Chicago to Malawi to Navajo Nation: Expanding Who is My Patient | Nakyda Dean, MD

By Nakyda Dean, 2019-2021 HEAL Rotating Fellow

As a young African American woman from a poor neighborhood located in the west side of Chicago, I decided that I would become a physician. This side of town is not known for producing future professionals, but I took on a big dream at an early age. Unlike many medical students, my interest to pursue this field was not encouraged or inspired by role models in the field, but the lack thereof. Growing up in the urban area of Chicago, access to health care was limited, especially for uninsured families like mine. It was easier to access liquor and tobacco products underage than it was to receive quality medical care. My family rarely sought public health services. This task was very time consuming and the quality of care was beyond poor. Many times, my mom handled our medical needs at home. Although her knowledge was limited, by doing this in the privacy of our home, we avoided poor treatment from insensitive and judgmental health care professionals who ignored our needs. 

At a young age, I recognized the unequal access to health care that plagued our medical system. I later learned that this injustice is called health disparities. Experiencing this inequality firsthand inspired me to address this gap in medicine. People like me deserve quality access to health care, and I was on a mission to serve this population. 

My own underserved community inspired me to become a physician. Although I lack professional role models, I received continuous encouragement and inspirations from my family, teachers, and church congregation. Mrs. Stewart, my seventh grade teacher, once told me, “Life, isn’t about you. Your goal in life should be to serve others and inspire future generations.” In medical school I participated in an international global health mission trip to San Jose, Bolivia. This was my first exposure to health inequity on a global scale. I saw how lack of education, resources, and access to health care negatively impacted patients’ lives. This environment felt too familiar, and I didn’t like it. Access to health care is a basic human right. Unfortunately, I witnessed another situation where this need wasn’t being met. Prior to this experience I was preparing myself to be the next Chicago doc, taking care of my community, one patient at a time. However, this experience inspired me to get involved in the broader community of global health.

Although I have only intentionally planned to address global health equity later in my professional career, this passion has been brewing within me since childhood. The same health inequalities that inspired me to become a doctor for my community in Chicago has modeled me to become a doctor dedicated to underserved medicine, both near and far.  

My journey, my inspiration, and my challenges have impacted my role to medicine. This has shaped the way in which I view healthcare. Diversity is needed in global health, because it brings new perspectives, ideas, and creativity to address the challenges standing in our way of obtaining global health equity. More than that, it is important that we lift up these diverse voices and lived experiences in the realm of global health. That is why opportunities that help people overcome financial barriers in the way of pursuing a career in global health are so critical and powerful.

Nakyda Dean, MD is an Obstetrician and Gynecologist from the Midwest. She is currently a HEAL Rotating Fellow splitting her time between Malawi and Tuba City. Check out her article, From first-gen to OB-GYN | Cornell College.