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Sajel Tremblay Nuwamanya teaches nurses

Evolving interests drive '12 grad to trade test tubes for a stethoscope

Sajel Tremblay Nuwamanya ’12 was a gung-ho laboratory scientist in the making when she came to DePauw University. And then her evolution began.

She met Sharon Crary, a biochemistry professor who likewise relished her time at the lab bench but who also started Social Promise, a nonprofit health and education foundation that helps people in Uganda.

“Seeing how she combined those two interests in her life – sciences and then actually meeting the needs of people overseas – showed me that there was a much bigger world to really apply this knowledge, all this science knowledge that I was gaining,” the Rector scholar said.  

Then, as a double major in biochemistry and French, she met Cheira Lewis, associate professor of global French studies, whose teaching “gave me the confidence” to study in Senegal, where she focused on public health and lived with a French-speaking family. (Lewis said this about Nuwamanya: “She is not only wise beyond her years, but also incredibly bright and generous-hearted.”)

And then she met Thomas Burke, director of the Global Health Innovations Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital, when he spoke to global health students at DePauw.

“I asked Dr. Burke if he had opportunities to work overseas for a gap year, which I thought would end with me going to get a master’s in public health,” she said. “The program he had with an opening was a rural hospital in southwest Uganda, focusing on child malnutrition, both preventive measures – gardening projects and education – and also inpatient and outpatient clinical treatment of children with malnutrition. It was hand in hand, the prevention and the treatment, and it was during that year in Uganda that I decided that I really enjoyed the medical side, that personal interaction with patients.”

“I wasn’t made out for a lab job, a lab position at the desk doing basic sciences. I was much more interested in how that played out in communities and on a personal level.”
– Sajel Tremblay Nuwamanya '12

And so, a person who had pointedly avoided medical school, figuring it was too difficult and too long a haul, reversed herself and, while extending her stay for a second year in Uganda, studied for the medical school admission test, applied and got accepted, having returned to the states long enough to take the test.

She graduated from Wayne State University School of Medicine in 2018 and headed to Cahaba Medical Care, located in an underserved area of Alabama. There, she is beginning her third and final year of a family medicine residency. Nuwamanya sees hospitalized patients and “my own panel of patients” whom she sees routinely for adult medicine, pediatrics, prenatal care and deliveries.

After her residency is completed, Nuwamanya plans to return to Detroit to work three years in an area with a physician shortage, then permanently move with her Ugandan husband to his home country.

“Family medicine sets me up really well for global health in that it’s a broad spectrum of training,” she said. “You look at the whole person. You’re not focused on one organ system. You try to look at the whole patient and have a focus on prevention as well as treatment. …

“I wasn’t made out for a lab job, a lab position at the desk doing basic sciences. I was much more interested in how that played out in communities and on a personal level.”

Photo: Sajel Tremblay Nuwamanya '12 taught hospital staff members and nursing students in Rukungiri, Uganda, about family planning during a mission month in January during her residency. She previously spent two years at the hospital after graduating from DePauw and before entering medical school.

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