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On Sunday, May 25, Samwiri, "Sam,” Mukasa will receive his medical degree as one of the 161 members of the UC College of Medicine Class of 2014. Later this summer, he’ll start a one-year preliminary residency at Christ Hospital, then move to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for his residency in radiology.
In the audience on Sunday will be Mukasa’s family, including his sister Damali Nakitende, another College of Medicine graduate and currently an emergency medicine resident in Chicago. The Mukasa family immigrated to the United States from Uganda in 1998, when Sam and his sisters were still children. He hopes to use his work in radiology to expand access to imaging modalities in the developing world.
What was it like to immigrate to a new country at 12 years old?
"At first I did not like America. I raged a little bit; I was a little bit dramatic about the situation. But my sisters and I decided to make the best of the situation, and as much as I missed home, I tried to understand.
"I’ve been back Uganda two times since I left, and I was able to see it from a more adult perspective. Uganda is the best place to be a child—but for an adult, it’s a Third World country. Going back, I could see the vision my parents had for us, and how things would have played out had I stayed in Uganda. It’s a tough system to grow up in.
"Where I am now, where my sisters and I are, I attribute that to the sacrifice my parents made. It wasn’t easy for them. They had to leave 40 years of their life and move here for this dream, to give us a better opportunity in life.”
How did you decide to go to medical school?
"There were a lot of influencing factors. One of them was in high school: As a sophomore, I thought I had already figured out biology and could slack off, when my teacher recommended that I attend a summer course in medicine. That course was actually offered here, called Health Careers Exploration, or HCARE. It gave me my first exposure to medicine, and got me excited about it.
"As part of that program, I shadowed a pediatrician, Dr. Akinbi. He took me under his wing and later became my advisor when I started medical school. I also met Dr. Charles Collins—through him, my sister decided to apply to medical school.
"Additionally, in 2006, my youngest sister had an ischemic stroke as a complication of sickle cell disease. It took her a month of recovery in the hospital and three months of rehabilitation to get back to baseline. My family spent a lot of time in the hospital then.
"My older sister took her in to the emergency room and saw the resuscitation effort—that had an impact on her and she went into emergency medicine for residency. For me, I was exposed to all areas of medicine during her treatment, and it sealed the deal for me for medical school.”
What is it like having a sibling ahead of you in medical school?
"Having somebody ahead of me in this—not just somebody, my younger sister—was kind of humbling, but a blessing as well.
"When I was in high school I would set the bar in our family, and she would come up to the bar and beat me a couple times. In medical school, I remember having trouble in the first couple of classes. But she had experienced enough before me to say, ‘Hey, whatever you’re doing, it’s all wrong.’ It was humbling to have to listen to her!
"She was really supportive. It’s been a symbiotic relationship; she’s helped me as much as I helped her. It’s been fun.”