MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Just two months into his new role as chief executive officer of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Michael Ugwueke is visiting all of its healthcare facilities.
"As a healthcare system that's in Memphis for the last 100 years, we have committed ourselves to doing our part to help improve the health of the community."
His unforeseen journey to the role at Methodist started in the 1960's in war-torn Nigeria as a small child. When his younger brother got sick, he died because there was no place to take him.
"Ever since then I just felt like the opportunity to maybe create a place or do something to improve access to healthcare and that has been my drive since then."
Ugwueke wanted to go to medical school so he left his home country at 21 with $4,000 he saved up. He held odd jobs to pay for college, but there was never enough money for medical school. He chose graduate school and began working in hospital administration.
"When I got in this business, I didn't know anyone that looked like me that was running one so it wasn't like I saw that and I was aspiring to do that. I just wanted to do the best that I can with every opportunity that was presented to me. That was really the goal," he said.
He worked at hospitals across the nation before arriving at Methodist in Memphis in 2007. He moved through the executive levels to finally become the chief executive officer.
"You hear all of these stories how anyone can make it in America if you work hard and do all the right things so I was sold on that."
Now he's focused on improving the overall health of the Mid-South at a time when there's a lot of uncertainty over Obamacare, the program designed to increase health care for more Americans. President Donald Trump threatens to repeal it.
"Everybody should be worried for various reasons. If it's just a matter of him repealing it, the question is what are you replacing it with? And that uncertainty by itself creates a lot of anxiety."
Ugwueke said he knows what it's like to need healthcare and not have it.
"Growing up where that was not available mentally prepares you to truly understand what people are going through so you're not only empathetic you kind of see yourself in their shoes."
He said he'll pull from that first-hand knowledge as he works to use Methodist to improve the state of healthcare in our area.
"In my view at least it changes the way you treat people. It changes the way you listen to their issues and conditions and things of that nature, and truly brings out that compassion in all of us. I'm not saying everyone has to go through fire to get there but it helps."