Meet the MBA Class of 2023: Dr. Vanessa Nwaokocha, Cornell University (Johnson)

Dr. Vanessa Nwaokocha

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

“Brilliant, perpetual learner, tenacious, adaptable, survivor.”

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Fun Fact About Yourself: I hate chocolate. This one is definitely a conversation starter because everyone thinks I am odd because who doesn’t like chocolate.

Undergraduate School and Major:

Duke University – Pre-medicine track with major in Cultural Anthropology and minor in Chemistry

St. George’s University School of Medicine – MD degree

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Providence Portland Medical Center (PPMC) – internal medicine resident physician

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of Cornell’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I have spent most of my academic life in schools where everyone is very competitive. Cornell, although also competitive, is very collegial in comparison. At this point in my life, I need to be around people who are invested in my success, as much as I would love to see them succeed. I thrive in environments where I feel supported and I already feel the love and support of not only my classmates but other second years who have been through it (not to mention in the middle of a pandemic).

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Cornell? I am actually really excited to check out the consulting club because I want to challenge myself and try something new.

What excites you the most about living in Ithaca and the Finger Lakes region? I am moving from Portland, Oregon where a lot of residents are passionate about outdoor activities, somewhat like what occurs in Ithaca. Unfortunately, I was consumed with work and didn’t get to enjoy as much of the outdoors as I would have liked so I am hoping I can make up for it when I’m living in Ithaca. I definitely love the water and hoping I can do lots of water activities.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I am torn between two answers for this question. I was elated when I won first place in basic clinical research at the American College of Physicians Oregon chapter meeting for my work on elevated liver enzymes in Covid-19 patient. This was my original research and something I developed from scratch so you can imagine the learning curve.

However, I would be remiss if I did not mention having the ability to be a healing hand as a practicing resident physician in the middle of a pandemic. To say that I was frontline and had a hand in saving many lives during what seems to be an unending pandemic is truly an achievement. How many pandemics does one live through? I’d like to also highlight my co-residents at PPMC and really all resident physicians around the United States because such a sacrifice so early in our career where we are overworked and severely underpaid is not acknowledged nearly enough.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? I knew that at some point in medical career that I would eventually pursue a business degree; however, I did not expect it to be so soon. As a new practicing physician faced with a pandemic in the middle of my training, there were a lot of gaps that were exposed in our healthcare. I quickly came to the realization that those gaps could not be closed just from being a clinician and that I needed to understand how healthcare operates as a business. This ultimately led me to pursue my business degree right after my residency.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to dos after graduation?

This question is tied into the above question given the nature of my career so I believe I have addressed this above. Initially, I felt I wanted to pursue healthcare administration. However, with an MBA, the sky is the limit. I can make changes for patients by going into pharmaceuticals, consulting, or something else.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Kellogg, Wharton, Stern, and Marshall.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Cornell’s MBA program? To gain admission into Cornell, future applicants should remember to nurture their authentic selves and know their purpose. When I say know your purpose, I don’t mean that you have to know exactly what position you want to hold; if you keep an open mind, that will be ever-changing. I mean know what type of person you want to help or what change you want to see in the world and how a business degree is going to help you achieve that. During my interview, I had a sense that my interviewer saw the passion in my eyes and the way I spoke about wanting to help my patients. I believe that ultimately helped with my acceptance.


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