Nelly-Ange Kontchou – Harvard University

Nelly Ange

Nelly-Ange Kontchou is a fourth-year student pursuing her MD/MBA at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School. She hails from Cameroon and is primarily interested in advancing health equity through safer surgery globally. For her, complex problems such as access to care, equitable distribution of resources and quality assurance in low- and middle-income countries have sparked her interest in how business models might go hand in hand with improved surgical practice. In medical school, Nelly-Ange was President of HMS HIV/Aids and Action Initiative, Vice-President of the Student National Medical Association, and an Executive Board Member of the John Warren Surgical Society. 

Prior to medical school, she attended Duke University and majored in Combined Italian & Spanish Studies, with a pre-medical track, which allowed her to travel to Spain, Italy, and Chile for academic research. She also worked as an Athletic Trainer for Duke Football and as a Research Assistant for the Liedtke Neurobiology Lab while in college. Studying languages and science was a perfect way for her to fulfill her love for interdisciplinary learning and to develop a broader outlook and understanding of how different cultures navigate the world. 

For fun, Nelly-Ange enjoys running, traveling, hearty meals and learning new languages. 

Please answer the following questions which will be published in our upcoming newsletter. Equally send in a picture, contact information and a short biography (300 words) you are comfortable sharing with the public.

1.Tell us about yourself?

Hi all! This is such a broad question, but I’ll start with the basics. I’m Nelly-Ange Kontchou, and I’m currently studying medicine and business at Harvard. I’m from the Ndé and grew up around Africa and Europe before making my way to the States. My favorite things to do are long distance running, traveling, and the simple pleasure of watching a feel-good, hilarious television show at the end of a long day.

2.What led you to pursue a degree in Medicine and Business?

In brief, I was sitting in class one day learning about the newest advances in functional MRI for neurosurgery – a type of imaging to allow surgeons to perform brain surgery on patients while they are awake – and I thought to myself, “How does this become a reality outside of the microcosm of Boston, MA? Is it even applicable in lower-resource countries? And if not, how do I make it applicable? Where do I even start?” I deeply believe in the power of medicine to change lives. However, life-saving medicine is futile if it cannot reach those who need it most. So, I sought an MBA to gain the operational, financial, managerial and overall business acumen needed to connect patients to the medical interventions they need in a timely and appropriately adapted fashion—all while keeping global awareness and interconnectedness at the crux of my mission.

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3.Tell us a little bit about the Lifebox Oximeter project you are involved with?

Lifebox is an organization that tackles the healthcare issues that I feel most strongly about: inadequate access to care, inequitable distribution of resources, low quality assurance, and suboptimal human resource management. Since 2011, Lifebox has striven to assess and meet the needs of resource-poor countries around the world by connecting anesthesiologists and surgeons with the pulse oximeters they need to perform safe surgery. Without a pulse oximeter, a patient under anesthesia could have low flow of oxygen to any of his/her organs, including the heart and brain, and the compromise of these organs would not be caught until it is too late. So, although they are simple pieces of equipment, pulse oximeters are vital to monitoring patients in any period of bodily stress – whether under surgery, or with an illness on the general medical or intensive care floors. When I found out that Lifebox was taking on Cameroon as its main country of focus for 2016, I knew I had to get involved. In my experience, it is quite rare for international health care initiatives in Africa to involve Cameroon, so I was extremely excited that this great organization wanted to shine a spotlight on my country.

4.What have been some of your professional highlights?

I’m not quite a professional yet, but I would say that presenting my research in Cameroon in 2014 on the clinical implications of the national supply chain for equipment and medicines for type 1 diabetes treatment at L’Hôpital Général (de Yaoundé) was one. Also, my honors thesis on the stigma associated with mental illness in Chile and Italy was another great highlight. But honestly, any day that I can make a patient forget the extremely uncomfortable, vulnerable position of being hospitalized – even if just for a moment – is a highlight.

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5.What have been some of the challenges you’ve had to face?

Being at Harvard, I think the main challenge is feeling like you’re not doing enough. My classmates are seriously brilliant, so the challenge is to feel like you always have to be doing the next thing. But, that being said, this challenge is also a blessing because there is nothing better than being around people who constantly motivate you to be the best version of yourself – and then to surpass that.

6.What do you feel is next for your career after medical school?

After medical school, I’ll definitely be going to residency – hopefully in General Surgery!

7.What would be your advice to young Cameroonians who dream of attending Harvard?

Never let anyone define what you can and cannot do. If you set your sights on Harvard, there is no reason why you shouldn’t get it. But, I would urge you to make small, daily goals that are attainable in the short-term and will actually propel you towards achieving your long-term goal. Don’t just say Harvard—think about what you need to do today, tomorrow, and the next day to get there. And, pray. Always pray. 

8.What do you think today is a major challenge for the Cameroonian Diaspora’s full positive impact to be felt in Cameroon, especially as it relates to healthcare?

A major challenge is connectivity. Studying in the U.S., I have the disadvantage of not being plugged in with what medical students and doctors are dealing with day-to-day in Cameroon. My network is not nearly as broad there as it is over here, so that is quite challenging because I cannot do anything alone – it will take effort from both sides to move forward. So, anyone who is part of the Diaspora needs to think of ways to connect with those working on the ground back home, figure out what the problems are, find out what solutions have already been put in place and what goals have yet to be achieved, identify who the key players are, become familiar with the health care system back home, try to connect with as many fellow students and doctors as you can in Cameroon and keep nurturing those connections when you leave, and most importantly, keep an open, humble mind when initiating projects back home because to know about the struggle is not the same as to live through it.