Associate dean for research, The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth
Tonychris Nnaka was 8 years old and his family was living in Nigeria when his sister died from an illness he said could have been prevented in a more developed area. The experience led him to pursue a career in which he could help prevent others from enduring the type of loss he did.
The result has been a career in nursing that has included health disparity research and policymaking for the Dallas mayor's office as well as his current role, where he serves as an advocate for fellow nurses along with patients.
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In March 2020, while working at Dallas-based Parkland Health, the facility’s first COVID-19 patient came through its doors. Nnaka was one of several team members who cared for the patient.
Recalling that experience reminds Nnaka of what he loves about healthcare—a passion for patient care, even if it means risking one's life. That steadfast commitment to patient care is something he thinks is ingrained in those who've entered the healthcare industry since the pandemic.
“Regardless of the brokenness we have in our healthcare system … we're really building a generation of healthcare workforce that [have] truly dedicated their lives.” Nnaka said.
Nnaka is also working on a digital, chronic disease management therapy for patients with hypertension or heart failure in minority populations.
In addition, he and colleagues are putting together a research methods textbook for healthcare professionals with limited research experience.