Njideka Udochi: The Family Physician with a Difference

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Njideka Udochi: The Family Physician with a Difference
Dr Njideka Udochi

“Dr Udochi changed my life; I feel indebted to her office. I have been suffering with severe anxiety and hypertension. After going to many doctors and taking several medications, I finally found the doctor that cared enough about my symptoms to find the root cause of my condition. Thanks to Dr Udochi and her staff, I have been able to get my life back together and enjoy it to the fullest.” –O. Walker (Patient)

In February 2021, Dr Njideka Udochi – a younger sister to Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – was named “Family Physician of the Year” by the Maryland Academy of Family Physicians (MDAFP) in Maryland, United States. That honour is considered noteworthy for two reasons. First, the award is a highly prestigious one, which recognises a physician who has provided outstanding service to patients and their communities with compassionate, comprehensive and caring medical service on a continual basis. Second and more importantly, she was the first black female to have ever won the esteemed award.

In explaining the rationale for honouring Udochi out of the several family practitioners in the State of Maryland, the academy mentioned in a press release that she was chosen “in recognition of her exemplary service, and engagement in the wellbeing of her patients and community.” Interestingly, just two years earlier, she had been presented with the Baltimore Magazine’s “Top Doctor in Family Practice” award, based on the recommendations of other physicians.

Undoubtedly, both MDAFP and Baltimore Magazine largely depended on credible nominations to arrive at their recognitions of Udochi’s exceptional expertise. However, there were also multitudes of positive feedback regarding her distinctive model of care from her patients – many of whom have spent decades entrusting their healthcare management exclusively to her.

It is noteworthy that in all of the websites dedicated to ranking doctors, using such standards as thoroughness of examination, ability to answer questions, clarity of instructions, quality of time with patient, inclusion of patients in decisions, previous outcomes of care and overall general attitude to work, Udochi has a superlative rating. She is considered a top-notch expert, whose approach to patient care is incomparably different.

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“Family” means family

Udochi is indeed a highly qualified, multi-skilled and full-spectrum family physician. She is a celebrated specialist, with expertise in medical education, epidemiology, paediatrics, geriatrics, HIV medicine and emergency medicine. Generally, unlike other physicians who specialise in a particular type of disease or a particular part of the body, family physicians are trained to detect, address and manage a wide variety of diseases, illnesses and conditions. They provide comprehensive care for patients of all ages and genders through all stages of their lives.

For Udochi, however, it is not just her ability to treat diverse health conditions that draws patients to her; rather, she stands out among others in that she takes the word “family” in “family physician” quite literally. She, in fact, does not see medical practice as being primarily about treating diseases but about taking care of people. Consequently, her approach has always been patient-centred, evidence-based, family-focused and problem-oriented. She cares for her patients, regardless of social or economic status, as if they were her family members. In her words: “I do everything I can to provide the best care for my patients, regardless of their insurance. I don’t walk through the doors without knowing who they are and why they are here.”

Reviews from her patients attest to this. One said, “I started going to Dr Udochi in July 2015 and since then I have referred three people to her…If you are looking for a doctor that will listen, understand, care, and provide excellent health advice, please consider Dr Udochi as your primary care provider. Thank you so much Dr Udochi.”  Another enthused, “Dr Udochi is one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. The love and care she shows for her patients is like no other. She has a genuineness about her work and how she strives to keep her patients healthy she makes you feel like her very own family member.”

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Passion for holistic care

Udochi is the founder and current CEO/board president of Summit Medical Group, a consortium of multi-speciality physicians providing care to patients using a PCMH (Patient-Centered Medical Home) model, which ensures delivery of high-quality, cost-effective, patient-centered, culturally appropriate, and team-based care.

Udochi leads her team to provide care to children, adults and geriatric patients from over 114 countries, spanning six continents, at her base, in Columbia, Maryland. She is very passionate about reducing health disparities and works in collaboration with her multispecialty group of providers to address inequities in healthcare in her community. Her practice is thus more targeted at racial and ethnic minority patients, as well as the homeless and immigrants.

Recalling her reasons for starting the Summit Group, Udochi said: “For many years working in the primary space which is very fractured, I have yearned for a more holistic and comprehensive approach to achieving better health outcomes by taking a team-based approach to care like we had at Healthcare for the Homeless, caring for a very vulnerable population. So it feels wonderful to be able to finally implement this model of care with a very experienced and talented group of physicians many of whom are women.”

Background and career path

Udochi was born in 1966 to Professors Chukwuka Okonjo and Kamene Okonjo. She obtained her first degree in Medicine at the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1989. After this, she proceeded for a master’s degree in Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. She then completed her internship and residency at Holy Cross Family Practice and George Washington University between 1995 and 1998.

In 1999, Udochi successfully pursued a Fellowship in Geriatric Medicine at the George Washington Medical Centre, Washington DC. She is currently seeking additional qualifications in Executive MBA from Cornell University SC Johnson School of Business, as well as Master in Healthcare Leadership (MHS) from Weill Cornell School of Medicine.

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From 1991 to 1993, Udochi served as research associate at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Baltimore, where she focused on childhood immunisation study in Baltimore. In 1993, she became project director at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Baltimore. Between 1994 and 1995, she held the position of director, Clinical Methods Development at the Centre for Health Programme Development and Management, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore. From 1999 to 2003, she worked as medical director of Healthcare for the Homeless (HTH) in Baltimore.  She also served as medical director of the Health Education Resource Organisation (HERO) in Baltimore.

In 2003, Udochi founded the Millennium Family Practice, where she practised for 16 years before merging her practice with others to become a multispecialty practice – named Summit Medical Group – which delivers total care to patients in the DMV (Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia) area.

 

Awards and recognitions

In addition to the Family Physician of the Year Award and the Top Doctor recognition, which she received in 2021 and 2019, respectively, Udochi’s commitment to excellent and altruistic patient care has earned her many other honours. She received the Resident Teaching Award from George Washington University Hospital (1999); Excellence in Teaching Award, from George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (1999); Local Hero Award, from Healthcare for the Homeless Clinicians Network (2002);· Herbert Macaulay Humanitarian Award, from CMS Old Grammar School Americas (2017); and Sheroes Award, from the Maryland Commission for Women.

She has also featured as a medical expert on doctors’ interviews on CNN, FOX News, CNBC and many others.

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