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Laël Ngangmeni’s childhood struggle with preventable illnesses and her father’s later ordeal coping with the aftermath of stroke were formative experiences that explain her interest in both medicine and research. 

Laël grew up in the French-speaking region of Cameroon, on Africa’s west coast. “I seemed to always be sick as a child,” she said. “I was in the hospital a lot with mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria,” she said. “I was exposed early to the kindness and skill of doctors and nurses. They were always helping me.” 

In 2007, Laël and her family emigrated from Cameroon to join her father, a pastor who had immigrated to Maryland a few years earlier. No sooner was the family reunited when her father suffered a stroke and was, for a time, comatose. Today, although he has recovered, Laël’s father still suffers from migraines and other residual issues. “Physicians always knew what to do when I was young and sick, but for my father they sometimes seem at a loss, so I decided I wanted to be part of the research force integrating patient care with problem solving, which is essentially the job description of a physician scientist.’

Because her education started very early in Cameroon and the school years are longer than they are in the U.S., Laël was able to enroll in college at the age of 16. She attended Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and lived up to her reputation as a prodigy. Already fluent in French and English, Laël gained conversational Spanish, a language she believes she’ll need in her future. Moreover, she double-majored in pre-med and psychology and graduated from Simon’s Rock in May 2018 at the age of 19. 

As she looked to further her education, coming to Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine for her Master of Biomedical Science (MBS) degree seemed to be the wisest choice. “Given my experiences with preventable illness, Geisinger’s focus on population health really appealed to me. The fact that the school was started by the community to answer a community problem resonated with me. I also like Geisinger’s focus on the patient,” she said. “I like the recognition that it’s OK to feel and to have empathy and to answer a need rather than say, ‘Here’s my agenda.’ It’s important that we recognize that when one person is sick, their whole family and the community are affected.”

Laël has thus far excelled in the MBS program and in late January received the happy news that the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Medical School has accepted her into its next cohort of MD/PhD candidates. The UMass MD/PhD is a funded program, meaning Laël will attend at no charge. “This is truly a dream come true and fulfills my desire to be a physician scientist,” she said, “I give all glory and praise to God for these many blessings.”

Laël was accepted to the clinical and population health research track. “I am particularly interested in healthcare as a system to improve well-being -- specifically in the sense of viewing patients as whole people, within their community, and considering their physical, social, cultural and psychological contexts when providing care. I would like to contribute to research related to underserved populations, especially immigrant and refugee populations, with the goal of furthering racial/ethnic equity both within patient care and in healthcare policy as well as improving the quality of care for maternal and infant health, especially in light of continuing disproportionately high black infant and maternal mortality rates in the U.S.”
As for her future career, Laël said she has always been interested in OB/GYN. “I know for sure that I love babies and want to specialize in healthcare specific to women-- I look forward to discovering exactly how I will do this during the remainder of my time at GCSOM and in the seven years of my MD/PhD training.” 

The dazzling future that awaits won’t stop Laël from learning everything she can at GCSOM, right up until graduation. “I will still work hard,” she said. “I do this for me. I value education and there’s still so much more to learn.”
Lael Ngangmeni