Philip Ozuah: Versatile Physician with a Big Heart

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As soon as news broke in early August 2022 that a US-based professor of Medicine, Philip Ozuah, had donated a whopping sum of one million dollars to the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan (CoMUI), many Nigerians became frantically curious. Internet search engines busily buzzed with inquiries and information, as various news platforms and personages gushed about the gesture. What manner of health professional would singlehandedly donate over 700 million naira to his alma mater at such a time as this?

Many have attributed the feat to a deep sense of altruism by an accomplished and appreciative alumnus. This, to a very large extent, is true.  Indeed, Ozuah himself had, during the event in which the donation was made, recounted the inspirational story of his studentship days at CoMUI, stressing that the college played a pivotal role in moulding a solid base for his career. However, even more interesting than any altruistic motive is an extraordinary success story that is worth exploring.

For starters, Ozuah is not just any kind of health professional; he is a distinguished one by all standards. Academically, he is a professor of Paediatrics, as well as of Epidemiology and Public Health. Professionally, he is a multiple award-winning physician, educator, administrator, executive, researcher, and author of several publications that have continued to help advance the knowledge and practice of the medical profession.

He is currently the president and CEO of Montefiore Medicine, the umbrella organisation for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Montefiore Health System in the United States. Montefiore Medicine is particularly renowned for its first-class medical school, ground-breaking research and technology, as well as highly specialised, coordinated care of diverse populations within the New York region, across the United States and globally.

Illustrious administrator

In his role as president and CEO of Montefiore Health System, Ozuah coordinates 13 member hospitals, 300 ambulatory sites, and nearly eight million patient encounters every year. He leads over 10,000 physicians and 53,000 employees to serve a diverse group of patients.  His team has been acclaimed for innovating new treatments, procedures and approaches to patient care, producing stellar outcomes and raising the bar for health systems around the country and around the world.

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In particular, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, which is one of America’s premier centres for research, medical education and clinical investigation, receives more than $200 million in annual research awards from the NIH and is home to 800 M.D. students, 190 Ph.D. students, 120 students in the combined M.D./Ph.D. programme, and 250 postdoctoral research fellows.

Prior to his present role, which he assumed in November 2019, Ozuah had served as professor and university chairman of Paediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He also doubled as physician-in-chief of Children’s Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM). At CHAM, he worked to deliver top-notch clinical care, with a commitment to healthcare access for the underserved. Indeed, under his astute leadership, CHAM was recognised as one of “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals”.

Worthy accolades

It was in view of these previous accomplishments that when he was announced as the one to succeed Dr Steven Safyer as president and CEO of Montefiore Medicine, Dr Dan Tishman, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the organisation, said: “We are thrilled that Dr Philip Ozuah, a proven senior executive and strong strategic thinker, will lead Montefiore into the next decade. What stood out was his impressive record of success, his intellect and warmth as a physician, his strength as a leader and manager, and his deep commitment to Montefiore’s mission.”

Dr Safyer himself said, “I know I am leaving our institution in the best possible hands. I have consistently been impressed by Dr Ozuah’s strategic vision for the Montefiore Health System. His appointment as CEO will guarantee a smooth transition, and I know he’ll continue to uphold the standard of excellence on which Montefiore has built its reputation.”

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True to his character and reputation, Ozuah has, so far, not only met but actually exceeded the expectations of these men and the entire Montefiore Health System. Indeed, information available on the organisation’s website affirms that, in just three years, Ozuah “has expanded access to care for underserved communities, recruited and cultivated outstanding talent, advanced programmes of excellence, fostered innovations in medicine and science, and improved financial and operational performance by integrating care across a rapidly growing and evolving Montefiore System. Under his leadership, Montefiore Health System’s specialties have ranked in the top 1 per cent of the nation’s hospitals.”

Matchless passion

Arguably, one of the top secrets of Ozuah’s career success is his extraordinary passion for what he does. He has an uncommonly holistic, humanitarian and transformational approach, which has made him to redefine medical practice and healthcare administration. He once said of himself, “I’m one of those doctors who love all aspects of Medicine. Even though I am a paediatrician, I enjoy Surgery just as much, as well as Adult Medicine and Psychiatry. I find Medicine to be challenging, exciting, rewarding and gratifying.”

He also said of his team: “We define Medicine as an instrument of social justice. We are a literal celebration of humanity, a place where all are welcome to join us in our quest for excellence, and where all receive the support and encouragement they need to thrive and succeed.”

In addition to his research and clinical accomplishments, Ozuah has been consistent in training and inspiring the next generation of physicians at Einstein. According to him, “If there were 600 hours in a day, I would still be a full-time clinician and full-time teacher and researcher as well.”

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Interestingly, while many Nigerians actually got to know about the bigheartedness of Ozuah through the staggering donation to CoMUI, those who are close to him affirm that giving back to his home country, and especially his hometown, has always been a part of him. It is said, for example, that just like his father, who reportedly pioneered the electrification of Nteje in Oyi Local Government of Anambra State, the younger Ozuah has been giving scholarships to school children within and outside his hometown. The scholarships cover all levels of education, for nursery to university. He is also said to have built and furnished a cathedral in Ifite Nteje, among other laudable projects.

Background and recognitions

Prof. Ozuah was born in 1962, in Nteje, Anambra State. He earned his medical degree from the University of Ibadan, in 1985, before travelling to the United States, where he earned a master’s degree in Education from the University of Southern California, and a PhD in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He completed his Paediatric Internship and Residency at Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore, and his Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, Los Angeles.

Ozuah has been severally recognised for excellence in patient care and medical education, including as an inductee into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honour Medical Society. He is a two-time recipient of the Academic Paediatric Association’s prestigious Helfer Award for Innovation in Medical Education.  He has also been recognised by Modern Healthcare magazine as one of the “Top 25 COOs in Healthcare.”

In 2020, he was honoured with the Tribute to Leadership Award, to celebrate his “extraordinary service, leadership, and commitment in creating a healthy work force and improving the healthcare system.”

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