Congratulations to Student Doctor Jeanne Nwagwu, Class of 2022, on being awarded the inaugural Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Leadership Award. Since arriving at VCOM-Virginia, Jeanne has served as the President of VCOM’s SNMA chapter, co-founded the Beyond the Medicine series, and is currently serving as a regional director for SNMA’s national organization; her impact continues to grow.
The DEI Leadership Award was developed by the Student Government Association (SGA) and the Diversity and Inclusion Committee in order to create a space to recognize and celebrate a student leader who has gone above and beyond in advocating for their peers, their future colleagues, and their future patients through their work in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion over the course of the past year.
How do you feel to be the first to receive the DEI award? What was your reaction?
I feel honored and overwhelmed for multiple reasons. I feel honored because the work I was doing and still doing has been recognized in this way. On the other hand, I feel like everyone's looking at me to see what I'll do next. I don't think people do this type of work and assume, "oh yes, this is going to be groundbreaking; this will be history-making." I think that's the whole point; I was just trying to do something to better my community so that it will be better for future medical students who come through our school. Unknowingly, it was the catalyst for something much bigger than I anticipated.
I was in complete shock, and I still AM, LOL. I also cried later that day out of surprise, joy, and hope that things are moving in a positive direction!
What does it mean to YOU that you were acknowledged and awarded for your hard work?
It means everything to me. The plaque is still sitting in my living room, and I walk by and still think, wow, that's me! That's my name on there, lol! The end game here was not to get an award. It was to make my community better than it was before. I didn't sign up to be a change agent when I started medical school, but it happened! For all my work so far to culminate at something like this is beyond anything I could have imagined. I am passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion. I'm so happy that this award now exists to acknowledge those who continue to have the same passion for this work.
What do you hope this award means for future students?
I hope this award serves as inspiration. Like I said earlier, it's not about being awarded for your hard work it's about making changes and leaving a better environment for those who come after you. Hopefully, future students see that they too can make an impact on their community, no matter how small a project. I hope students also know that people are watching the things you do, not in a creepy way, but in a real honest, genuine way, where the small conversations you have with the classmates, with the faculty, with the administrator can inspire them to make changes!
Now, future medical students will see my name and think, wow, it's because of her that our support is better, and our presence is valued and will always be valued.
How do you hope to continue to lead, inspire and be an example of a powerful voice for minority communities within the medical field?
That's a tough question! I haven't really given it much thought because I'm still a student. This experience has shown me as I move forward to keep looking for opportunities to fill the gaps in my community by introducing training opportunities, adjustments to curriculum, community service initiatives, or mentorship. Also, I want to find those leadership opportunities where I can be in the room where decisions are being made to ensure there is a voice advocating for minority students and physicians. Most importantly, I want to keep learning and growing so I can advocate for my community in the best way.
If you could go back and give yourself a piece of advice in your first-year, what would it be?
Make sure you give your mental wellness the attention it deserves. Medical school is STRESSFUL coupled with not being near my strongest support system. I had a tendency to suppress how I felt until it came out in a large burst, which was not the healthiest approach. Now, I have made that a priority and feel like I can emotionally and mentally handle the majority of the stressors that come my way. As they say, better late than never, but it definitely would've been helpful then.
Advice for current/future students at VCOM?
Don't be afraid to speak up for something you believe in. At first, you don't know how it will be received, but someone will acknowledge it once it's put out there. Don't be discouraged if things don't move at the speed you think they should. Structural work takes time, and the point is to start and keep fighting for what you believe in.
Anything you want to add:
Special thank you to those who worked alongside me, from faculty and administrators to students and allies. No one does this work alone, and I am very grateful for those who joined me on the path to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion.