People

Meet Professor Uche Anadu Ndefo

The TSU College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences assistant professor is helping develop a Doctor of Pharmacy program in Nigeria


By Christine Hall | April 3, 2018

Pharmacology wasn’t Uche Anadu Ndefo’s first passion.

She actually wanted to be a broadcast journalist, but that wasn’t the type of profession her Nigerian parents dreamed about for her. They told her she needed to choose one of the more traditional Nigerian careers: physician, nurse, pharmacist, engineer or lawyer.

“I think there are five acceptable things that we can be,” Ndefo said. “They told me, ‘Pick from that and find your happiness.’”

She became a pharmacologist, but found her true happiness as an educator, which gives her the opportunity to write and publish, “a backdoor way” of doing what she wanted to do in the first place.

Family is everything

An associate professor of pharmacy practice at Texas Southern University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Ndefo was born in Nigeria, but moved to the United States as a baby when her father started a Ph.D. program and her mother entered a master’s program.

Three years later, the family returned to Nigeria and stayed for a decade. Those were Ndefo’s formative years, the stretch of time when she became immersed in her native language and culture.

The family ultimately headed back to the U.S. when Ndefo was a teenager so her mother could earn a Ph.D. in public health.

Since health and education are part of the family’s DNA, Ndefo’s Ph.D. in pharmacy is a source of family pride.

“My dad loves it. He brags about it. He addresses letters to me as ‘Doctor,’” Ndefo said. “I’m like, ‘Really dad? You’re sending a letter to your daughter. Why the formality?’”

Family is everything to Ndefo, and her townhome at the edge of West University reflects that. Outside, visitors will find evidence of a house full of boys: a driveway basketball goal and lots of toys in the back yard. Inside, family photos of Ndefo, her husband and their three sons adorn the walls. Eclectic wall paintings depicting international cities are souvenirs from her husband’s travels.

Everywhere, there are tributes to Africa, including native head statues from Zambia, a gift from her father-in-law to her husband to commemorate his birth.

Educating pharmacists

It’s that love of family that drove Ndefo to apply for the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program, awarded to academics born in Africa. Ndefo earned a spot to work with professor Godswill Onunkwo at the University of  Nigeria, Nsukka, on developing the curriculum for a new Doctor of Pharmacy program, which will emphasize preceptorship and rotations.

Currently, pharmacy students in Nigeria only earn bachelor’s degrees and receive little clinical training, yet they play a vital role in health care because a pharmacist may be the only health care professional a patient sees.

Ndefo’s lack of confidence in her homeland’s health care system boiled over about a week before she was to travel to Nigeria to work on the new curriculum. Her father, who was visiting family in Nigeria, fell ill with malaria. Rather than admit him to a hospital, Ndefo arranged for a doctor to come and stay with him.

“That’s part of why I know that I’m not done with whatever I need to do in Nigeria,” Ndefo said. “Just the thought of him having to go to a hospital, it scared me so much.”

Her father recovered from his illness, and that was a sign to Ndefo that she was in the right place at the right time. Her goal was to change how pharmacists are educated and how they operate in Nigeria, so she won’t be afraid the next time a loved one has to go to the hospital.

Education for Nigerian pharmacy students includes reading books and learning to follow the rules, but their only hands-on experience comes during six weeks of rotations with different types of pharmacies, including community, hospital and ambulatory. In the U.S., pharmacy students spend their final year of school gaining this sort of tactile training, Ndefo said.

Ndefo wants Nigerian pharmacy students to do six weeks of rotation in each of the three areas, and she wants to get them in front of patients. But she has encountered some push-back.

At first, Nigerian educators and medical practitioners told her that they weren’t interested in changing the program. To help make her case, Ndefo joined the Nigerian Association of Pharmacists and Pharmaceutical Scientists in the Americas and became a member of the education committee. As part of that committee, she spoke with colleagues about giving pharmacy students more tactile experiences with patients. The association supported her quest for change.

“We had witnessed first-hand how it was being done in Nigeria,” Ndefo explained. “The organization stood behind, ‘It’s time to make it a little more clinical and a lot less science-y.’”

Making a case

The Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program also supported the cause. One of the program’s goals is to fight the “brain drain” African countries experience when people with means leave the continent to pursue other jobs and opportunities.

Ndefo says it is unlikely that Nigerian-born pharmacists making six-figure salaries in the U.S. would choose to return to work in Nigeria, where they might make $100 a month. Most people are just not going to do that, she said.

“We kept making our case and eventually, they realized that, at the end of the day, it’s really all about getting the best care that we can to patients, especially in Nigeria, where if I don’t have the money to see a doctor, I’m just going to go to the pharmacy and buy something,” Ndefo said.

Ndefo wants to ensure that pharmacists in Nigeria know how to interact with patients, know what to look for and know when to say, ‘This is way beyond my scope, and you really do need to go see a physician.’”

The program officially launches this summer, and Ndefo has applied to be one of the teaching pharmacists. She should find out if she has been accepted in the next couple of months. Until then, she will continue to fine-tune the program.

When students graduate, she said, they will understand the practice of pharmacy and they will know how to be pharmacists.

“Our goal,” she said, “is to empower them with the tools they need.




Social Posts

profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

RT @krachlerlab: Today we celebrated the Lab Coat Ceremony officially welcoming our new graduate students to @MDA_UTHGrad and @UTHealth. We…

42 mins ago
profile_image

TAMU Health Sciences

@TAMHSC

Sometimes you need fresh eyes to look at problems that are tough to solve. #Texas #medicalschools come together to solve #healthcare problems as big as the state.Student-Led Competition Aims To Improve Rural Medicine https://t.co/syLUBAUixE@TAMUmedicine #ruralhealth https://t.co/omDa17lVll

1 hour ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

If you quit today, you don’t have to miss the little moments in life anymore! Learn how to achieve a better quality of life and the other benefits when you quit tobacco: https://t.co/2CmQHRo8wC

1 hour ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

Fall begins tomorrow and what better way to kick off the new season than learning how to fall asleep faster! For more information on sleep disorders, visit: https://t.co/t9zfkejpud #sleep #tips https://t.co/rdILjIkxbw

1 hour ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

Our @jdhdavis shares what #cancer patients should know about #roboticsurgery: https://t.co/5Wv6viu1eD #endcancer https://t.co/39CFBXZ8Ng

1 hour ago
profile_image

UTMB Health

@utmbhealth

RT @CG_GiladKatz: Thank you President David Callander of @utmbhealth in @Galveston for hosting me today at your office and examining option…

2 hours ago
profile_image

Memorial Hermann

@memorialhermann

@JoannaZ47145549 Hi, Joanna! You can pay online at any time: https://t.co/Vr7SPfNuYY,

2 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Try ‘seasonal’ eating this fall for a more flavorful diet https://t.co/U8c0Fmfi2H via #VAntagePoint

2 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

RT @CancerMedMDA: Register today for Sept. 29 @AIMatMelanoma 5k event! Funds benefit @MDAndersonNews Melanoma Moon Shot™ and immunotherapy…

2 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Arch J. Lewis Jr. https://t.co/P0B6FHwoiR

3 hours ago
profile_image

University of Houston

@UHouston

RT @GetInvolvedUH: Come watch the debate next Sunday the 30th! Doors open at 5:00 PM in the Student Center Houston Room #GetInvolvedUH http…

3 hours ago
profile_image

CHI St. Luke's Health

@CHI_StLukes

RT @HoustonBCycle: Hundreds of people have already signed up for our @CHI_StLukes 5-Day Health Challenge, which includes a discounted BCycl…

3 hours ago
profile_image

University of Houston

@UHouston

RT @_UHin4: HAPPY COUGAR RED FRIDAY! #UHin4 #gocoogs #CougarRedFriday https://t.co/17giHqS6Jd

3 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

RT @BCM_SMART: Thank you @BYU for the opportunity to speak to highly motivated undergraduates interested in the summer research experiences…

3 hours ago
profile_image

Memorial Hermann

@memorialhermann

For those affected by Hurricane Florence, the emotional toll can cause panic and fear, and impacts people in different ways, at different times. Read more: https://t.co/iEG4RTlHwV.

4 hours ago