Henry Ford Health System surgeon starts program to mentor Detroit area youth

Each of the 10 students accepted will be awarded a $1,000 stipend

A Detroit surgeon wants to help local children reach their dreams in the medical field by pairing them up with professionals. It's part of a new summer internship program at Henry Ford Health System.

DETROITHenry Ford Health Systems’ Vice Chair of Surgery and System Director of Thoracic Surgery, Dr. Ikenna Okereke, immigrated to Detroit from Nigeria in middle school. He moved away but always remembered Detroit as the place that gave his family a chance. Now that Okereke has returned, he wants to provide Detroit area youth with an opportunity too.

He didn’t always see himself where he is today.

“There were times that I felt that there were things that didn’t belong to me; a doctor, a lawyer, a businessperson, or the CEO, that belonged to other people,” said Okereke.

Then he got life-changing advice.

“My dad told me every day, ‘Don’t sell yourself short, don’t sell yourself short,’ and I want to be that voice to some of the young kids today,” Okereke said.

When he was working in Texas, he developed a summer mentoring program.

“If you can see it, you can be it,” Okereke said; it’s a saying one of his residents shared with him.

Now, with the help of Henry Ford Innovations, Okereke is bringing it to Detroit.

To get the word out, Okereke has spoken at high schools and invited students to the hospital to show them what they can expect.

“The thing I see the most because I’m trying to evaluate them, try to motivate them, is how energetic they are afterward and how much they can say I can do this,” Okereke said.

Jazlyn Cain, a junior at Cass Technical High School, was one of those students that got a tour of the hospital and got to do some of the simulations. She wants to become an anesthesiologist, and that short experience ignited her vision.

“After leaving there, it makes you really want to work in a hospital,” said Cain. “I feel like I would learn something new every day. I feel like a lot of times when we see people in those positions, they’re not necessarily coming from where you’re coming from or where you started from, and I feel like because he (Okereke) actually went to middle school here and actually was in my shoes, it’s definitely encouraging.”

For more information on the program and how to apply, click here. The deadline for applications is March 25.

Each of the 10 students accepted will be awarded a $1,000 stipend.

About the Authors:

Megan Woods is thrilled to be back home and reporting at Local 4. She joined the team in September 2021. Before returning to Michigan, Megan reported at stations across the country including Northern Michigan, Southwest Louisiana and a sister station in Southwest Virginia.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.