Dr. Ima Ebong believes in treating the whole person, not just the disease
Meet Dr. Ima Ebong, a neurologist who specializes in the treatment of epilepsy and neuromuscular disorders at the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute. Ebong, who grew up in the Bahamas, earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering and bioengineering, respectively, from Georgia Tech, and her medical degree from UK.
Ebong loves her work and is committed to making the medical profession more diverse. She’s one of 10 neurology professionals selected nationally to participate in the current cohort of the American Academy of Neurology’s (AAN) Diversity Leadership Program. We talk to her about this and more in this week's Making the Rounds.
Tell us about your efforts to increase diversity in healthcare.
When I was a first-year medical student, I started the UKMED (University of Kentucky Minority Education Development) program. It’s a two-day event – a mini-medical school experience – designed to recruit prospective under-represented minority students to UK. What inspired me to start it was the lack of diversity that I saw in my class. There weren’t many people who looked like me. I started thinking: “What obstacles are preventing people of color from going into medicine? Why are we so under-represented in medicine?” One thing I thought I could do as a med student is develop a program to try to draw people to UK. (UKMED began in 2010 and is still an active recruitment program for UK’s College of Medicine.)
You’re participating in the AAN’s Diversity Leadership Program. What are your hopes?
Neurology is one of the least diverse specialties in medicine. It’s an issue because our patients are a diverse population, and studies have shown that diversity in healthcare leads to better patient outcomes. Patients tend to do better when they are treated by doctors who either share similar backgrounds or have an understanding and respect for their backgrounds, whether it be racial, sexual, cultural or religious. The AAN established this Diversity Leadership Program to try to tackle that. I am working with my cohort on a project that is to be presented to the AAN Board of Directors. Additionally, I am paired with a mentor who is a renowned leader in the field of neurology who is providing guidance I need to strengthen my own leadership skills.
How do you spend time outside of work?
I love spending time with my family. I have a toddler – he’s 2, and he is pretty rambunctious. He keeps me on my toes. In my free time, I’m taking him to swimming classes – I love the “Mommy and Me” classes that we do together.
I also enjoy cooking when I have the time and having friends over for meals. I try to practice what I preach with my patients and keep a healthy lifestyle. I wake up between 5:45 and 6 a.m. and go in my basement to use the treadmill. It’s so easy to get caught up with work and say, ‘I’m too tired,’ but I figure during that time everyone’s asleep, I can just get my workout in. I also enjoy traveling, especially visiting my family in the Bahamas and eating some great Bahamian food.
What is your philosophy of patient care?
Ebong, quoting the real-life doctor whose life inspired a 1998 movie, says:
Patch Adams summed it up: “You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.” I love that philosophy. You don’t just treat a case; you’re treating an actual human being. And you always win if you treat that person with dignity, respect and love.
Watch our interview with Dr. Ima Ebong to learn more about how she became interested in medicine and why her work matters.