Dr. Kenneth Izuora, who heads the UNLV School of Medicine Division of Endocrinology and serves as program director for the Endocrinology Fellowship Training Program, grew up nearly 8,000 miles from Las Vegas. When he flies to see members of his family, it takes nearly 16 hours in the air.
To many Americans, particularly those who pay attention to the critical role fossil fuels play in the global economy, Nigeria -- where Izuora spent his early years and graduated from medical school -- means oil. The former British colony is Africa’s largest oil producer, generally a top 10 oil producer world-wide. To those who follow the demographics of the huge African continent, Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation. One in five Africans is Nigerian.
Izuora, an associate professor in the medical school’s department of internal medicine as well as a member of the UNLV Medicine COVID-19 Task Force, is well aware of the economic and demographic forces of the place he was born. But what comes to his well-trained mind in science as he remembers his hometown of Ogidi in Eastern Nigeria is the power of a microscope.
“My dad was a biology teacher so I got to use his microscope...what I saw was so amazing,” says Izuora, who became an American citizen in the last decade. Under the microscope, an organism he may have seen with his naked eye that seemed smooth was actually covered in scratches -- or something he thought was round actually had straight edges and angles.
“I fell in love with a whole new world,” says Izuora, whose mother was an elementary school principal. “I feel I have always loved science…I enjoy understanding how things work…I was told I asked a lot of, “why is” questions as a child…My parents motivated me to always be inquisitive...I believe my passion for teaching came from them.”
At one point during high school, he thought his love for science would manifest itself in a career in engineering. But the human dimension of medicine won out. He was proud of how two uncles, both physicians, made a difference in the lives of his neighbors. “They’d bring their stethoscopes and blood pressure instruments home with them, write prescriptions...It made quite an impression…I came to think of medicine as a sort of engineering of the human body to keep it running healthy for as long as possible.”
After medical school in Nigeria -- Izuora says the training was highly influenced by the British system of medical education -- he completed an internal medicine residency in New York at the University of Rochester/Unity Health System and a fellowship in endocrinology and metabolism at Georgia’s Emory University. He also had previously done research and received an MBA in health administration at the University of Colorado.
“Beyond medical school, my first exposure to endocrinology was while conducting diabetes-related research at the University of Colorado with Dr. Peter Chase,” says Izuora, who is married and the father of two young boys. “I was amazed by the effect of receiving the right treatment on alleviating the anxiety and improving the health of patients with endocrine disorders. I was also amazed by the promise of research to make a bigger impact in the future of medical care...it was an easy decision to pursue a fellowship in the field.”
The technology he was able to use, both clinically and for research, during his post-graduate training went a long way toward convincing him to stay in the U.S. “The technology allows you to make a difference with more people,” says Izuora, whose considerable research on the endocrine system has appeared in peer-reviewed publications ranging from the Journal of Clinical & Translational Endocrinology to the Journal of Investigative Medicine.