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December 8, 2019

Dr. Idopise Umana

By: John L. Hanson

This week on In Black America, producer and host John L. Hanson, Jr. speaks with Dr. Idopise Umana, a board-certified internal medicine physician who specializes in managing patients with acute and chronic illnesses and founder of The Wellness Institute, located in Suwanee, Georgia.

Intro music [00:00:07] The In Black America theme music, an instrumental by Kyle Turner.

Announcer [00:00:15] From the University of Texas at Austin, KUT Radio, this is In Black America.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:00:23] Once I got back and I started taking the classes, I thought I might do medicine, but I wasn’t sure. So education was another route. And what was good about applied biology is you got the best of both worlds. So there was a track for medicine if you chose to go into medicine. But there was also a track if I wanted to do microbiology and biochemistry was just a lot of different options within that track.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:00:46] Dr. Idopise Umana, a board certified internal medicine physician who specializes in managing patients with acute and chronic illnesses, and founder of the Wellness Institute, located in Suwanee, Georgia. Dr. Umana earned a B.S. degree and applied biology from the Georgia Institute of Technology and then pursued a passion for medicine and earned her medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University in 2005. She completed her internal medicine residency from Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville and a one year Achieve residency fellowship at Mayo Clinic. In June 2018, the CDC released an alarming report that stated In this country suicide had risen 25% over the past 15 years. Also, the report revealed that in 2016, nearly 45,000 people died by suicide. And while some therefore attribute to mental health disorders, many appear to be related to individuals succumbing to the pressures of life. To that end, Dr. Umana, The Wellness Institute. I’m John L. Hanson Jr., and welcome to another edition of In Black America. On this week’s program, the Wellness Institute with Dr. Idopise Umana, M.D., In Black America.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:02:04] My experience over the past decade and then just my experience with individuals, whether through church or I like I said, I’m a people person. I like to talk to people, like to listen. And one of the biggest things you learn as a physician is just to watch individuals. Sometimes I’m just watching how people walk into the office, but as I was taking care of patients and just interacting, whether with friends, people and just the environment. One of the things that just kept coming back to me is a lot of things that we deal with health wise can be tied back to something that’s causing a stress. And then when you look at it, it ties back to how are we processing it mentally. And so outside of this, my other fun activity is working with my nonprofit and I just wanted to do something where we could train individuals to refocus their thought process and to get the tools that they need to live a better positive effect of life.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:03:01] In 2018, Dr. Idopise Umana founded the Wellness Institute, a gym for the mind located in Swansea, Georgia. The Institute offers onsite and online health and wellness empowerment sessions for individuals and also customized programs for workplace wellness. The focus is on six areas of wellness, mental health, financial, physical, lifestyle, social and personal professional wellness. Born in Nigeria but raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia, with her two younger brothers document her parents recognize her love for humanity and nurture that love by involving their children in community and nonprofit organization activities for 14 years now. Dr. Umana has been a board certified internal medicine physician who specializes in managing patients with acute and chronic illnesses. Inspired by the women in her immediate circle, document is on a mission to train individuals to live their best life by improving their mindset. Recently, she spoke withIn Black America.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:04:08] I had a great family. It was me and my two brothers, two younger brothers and my mom and dad. So very close family, very interactive. One of my brothers played baseball, so we were constantly at baseball games. The other one was a musician, so we were constantly a concert for him. But I mean, it was good.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:04:24] And what were some of your favorite subjects while you were in school?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:04:27] Math and science. I had to love math because my dad’s background is in math, and science came naturally. My mother was a nurse, so I was already part of the family.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:04:36] And you did your undergraduate Where?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:04:38] At Georgia Tech.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:04:40] And why? Georgia Tech is not far from home.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:04:43] Not far from home. That wasn’t my big reason. I think at the time I thought I wanted to do engineer like my father. But when I got to Georgia Tech and I started doing science classes, I realized I like science better than going into engineering.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:04:58] Tell our audience about earning a B.S. in applied biology.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:05:02] So one, I once I got to tech and I started taking the classes, I thought I might do medicine, but I wasn’t sure. So education was another route. And what was good about applied biology is you got. The best of both worlds. So there was a track for medicine if you chose to go into medicine. But there was also a track if you wanted to do microbiology. Biochemistry was just a lot of different options within that track.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:05:27] So what sparked that interest in medicine?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:05:30] A lot of individuals in my family are physicians, like Hancock was a physician, my mother was a nurse. So it was part of my life growing up, and I was just trying to figure out which one made more sense. And I love the sciences.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:05:43] And what drew you to internal medicine?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:05:46] So when you’re in medical school, you get the opportunity to do a lot of different fields. And one of the things I liked the most was the people connection with internal medicine, particularly primary care. Because as a primary care provider, I would follow these patients basically their entire life. And I’m a very big people person. So I thought, I think I’ll go this route. And so internal medicine drew me because you use your mind a lot. Mm hmm. And also the interpersonal relationships.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:06:13] So were the other people of color while you were in medical school?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:06:17] Yeah, there was. It was a minority, of course, but there was. And I’m still connect with some of them to this day. And I went to medical school some years ago.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:06:25] So how grueling is the subject matter.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:06:28] For medical school? It’s a lot of reading, a lot of retention. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it motivates you. So I cannot say it’s easy, but it’s well worth it. And anyone who decides to go into it just has to make up their mind that this is what they want to do. It’s just like any feel.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:06:45] Now, everyone has heard of the Mayo Clinic and you did your residency at the Jacksonville facility. How was that?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:06:52] I loved it. Now, you remember Mr. Hanson. I was just saying, I don’t do cold weather. So Mayo Clinic has a few campuses. They have Arizona, they have Florida, and then their major campus, which is in Rochester. Right. So automatically Rochester is out. It was out. Arizona was too far from home because I am very close to my parents. And I said, okay, I can leave and go to Jacksonville. And one of my uncles again, trained at Mayo, Rochester, some motivating force.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:07:19] And you did your medical training at Northeastern Georgia Physicians Group. Tell us about that.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:07:25] Well, I did my medical training at Mayo, so I went to college at Georgia Tech. And then after that, I went to medical school at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Then after you finish with medical school, you do residency. So I did three years of general internal medicine residency at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, a one year, and did a fellowship year where I got to teach my fellow residents who were first, second and third years At this time. I was a fourth year. Then after I was finished, I joined a practice up in Gainesville, which was Northeast Georgia Physicians Group.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:07:59] Was there a life outside of medicine during that period?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:08:03] Oh, I created a life. But honestly, during medical school it was mostly medicine. Residency was a little bit better. My life happened a lot more after all of that was done.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:08:14] And once you completed all that, you went into a practice.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:08:18] Yes, I joined a hospital system that has a group with that Northeast Georgia physicians group, and I’ve been working in the same place for the past decade.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:08:27] And then what are you responsible for?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:08:31] So there I have my own practice of patients within the physician’s group. I recently became one of the associate program directors for our internal medicine residency program. And then I also have the role as a medical director for six of the clinics within our Northeast Georgia Physicians Group.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:08:51] And Dr.. Umana, I understand that you specialize in managing patients with acute and chronic illnesses? Yes. Why so?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:08:59] Because that’s what primary care is. So think about when you go see your primary doctor. My patient population starts at age 18, though I have a few that are minors. The majority are 18 to the end of life. And so on any given day, I see almost everything. I can have a patient come in and their only complaint is a sore throat. Then I can have one come in who’s having chest pain and you’re concerned about having an actual heart attack in the office and of course manage chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, people who had strokes, heart attacks. So a wide array of everything.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:09:34] Now you’re there in the southeast, in the state of Georgia. Are there any acute medical concerns you have about the population there?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:09:43] Oh, yes. Diabetes is huge. For clarification, when you say acute, are you talking about things that are happening every day or cause I see all of it done. I mean, literally, I have patients.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:09:56] Well, things that concern you that that needs to be addressed.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:10:00] Yes. Yes. Outside of just the chronic medical conditions. Mm hmm. One of the things that led me towards this wellness institute is the mind, the state of individuals and how they deal with stress, whether it be financial stress stressors that. Home stressors at work. But it does affect them. And so it’s anxiety, depression. Then it can also manifest into chronic medical condition documented.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:10:26] What led you to open up the Wellness Institute?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:10:29] My experience over the past decade and then just my experience with individuals, whether through church or I like I said, I’m a people person, like to talk to people, like to listen. And one of the biggest things you learn as a physician is just to watch individuals. Sometimes I’m just watching how people walk into the office, but as I was taking care of patients and just interacting, whether with friends, people and just the environment. One of the things that just kept coming back to me is a lot of things that we deal with health wise can be tied back to something that’s causing a stress. And then when you look at it, it ties back to how are we processing it mentally. And so outside of this, my other fun activity is working with my nonprofit and I just wanted to do something where we could train individuals to refocus their thought process and to get the tools that they need to live a better positive effect of life. So I tell patients all the time, go work out. And when I say go work out to improve whether their blood pressure or their blood sugar or their weight, I’m telling them to go to the gym, a physical gym, long exercise. So the mind gym is the same thing, except now I want to work out their mind.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:11:43] Why is it so difficult for us to understand that the mental health is also a part of our physical wellbeing?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:11:54] I think there’s unfortunately still a taboo about talking about mental health. When you say the word mental health, individuals automatically clam up. They think they’re going to be judged. Everyone has this feeling that you’re calling them, quote unquote crazy, which is not the case. And so because it’s not as popular to say, hey, I’m being treated or I’m getting counseling as it is to say I’m working out, it’s a conversation that’s not being had and it needs to be had.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:12:27] Let’s go through some of the I think you said six areas of wellness. Let’s talk a little bit about physical wellness.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:12:34] Okay. So that one comes extremely easy for me to talk about because we encourage people to go and exercise. So when I think of physical wellness, I’m thinking of one of the things you’re doing to help improve your overall physical health. You know, when you’re born, you have this one body, and this body is a machine. And how you take care of that machine is how you’re going to function now. And unfortunately, some things can happen that you have no control of. But a lot of things we have control of like what are we eating that can affect us and that could affect our physical health? Are we exercising? Are we sleeping well? Are we taking our medications? All of that affects our physical health. I’ve dealt with a lot of people who have chronic back problems, and some of it is just because of the posture while they’re at work. And so with physical wellness, we have certified trainers who talk about past, you know, proper posture types of exercises to strengthen your core. They train us, train individuals to really focus on their physical health and improve their life in that regard. And then I, being a physician, also encourage and try to get nurse practitioners, other physicians to focus on the disease of the mom. Like if it’s breast cancer awareness or Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s give everyone the tools necessary to improve their health.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:13:57] Are you a good example for others? Wellness?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:14:01] I would say so. I am trying to do exactly what I preaching. I workout, eat right, sleep well. But the biggest thing, John, is when I notice there is a stress or a trigger, I identify it and then I do something. So sometimes people may not be where they need to be, but as long as they’re able to identify it and once they identify it, then get the tools. And that’s what the gym is about.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:14:24] Talk to us about those stresses and triggers. How does one identify those?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:14:30] So, you know, one of the things that I noticed a lot is a lot of it has to do with work. You know, there’s a lot of people who are in jobs that either they’re not happy because they don’t understand what they’re doing or maybe they do understand what they’re doing, but because there’s something happening at home, they’re bringing it to work. And one of the stressors could be something financial, like they don’t know how to manage their their finances or they’re overwhelmed in debt and they don’t know where to go. One of the things I think about is earlier in the year with the government shutdown and how many people were affected. So once that occurred, what tools do they have to then try to ensure that, God forbid, something like that happens again? They would have the resources or the funds necessary to be able to function. So identifying the stressors are. I’m. Something’s happening in my life. It has to do with money. Let me now do something about it or it’s a relational issue. Let me talk to somebody about it or I’m not sleeping well. What could be causing it? Or. Or I’m not able to work effectively at work. Let me now find the tools that will help me.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:15:42] Understand how does that interact with the personal professional wellness that you’re speaking of?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:15:49] Yeah. So what I did was I tried to go through like, what is it that we deal with on a day to day basis, month to month basis? So we talked about physical, but then there’s that emotional part. I’m stressed, I’m anxious, and some people have a challenging time figuring out what that trigger is. That’s where going to the gym to work out that part would help. Then lifestyle, wellness. And that’s where we have a certified health coach. And so you get in talks about if you’re not sleeping well, what is the evidence behind good sleep? Why do we always say, hey, you need to get 6 to 8 hours of sleep? And why is that important? Food. We can tell people to eat healthy. Cooking at home sometimes is a challenge for people. So giving them tools when they do go out and eat, you know, budgeting so they can afford the healthier foods and making the foods taste good. Because some kids will say, you know, broccoli doesn’t taste good as French fries. We try to do things and give them tools to improve social. Social interaction is extremely important in this day and age of social media. So many people don’t have conversations anymore. Right. They hide behind their screen. So also being able to interact in a social environment or get out and still do the face to face with friends, colleagues, etc.. Of course, we know financial wellness is important. There is a lot of individuals, as our baby boomer population grows, that, you know, debt, retirement, all of that. Those are things that they think about. Do they have the tools? I even think about when I was young and I was in college. I grew up in a very stable family, but I remember being in college and getting my first credit card and using that credit card and not realizing the proper use. And there’s so many students that if we target them at a young age and create, you know, programs that could help them financially, that would also decrease some of these other stressors. And then like we’ve talked about professional wellness, you know, interview etiquette, that’s important, how to hold a job or how to find a job. So trying to really create a culture of workplace wellness where employers have the opportunity to enhance the lives of their employees and their families by addressing these health issues through their benefit programs, policies and just overall, well, workplace culture. Having that conversation.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:18:11] Documented, how do we navigate the this food oasis, so to speak? Was it not to eat, eat in certain portions, eat and certain things at certain times of the day? How do we make sense of all this?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:18:27] That’s why individuals have to come to the Wellness Institute, because it is a process and sometimes it has to do with your medical history. So I can’t necessarily say that one size fits all. So if there’s a workplace and there’s individuals who are struggling with that whole question that you just asked, this is where if their employers are saying, hey, we’ve got a program that can help you navigate that because this patient is a diabetic, so their carbohydrate intake is going to be different that someone who’s not a diabetic. And then if this person has chronic kidney disease, we can create a plan to help support that. So to answer that question, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do help individuals, help workplaces, cultivate an environment where it’s okay to have the conversation and there’s resources available to train their mind so they know what to do.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:19:22] Are there two different guys of measurement? One for corporate and one for personal?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:19:28] Yes. Our big focus is on workplace. Well, that’s our target market. However, we do have one on one for individuals and we do have classes at the Wellness Institute in Swansea for anyone who wants to sign up. But we do offer both for everyone.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:19:46] Now you’re in Georgia. How does one participate in the Wellness Institute? They’re located in another state.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:19:52] So we have an online platform. So what we’ve created is let’s say there’s a company that’s a small or medium sized company and they want access to what we’re doing. They would send us an email request, we do a consultation, and then we create a package to tailor what their needs are and our instructors have created online. Video content. So we have a catalog, a library of content that’s available, but then we can also specify what they need and create additional content. So there’s the ability for them to watch online. Then now with the age of technology, we can actually do live classes if need be, and they could participate that way. So we’re very accessible and we’re even open to traveling, just depending on the need, the number of employees, and we’re able to customize the packages depending on the need of the the customer.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:20:46] And doing the research for this interview. I read an article which was written about you the CDC, released in 2018. I’m talking about a 25% rise in the last 15 years of suicides in this country.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:21:00] Yeah, we looked at that article a couple of years ago, and this is one of the things that really impacted me, touched me. And then I’ve I’ve experienced that with, you know, patients or something that’s happened where I’m noticing it’s happening a lot in younger age kids all over. So to see that number and unfortunately is growing. It was a cry. I said, you know, we need to really talk about how people are processing and you can’t just look at the external because someone can look like everything’s okay. But deep down inside they’re going through so much, but really want to create that culture in the workplace where it’s okay to say, Hey, I need additional help in this area and it’s not taboo. This is already there, then let’s do it.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:21:45] And this thing besides getting our mind right, I also understand that you have another nonprofit living real.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:21:53] Yes, sir.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:21:54] Tell us about that.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:21:55] So this is another passion. As we stated, I was born in Nigeria, came to the States when I was young and have had the ability, the support to pursue my passion in my career. And one of the biggest things I realized is, you know, it’s not the I got this quote from Corrie ten boom, the activist is not the duration of your life, it’s the donation. And so I wanted to do something to give back. So what living world does? We have three main areas. Our major focus is rebuilding a school in Nigeria. So trying to give those students tools and rebuilding the entire school and giving them a science lab, etc. to help their career and their goals. But then we also do a program here in the States called the Real Empowerment Program, and we target juniors and seniors in high school, mostly underserved students. And we mentor, we do monthly mentorships, quarterly mentorships, give them a scholarship and help them figure out what they want to do in life type, really create a plan. And then lastly, we partner with other nonprofits and give our time or resources to the nonprofits.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:23:08] Obviously, you can’t do all this alone. Who are the other individuals that make up your team?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:23:14] So for the Wellness Institute, I have an amazing team. I have a marketing director and chief operating officer, and they do a lot of work. And then we have a manager that is the day to day individual and a financial team. So they keep it running within my workplace, you know, I work and then of course have a team within the hospital system and then the nonprofit has a board and they all know who they are and they all know they mean the world to me. And then, of course, God, my mom and dad, you know, I could go down the whole line of people who just support me.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:23:48] Documenting everyone or people listening to this program. I think that you got to where you are today real simple and easy. It wasn’t any obstacles that you had to overcome, but obviously there probably worse. Can you explain what they were?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:24:05] Yes. Like I said, I was born in a third world country, so my parents were by no ways wealthy. And my dad came to the States and he worked hard and he tried to implement an institute, that same work ethic in me and my brother. But growing up, things weren’t handed to us. So I learned the importance of hard work and then being a minority going to institutions that we were the minority. You had to really prove yourself and and work hard and be able to take I call it constructive criticism. Sometimes it may not have came out that way and just have a lot of self confidence in yourself and have a lot of emotional support. And then just working in the field of medicine is challenging, is constantly changing. There’s a lot of expectations, so it’s not been easy. But anytime you have a passion to help, a passion to make a difference in your life, it’s well worth it.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:25:01] Now you’re located in and around Atlanta, Georgia. Being in that location with a large African-American presence. Has what you’re doing been really accepted.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:25:13] I think, within the circle? All that I have been able to expose myself to. Yes. And what I’m trying to do is really expand my borders and help as many people as I can. But to answer your question, yes.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:25:27] Do you have an opportunity to go out and many young people.

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:25:30] All the time. We do it through our the nonprofit The Living Room, Inc.. So one of the things we’ve done is we’ve partnered with some of the local high schools. So I went back to the high school that I went to read in high school, and then we’ve partnered with high schools in other counties, and we’ve asked the counselors to select individuals that they feel would be beneficial to the program. That’s one of the biggest ways we’ve partnered. And then any time I get an opportunity to work with another nonprofit that’s focusing like there’s one that I’ve worked with called I Am Beautiful with Young Girls and Self-esteem and empowering Young Women. So any opportunity I get, I’m constantly doing that.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:26:09] Obviously, the mind gym one size does not fit all. What are the length of the processes?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:26:16] So again, it’s so customizable. The content depends on what the client needs. So what we’d like to do for specifically workplace wellness, which is our main target audience companies who are interested, we create a whole library of content. So the physical could be courses on again, if it’s a job where it’s a lot of heavy lifting, proper lifting, things to do to strengthen your core, etc. Emotional wellness is a lot of content and that just because there’s a lot of individuals that deal with anxiety, stress, depression and we’re giving them tools to improve it, to identify it. And the same thing with lifestyle, social, financial, like there’s a lot, of course, content behind it based on what the consumer needs.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:27:03] Obviously, you have to whittle down, you know, what is being offered. So how long did it take you to come up with the concept and to come up with the coursework?

Dr. Idopise Umana [00:27:13] This idea was, in my mind, probably around 2014 15. It was an idea in my head. Then, as I continued to experience life, talk to individuals, it just continued to formulate itself. And then you get around individuals like my executive team as well as just the operational team and the marketing team, and they further helps with the past year and a half. We’ve done a lot of work to really understand and then a lot of research behind it.

John L. Hanson Jr. [00:27:41] Dr. Idopise Umana, a board certified internal medicine physician and founder of the Wellness Institute located in Suwannee, Georgia. If you have questions, comments or suggestions, ask Your Future In Black America programs. Email us at In Black America at kut.org. Also, let us know what radio station you heard is over. Remember to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. The views and opinions expressed on this program are not necessarily those of the station or of the University of Texas at Austin. You can hear previous programs online at KUT dot org. Until we have the opportunity again for technical director David Alvarez, I’m John L. Hanson Jr. Thank you for joining us today. Please join us again next week.

Announcer [00:28:31] CD copies of this program are available and may be purchased by writing to In Black America. CDS KUT Radio, 300 West Dean Keeton St. Austin, Texas 78712. This has been a production of KUT Radio.


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