Like Mother, Like Son

Mother and Son Take Similar Yet Different Paths to Einstein

Chike Madu took his very first steps at Einstein 25 years ago. He was born in 1990, when his mother, Assumpta Madu, was in her second year as a medical student at Einstein. He is the second of her three sons.

Mother and son share a moment at the White Coat Ceremony held for first-year medical students
Mother and son share a moment at the White Coat Ceremony held for first-year medical students
Now a first-year medical student at Einstein, when Mr. Madu makes his way to anatomy or biochemistry class he may encounter Dr. Madu, who is associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at Einstein, and director of residency training in the department at Montefiore.

Last August, mother and son shared a special milestone when Dr. Madu cloaked her middle child during Einstein’s annual white coat ceremony—an event not yet in existence when the elder Madu matriculated at the College of Medicine.

As the two enjoyed the moment, they reflected on how similar their respective paths to Einstein were, and how different. Each took big risks en route to Einstein, quitting a secure job to pursue a new career in medicine. Dr. Madu left a career as a pharmacist, while Mr. Madu left the world of politics. Each returned to school to complete coursework that would allow them to pursue their dream:  for Dr. Madu it was medical school, while Mr. Madu first had to complete post-baccalaureate courses. And each felt a stirring to enter a field where they could truly help others.

“For me, it was one of those times where you just have to leap and hope everything works out,” said Mr. Madu.

“If Your Mother Can Do It…”

Unlike her son, Dr. Madu knew at an early age she was going to be a doctor. She was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States as a child. Her family settled in New Paltz, NY.

“From the minute we came to America, my father said, ‘You’re going to be a doctor,’ and I said, ‘Oh, I like that!’” Dr. Madu recalled.

Chike Madu in a studious moment
Chike Madu in a studious moment
She never lacked for inspiration. While her father was a student at the State University of New York in New Paltz, he worked in the bookstore there, and she remembers every book had the school’s motto printed on them: “Let each become all he is capable of being.”

“I have aspired to that motto,” she said.

She earned a doctorate in pharmacy from St. John’s University and then worked as a pharmacist at Montefiore. As part of her job, she conducted ophthalmology research as well. But she always felt a desire to work more directly with patients.

“As a pharmacist, you are part of the treatment team, but you really don’t have direct input,” she recalled. “I wanted to be the one to make decisions for the patient and offer them comfort.”

So, after discussing things with her husband, Chris, who was a faculty member at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business (where he is now professor of management), she quit her job and applied to medical school, ultimately attending Einstein.

“It was difficult raising three children while going to medical school, and I had to make a lot of sacrifices,” she recalled. “Thanks to Chris and a loving network of friends and family, I was able to focus on my studies and go to my clerkships knowing that Chike and his brothers were in good hands. Still, Chike’s first words were ‘bye-bye’ as I left him to go to class. It was something he had heard too many times!”

Thanks to her hard work,the support she received and a bit of juggling, she earned her degree and has built a career. She is now an expert in glaucoma and other eye diseases.

“One belief I instilled in my sons is that they can do anything if they put their minds to it,” she said.

Mr. Madu smiled, nodding. “She’d tell us, ‘If your mother can do it, you can do it.’”

An Uncertain Path

For Mr. Madu, though he had great support, he was uncertain about what he wanted to do with his life. “My brothers were confident in their big life decisions, going to medical school and law school, but I was never entirely sure,” he said.

He studied political science at Trinity College, in Hartford, CT. After graduation, he worked as a scheduler for U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

Assumpta Madu, M.D., Einstein alumna and proud mother
Assumpta Madu, M.D., Einstein alumna and proud mother
“It wasn’t long before I realized that I didn’t want to make a career out of politics,” he recalled. “I kept coming back to a conversation I’d had with my mother during college, following experiences I had in Argentina.”

During junior year, he worked for a foundation in Argentina that provided physical education for mentally disabled adults. He spent his time playing basketball and jogging with the people receiving services from the foundation.

“The experience—just helping them to shoot a basket or to reach some small goal—was amazing,” he said. “When I told my mom about it, she suggested I might go into medicine.”

But he wasn’t convinced. With just a year until graduation, he decided to stick with political science. Even so, the desire to help people never left him.

While working for Senator Blumenthal, Mr. Madu decided to take science classes at the University of Hartford. “It occurred to me then that if I took science classes fulltime for a summer, I could apply to medical school,” he said.

He added, “One of the scariest days in my life was when I quit my job with Senator Blumenthal and started organic chemistry.”

Entering Einstein

When it came to selecting which medical school to attend, his mother didn’t push him to choose Einstein, but she was ecstatic when he did.

“My mom is my mentor. Her connection to Einstein is so strong that I always thought that if I got into Einstein, I’d go there,” he said.

While he’s not sure which field of medicine he will pursue, Mr. Madu knows he wants to have the same kind of personal connection his mother has with patients. “My mom has always told me, when patients come to see you, they’re usually not having a good day. Your job is to make them feel better.”

Dr. Madu hopes her son will at least explore ophthalmology when he enters his clerkship years. “My son Chinedu didn’t even do a rotation in ophthalmology when he studied medicine at the University of Virginia. I’m so happy to have another chance!” she said, laughing. “Whatever discipline Chike chooses, though, I want him to love it the way I do ophthalmology.”

Considering the possibility, Mr. Madu reflected, “If I ended up in ophthalmology like my mom, it would be amazing.” Then, after a brief pause, he smiled and added, “but there’s still a lot to see.”

Posted on: Monday, January 25, 2016