A Visionary Doctor’s Rx For Equality in Healthcare
Summarized from an article by Tom Nugent featured in the Winter 2015 Nebraska Magazine. Download full story »
At the tender age of 28, Christine Ngaruiya, M.D., is already a practicing physician working daily in the emergency room at Yale University New Haven Hospital. She’s also a fiercely dedicated social activist who spends most of her free time fighting for equal access to healthcare.
Discovering her Path
Born in Omaha to Kenyan parents who’d come to the Midwest to attend college, 28-year-old Christine Ngaruiya, M.D., spent her formative years – from second grade until she returned to Nebraska to attend UNL in 2002 – in Nairobi, the bustling capital of Kenya.
“I grew up [in Nairobi] because my parents wanted their children to experience the Kenyan culture,” said Ngaruiya, whose grandfather had been an Anglican bishop there in the 1950s. “Ours was one of those homes where education was everything. If you got an A- in school, it needed to be an A. But there was a lot of love behind it [the demand for excellence], and I’m very grateful today for both the support and the challenges I got at home.”
After arriving on the UNL campus and moving into Sandoz Hall, Ngaruiya plunged into an exhilarating whirlwind of courses and social activities. She excelled academically and volunteered for extra-credit assignments and research projects whenever possible. While working on a research project in the sociology department, she discovered she was passionate about fighting for equal access to healthcare.
“That experience taught me that I wanted to focus on disparities in access to healthcare as a medical researcher,” she said, “And that’s basically what I’ve been doing ever since.”
Combining Passion and the Profession
With her UNL degree firmly in hand – and barely 20 years old – Ngaruiya headed off to the University of Nebraska Medical School in Omaha in the fall of 2006. While earning her M.D. and spending hundreds of hours researching equal access to healthcare, she also played a major role in launching the nonprofit, Bridge to Care, based in Omaha.
Ngaruiya noticed a need to assist Bhutanese, Sudanese, Somali, Burundian and East European refugees find doctors and clinics to meet their healthcare needs. They were struggling with language and cultural barriers, making it hard to find adequate care. She leapt into action and began developing the organizational structure and outreach capability that eventually led to Bridge to Care. The agency now provides educational assistance to hundreds of displaced Nebraska residents each month.
Still Striving for Equality
These days, while putting in regular nine-hour shifts in the ER at Yale University New Haven Hospital, Ngaruiya is also hard at work on a master’s degree in tropical medicine. And in spite of the horrific health problems she studies daily – including the deadly Ebola epidemic – she said she remains extremely hopeful about the future of healthcare in both this country and the rest of the world.
“As we learn more about the causes and progression of diseases like Ebola – and also about the social and cultural conditions that contribute to them – we’re going to get better and better at improving the health of affected populations all across the world,” she said. “I am determined that we can be much more successful at solving the problem of equal access to healthcare, and we’re getting closer to a world in which equality and social justice are taking hold everywhere. But it won’t happen overnight, and it certainly won’t be easy. If we’re going to make these wonderful things happen someday, we have to get to work right now!”
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