Dr. Nche Zama: Turning $20 into the American Dream
For many who immigrate to this country, the American dream means one thing: The pursuit of equal opportunity to achieve their highest goals. That is true for Dr. Nche Zama, one of more than a dozen Republican candidates seeking to become Pennsylvania’s next governor.
When Zama came to the U.S., he was a teenager with nothing but $20 to his name. His father sold their family home for the money to fly his son to America so he could fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor.
“I’m a retired cardiothoracic surgeon and a scientist,” Zama told Delaware Valley Journal. “I have a Ph.D. in chemistry. I’m a published author. I live in the Poconos. I was actually born in Cameroon, Africa in a little National Geographic village. At age 10, as I stood by my 30-year-old mother as she bled to death after childbirth and there was no doctor around to save her life, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor.”
It wasn’t easy for Zama to reach the American dream. It took a lot of hard work and determination to achieve success. He says he’s using those qualities in his race for governor.
“That journey, which was a very difficult one, took me through a secondary school where I worked hard and graduated at the top of my class,” Zama explained. “Then I came to America with $20 in my pocket with a one-way ticket for $300, which was bought by my father after he sold our hut and our land. So, things were pretty rough day and night. Suffered a lot but went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in Massachusetts, a master’s from Harvard in management, a Ph.D. in chemistry, and did my medical training to be a cardiothoracic surgeon at Harvard Medical School and surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. Then I started working.”
Most of his career has been in Pennsylvania, especially for the last 25 years. However, Zama believes his best work has been the work he’s done globally.
“What I’ve really done with my life,” Zama said, “what I think is probably more exciting than operating on thousands of people in Pennsylvania, is medical humanitarianism. Because of my mother’s death and so many others like that, I decided to travel the world and give free medical care.”
His intense passion for medicine is what drove him into politics.
“I’m running for governor because Pennsylvania is sick and it needs a doctor,” said Zama. “I want to lead the charge to fight for a better future for our children. I know a thing or two about that. I love this country. I love Pennsylvania. I love the U.S. Constitution. I think this is the greatest country in the world. But I see that our state has been moving in the wrong direction for a long time and we all know it.”
Education is at the top of Zama’s list of priorities.
“There’s a lot of important work that needs to be done. First up: our children are not getting the education they deserve and cannot survive in a competitive world. Our world is no longer provincial. It’s a global world and we must fix the curriculum power so I want to lead the charge for that. I want to lead the charge for school choice and I will continue to support funding for schools that are failing. I want to promote vocational education and make it available statewide.”
Aside from his focus on the education system, Zama wants to use his medical past experiences from his childhood to bring changes to the mental health resources available to students. In addition, he hopes to improve the way pandemics are handled in the future.
“The COVID crisis has been mismanaged,” Zama said. “There’s no doubt about it. Too many conflicting messages out there that have kept people so confused even though we know how to manage the COVID crisis. I have traveled the world and done surgery in multiple geographies and we know how to manage global disasters like this. That entire paradigm has been thrown out the door and has left people totally confused.”
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there have been 36,799 reported deaths by COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, and roughly 74 percent of its residents are fully vaccinated.
“Pennsylvania needs to address the root cause of the problems in health,” Zama said. “Most of the people dying from COVID have pre-existing problems that need to be addressed, but nobody is talking about preventive medicine or a concept I came up with a friend years ago called interceptive medicine. Nobody’s talking about what we need to do to keep ourselves healthy. To keep our immune systems robust so that we can stave off this infection or if we do contract it, we will survive it. I want to be the governor that makes Pennsylvania the healthiest state in the union. We can do it.”
Having a Ph.D. in chemistry may not afford Zama all the answers, but his global experience in healthcare leadership has given him insight into future pandemics.
“One of the first things I will establish as governor is an interceptive medicine pandemic council so that we can anticipate pandemics because there will be a next one. There are about 25 viruses waiting to enter, by the way. And so we will be facing a pandemic again in the future,” he said.
Zama believes his passion, education, and drive will pull Pennsylvania into the number one spot in America.
“The possibility of me sitting here or going to America was almost zero. Yes, I left with $20, but you’re looking at the investment of $20: a Harvard-trained heart surgeon. Nothing is impossible.”
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