Ebere Okeke, M.D., owes part of her success to a volunteer program at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano.
For two years, Okeke wore a green vest as a hospital volunteer but what some people didn’t know was that she was already a doctor in another country.
As a young girl growing up in Nigeria, Okeke always knew she wanted to be a physician someday.
“My uncle was a doctor and I was fascinated by the human body, especially physiology, the way in which living organs work and how they can be affected by illnesses,” said Okeke, a hospitalist with Texas Health Physicians Group (THPG).
After graduating from medical school, she received her credentials to practice medicine in Nigeria. Her first job as a house officer involved rotating fields of medicine – OB/GYN, general medicine, surgery and
pediatrics at a Nigerian teaching hospital.
“It was my way of serving my country,” Okeke said. “While it was a rewarding experience, I knew I wanted to focus on internal medicine instead.”
In 2008, Okeke moved from Nigeria to the United States holding on to that dream of becoming an internist. While studying for her medical boards in this country, she decided to apply for a volunteer position at Texas Health Plano. She met with Beverly Darling, manager of Volunteer Services at the hospital.
“There was something about her that stood out during her interview,” Darling said. “I knew she would be a great addition to our volunteers.”
Okeke became a volunteer in the Emergency Department (ED). She helped a team of nurses at the front desk and in triage. She said it was her first experience in an American hospital and her way of giving back to the community.
“I learned about the importance of quality care and proper bedside manner,” Okeke said. “I thought one day I want my own patients to have the same experience.”
She gained a set of skills as a Texas Health volunteer that no book could ever teach her.
“I formed a special bond with patients and staff,” Okeke said. “I felt embraced by the hospital and they quickly became my family.”
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Texas Health volunteers bring a special, personal touch to the care we provide consumers. In 2018, more than 1,700 volunteers collectively donated more than 320,000 hours of their time and energy to Texas Health.
“The hours of service as a volunteer not only helps our hospital but it helps our patients,” Darling said.
Volunteer to physician
Okeke passed the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and in 2011 accepted a residency position in Atlanta, Georgia. She was sad to leave Texas Health Plano as a volunteer but hoped she would return one day. And she did – this time as a member of Texas Health Physicians Group.
“She’s a natural team player,” said Kendall Huff, executive director of operations for Texas Health Physicians Group. “Her volunteer background gave her the skills to help others and provide an outstanding consumer experience which I believe helped her to become the kind of physician she is today.”
Okeke has been a Texas Health hospitalist for one year and she’s one of 13 THPG hospitalists at Texas Health Plano.
Walking the same halls but this time in a white coat, she sees patients throughout the hospital while achieving her goal of 10,000 steps every shift. She’s part of the in-patient care team – caring for patients from the time they enter the ED, or they’re admitted, until they’re discharged from the hospital.
“Medicine goes beyond the body,” Okeke said. “Most patients just want to talk with someone. You can tell when a patient doesn’t want to go home because they don’t have any family or friends. I take the time to sit with them and listen. I learned that as a volunteer.”
She also has a personal connection with Texas Health Plano because it’s where two of her three children were born.
“This hospital is a big part of my story,” she said. “I tell people I work from home because this place feels like home.”