Dr. Nwude: Gratefully ‘Lost’ in the Natural State
Noted American scientist and author Erol Ozan once wrote, “Beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.”
Indeed, life’s greatest adventures aren’t planned out. Dr. Ezinne Nwude, hospitalist and Chief of Staff with the Medical Center of South Arkansas (MCSA), didn’t map out her journey to El Dorado from her native Nigeria. But she’s grateful for getting “lost” in south Arkansas.
Nwude (pronounced WOO-day) has become the face of MCSA’s efforts to return high-level health care to rural Arkansas and improve El Dorado’s quality of life. Known for her cheery disposition and slowly evolving, self-described “Nigerian country” Southern accent, Nwude also is recognized as a strong advocate for her patients.
Her path to El Dorado wasn’t direct but as Ozan noted, “the prettiest ones never are.” Practicing medicine represents the culmination of a childhood dream, and Nwude is grateful her destination turned out to be El Dorado.
“I love working at this hospital because of the supportive, amiable working environment at MCSA,” she says. “Everyone from administration to environmental services and nursing staff work together as a cohesive team to put patient care first and do it passionately.”
Nwude knew from a young age that she wanted to work in the field of medicine. Her mother was a nurse in rural Nigeria and growing up, Nwude was her “mother’s little helper.” In the early 1990s, her mom was recruited to work in the U.S. and Nwude joined her family after finishing high school in 1996. She studied biology and public health in New York and California on her way to medical school, and Nwude’s residency took her to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Northwest campus in Fayetteville.
From there, she was recruited to seek out rural health opportunities in Arkansas. El Dorado sits isolated in south-central Arkansas and serves a very large rural population. Given her own rural background, it seemed a natural fit. Once Nwude visited, she and her family — husband Ugo, also a physician, and three girls under the age of six — were hooked on the community’s inclusive nature, its diversity and unique vibe. For a town of roughly 18,000, El Dorado feels bigger — it’s the corporate home of Murphy Oil and serves as the regional hub for most all of south Arkansas and even portions of northern Louisiana. Plus, she saw a need.
“El Dorado was one of the places I was interested in working to rebuild the health care community,” she says. “Since moving here, my family has become invested and ingrained into the community.”
That investment is evident around town: since moving to El Dorado in 2014, she and her husband Dr. Ugo Nwude have opened an urgent care clinic and a primary care clinic, and she volunteers as medical director for the local nonprofit SHARE Foundation Interfaith Clinic serving low-income patients in Union County.
Her role as MCSA’s hospitalist enables her to provide care that’s both specialized and personalized. Hospitalists are physicians who work directly for hospitals and whose primary focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. What rural healthcare lacks in access to specialists, it makes up for in other ways. Nwude and her colleagues at MCSA are accessible to patients, able to function as jacks-of-all-trades when necessary and are part of a tight-knit group of local physicians who apply a “hands on” approach to treating patients by listening to them and working together to treat the patient as a whole.
“Working at a hospital in a town that lacks a large number of diverse specialists is a challenge, but it has also given me the opportunity to become better at what I do and has given me the skills and confidence to manage cases that I otherwise might not have the opportunity to manage in a bigger city,” she says. “Because we are in a town with a smaller number of medical practitioners, we work very closely together, and I appreciate the camaraderie among us. It’s nice to be able to pick up the phone to talk directly to the referring doctor or primary care doctor and work together to figure out a patient’s diagnosis or get them on the road to recovery.”
Nwude has even been known to personally visit a colleague in town to advocate for a patient when she believes it necessary. The intimacy borne of a small community of providers who work closely together each day makes this possible. And the medical alliances formed by MCSA through its Destination Healthcare initiative are returning specialized health care to El Dorado.
“It is extremely important to have these relationships, and we are at the forefront of bringing even more advancements in health care to south Arkansas in order to provide the services that our community needs and desires,” Nwude says. “We are currently participating in ARSaves stroke telemedicine through UAMS, and we are also looking into other specialties that we can utilize through telemedicine which will bring more access to health care in this region.
Through Destination Healthcare, alliances have been formed with Arkansas Heart Hospital, Arkansas Urology, UAMS AHEC Residency Program, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Survival Flight, and Landmark Cancer Center to expand access to specialized care in the areas of medical education, oncology, urology, cardiology and more.
Nwude has embraced her new community — its culture, its casual pace, even its challenges. Though her own path led her over long distances, she’s committed to making sure residents of south Arkansas don’t have to do the same to receive the care they need.
“Union County is the largest geographical county in the state, and we service a very large rural population and area,” she says. “We may not be able to be everything to everyone, but we are continually working to improve our services in order to bring some of the specialized health care needs to our hospital so that our people will not have to travel long distances in order to get lifesaving healthcare services.”