, often leading women not to receive evidence-based care and severely impacting health outcomes. Dr. Akuse first learned of these inequities while attending Medical School in Nigeria, where she often donated her skillset to helping women with HIV and cervical cancer. During that time, she focused on educating her patients while finding them the medications to treat their health conditions and the tools to improve their mental health. Dr. Akuse came to America to earn a Master of Public Health focused on Epidemiology from Georgia Southern University and further expand her mission of providing high-quality healthcare and health education to women who would otherwise not have access. Her current research is focused on breast cancer screening and treatment, as well as other chronic diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, areas that often see the most considerable disparities among women. Dr. Akuse’s extraordinary work both in clinical medicine and in research will continue to shape medical access and knowledge in America for those who most need it.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path.
I have always gravitated towards medicine because I was fortunate to be surrounded by medical doctors and other health professionals in my family growing up. But what made me also want to go into research and public health was when I was working in a small town in my home country Nigeria. I was the only doctor at the community college clinic. I diagnosed many cases of ectopic pregnancies (where a pregnancy grows outside the womb) in the dead of night. Ectopic pregnancies do not survive, and if left untreated can lead to the death of the mother. After I saw my third case in two months, I realized the best way to decrease the prevalence was to educate the students about the importance of safe sex practices to reduce the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease- one of the major causes of ectopic pregnancies. I collaborated with the nurses and laboratory technicians to give the college students talks on the signs of STDs, safe sexual practices using condoms, and the importance of early treatment. I worked hard to build rapport and interact with the students in a non-judgmental manner. Providing them with a safe place to seek sexual health information without feeling embarrassed or stigmatized was a rewarding and fulfilling experience. As I developed a love for providing compassionate and effective care, I realized I needed to equip myself with the right tools, experience, and updated information to become an excellent clinician. This quest to expand my clinical knowledge brought me to the United States, where I earned a Masters in Public Health with a focus on clinical research.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started out in research, I made the error of sending information with my subject’s name to a company. Now this was supposed to be a blinded study and the company was not supposed to know personal information like that. Luckily, I had sent it as an attachment. The person that received the email did not open the attachment before I had realized my mistake. I quickly contacted the person who then deleted the email without opening it. I had to report this as an event to the governing body of the institution at the time. It was deemed low risk since no one had opened the email, but it definitely made me double and triple check my work from there on out and made me very meticulous with whatever I am handling.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
One of the research topics I have worked on is on how to increase screening practices for chronic illnesses such as breast and cervical cancer among women, particularly in underserved communities. We found that educating women on the importance of early detection as well as providing access to healthcare was a major factor in encouraging women to be screened regularly. I have participated in outreaches in churches, schools and community fairs where we handed out pamphlets on cancer screening, answered questions and connected people with organizations that provide free breast and cervical cancer screening as well as cancer support.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I had a middle aged woman who had never had a mammogram come to my clinic once. At first when I broached the subject of breast cancer screening, she brushed it off. I did not want to seem pushy, but I asked her if there were any reasons she did not want to be screened. It turned out she had a family member who had died from breast cancer and was afraid it may happen to her. I explained to her that the best way to get ahead of this was to find out and then treat it as early as possible. She listened and had her mammogram screen. It turned out she did have early stage breast cancer. She had to go through chemotherapy and surgery, but she is doing well and is living a very full and active life. Infact, she brought other friends and families to get screened for breast cancer.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Raising more awareness about the importance of early screening and detection and on safe sex practices. This can be done through schools, social media, television, outreaches etc.
Donating time, money or both, to research institutions and bodies so there is more information about certain diseases and treatment options.
Providing better access to healthcare and health information on breast, cervical cancer and HIV. Making sure everyone is able to get to health professionals at a reasonable time, distance and cost.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is not being authoritarian or power drunk. It is noticing what strengths different people in your team have and seeing how these can be harnessed for the goal or purpose at hand. It is noting that everyone has a unique role to play and so giving everyone a chance to develop this. For example, whenever I am part of a collaboration of authors in writing a paper, we work on sections of the paper we are most proficient in. I am good at researching past works and finding data, my colleague may be good in maths, graphs and statistics. Another person good with editing and proofreading. This way when we send our papers to journals we know we are providing high quality work.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1 . . Be patient, Rome was not built in a day- the process of publishing research papers is cumbersome, time consuming and sometimes discouraging. But when you know you are providing salient information that could help provide better health practices, it makes it all worth it.
2 . Tough times don’t last forever — moving to the US and basically starting almost all over again was not an easy move or decision. But I have learned so much in my time here and amassed a lot of experience that I wouldn’t have it any other way.
3 . Always find time for the people you love- family is everything and I realized that more deeply when my dad died in 2014. Nobody will live forever, so even with busy work hours I try to spend time or connect with the people I love.
4 . Never lose your why- sometimes we can get numb to pain and death, just because in my line of work, we are surround by those experiences. But I make sure to not give up hope or forget the reason I became a doctor- to help people.
5 . Sometimes listening to your patients is what they need to be able to get better- I truly believe our mind affects our bodies and our health. I have noticed that when I take time to listen to my patients, I find out other ways I can be of help and encouragement to them which inturn makes providing proper and well tailored healthcare.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It would be to increase physical activity in all age groups. A lot of chronic diseases has been clnically linked to sedentary lifestyles and obesity. We are a generation of people who move the least, but consume the most calories. I would encourage people to move their bodies more starting from kindergarten to old age. I would tailor their activity levels to their age and encourage a healthier lifestyle. This could be through sports, a dedicated work out regimen or just plain walking thirty minutes everyday.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? There is a Nigerian proverb that states: Not to know is bad, but not to wish to know is worse. Basically, ignorance is not bliss! This has made me have a very curious mind and ask the questions ‘What if?’ and ‘Why?’
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
It would be the writer C.S Lewis. He wrote the Narnia books (as well as many others). He was such an amazing author that had hidden gems and meanings in his books. I would ask him how he developed his style and his process of writing such timeless novels.
How can our readers further follow your work online? My LinkedIn page is https://www.linkedin.com/in/sewuese-akuse-ba8059139/
and my Google scholar link is
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Dr. Sewuese Akuse Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.