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Ngozi Obi on Colorado mountain background

Preventive Medicine Meets Occupational Health with Ngozi Obi

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Written by Laura Veith on October 26, 2020

Ngozi Obi’s medical qualifications are impressive, to say the least. They are extensive, to say a bit more. After graduating from Abia State University and completing her National Youth Service in her home country of Nigeria, she worked briefly as a general practitioner prior to emigrating to the U.S. After passing the United States Medical Licensing Examinations, she was accepted into the Internal Medicine Residency program at the University of Maryland Prince Georges’ Hospital Center in Cheverly, MA and at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington D.C. Afterwards, Ngozi completed her residency training in General Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Colorado while obtaining her Master’s in Public Health in Epidemiology from the Colorado School of Public Health.

Ngozi is not done learning just yet. She is currently in the Certificate in Total Worker Health® Program and the chief resident of the Occupational and Environmental Residency program at the Mountain and Plains Education & Research Center (MAP ERC) at the Center for Health, Work & Environment.

A “tortuous” route to occupational health

I will say that I took a tortuous route getting into the field of occupational medicine,” she says. “I knew very little about it prior to starting my residency.” From a very young age, Ngozi’s passion has always been to take care of the people around her, a natural quality as the eldest sibling in her family. She understood the need to protect workers from deep seeds planted in her childhood.

“I grew up in a low-resource society with little or no regulations or controls for citizens and workers,” she says. “” By the time she started working in the United States, Ngozi says she “almost became disillusioned with the health care system midway into it due to inadequate focus on disease prevention.”

It was at this juncture that the “nagging desire” to pursue preventive medicine and public health took hold. During her first occupational medicine clinical rotation as a resident, Ngozi treated a unique population of highly motivated patients who were eager to recover and return to work. She knew her next venture would involve more worker-centric treatment. “The field of occupational safety and health presents practitioners with exciting opportunities to manage environmental exposures and learn from renowned researchers,” says Ngozi. “It also provides abundant research opportunities to improve the overall health and well-being of workers and their communities.”

Studying at the MAP ERC

Ngozi Obi 3Ngozi chose to apply to the occupational medicine residency program at the MAP ERC in part due to its ties to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The MAP ERC’s Occupational Medicine Residency program is an ACGME-accredited two-year program where residents earn the qualifications to sit for board certification, earn a Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in Environmental & Occupational Health, and practice their skills in a wide variety of settings, from medical facilities to industry sites. The program is led by director Brian Williams, MD, MPH and assistant director Alisa M. Koval, MD, MPH, MHSA.

“Having been in this program for over one year, I will say that the personnel in MAP ERC have been exceptional, especially during the challenging times we have lived through in the last couple of months,” remarks Ngozi. “They have ensured that we are coping well, provided with access to necessary resources, and supported in our training.”

Treating the worker

Under the direction of Koval, who is also the Medical Director for the Center for Occupational Safety and Health, Ngozi worked on a project studying the injuries among Denver Health Paramedics compared with those of other emergency workers in Denver (such as firefighters and police). “This project was pivotal in preparing me for other coursework and clinical projects,” says Ngozi. “It gave me the opportunity to implement a real-world application of Total Worker Health program planning I learned in the certificate program as well as implement risk-reduction measures.”

Prior to being accepted into the program, Ngozi admits to thinking that the cost of keeping employees safe at the worksite was a significant financial burden on employers. However, thanks to her studies and experiences, she has found out that "there is a business case for employers to ensure their employees’ safety at work. Research has shown that healthy workers are more productive and take fewer days off and businesses with healthier workers have lower health care costs and decreased turn-over rate.” Supporting worker health makes too much sense (and money) to notprioritize.

Looking ahead, Ngozi plans to bring her experiences in internal and preventive medicine and occupational health to strengthen her clinical and preventive approach. “My training has enabled me to view each case from multiple perspectives and use a holistic assessment of patients. Having devoted many years to specialty trainings in medicine, I look forward to a clinical occupational medicine practice that will afford me opportunities to put my preventive medicine training to use for the improvement of systems, and more importantly, patient outcomes.”