Cynthia Chude GRW26, the first Escarce-Kington Scholar in the new Wharton Health Care Management and Meharry Medical College Joined MD/PhD Program, has begun classes and also become an LDI Associate Fellow. Currently a third-year medical student at Meharry, Chude takes a leave of absence to pursue her five-year doctoral studies at the Wharton School.
“HCM’s work with Meharry is a labor of love, built on mutual respect, and a shared vision,” said Guy David, PhD, LDI Senior Fellow, Wharton Professor, and Chair of the Department who is also an LDI Senior Fellow. “We are thrilled to have Cynthia Chude join us this year, as the first student in what we hope will be a long and successful line of MD/PhD scholars and future leaders.”
“Meharry is focused on expanding the presence and influence of underrepresented minorities to improve the country’s health care system,” said A. Dexter Samuels, PhD, MHA, Senior Vice President and Director of the Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College. “We are as proud as we are excited about this new collaboration with The Wharton School that allows both institutions to advance health equity.”
The Wharton Health Care Management Department (HCM) is the oldest one of its kind in the country, providing comprehensive education in all areas of health care management and policy. Launched in 1985, its doctoral program is famed for producing health care management and economics alumni who have become internationally renowned scholars.
Meharry Medical College, located in Nashville, TN, was established in 1867 as the country’s first medical school for African Americans. One hundred and forty-five years later, it remains the largest historically Black institution dedicated to the education of health care professionals and scientists.
LDI Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Wharton Health Care Management Doctoral Program and the Wharton/Meharry MD/PhD initiative Claudio Lucarelli GR06 noted that “Wharton and our Health Care Management Department have been committed to, and have been promoting diversity in academia for a long time. For example, the Penn LDI-Wharton Summer Undergraduate Minority Research (SUMR) program was basically born in the Department more than 20 years ago.”
“This new partnership with Meharry is a continuation of that same kind of effort at a higher academic level,” continued Lucarelli. “The goal is ultimately to increase the number of health service research scholars from underrepresented communities who bring broader racial and ethnic perspectives to the work that underpins so much of today’s health care delivery policy.”
“Cynthia Chude is such a great fit for us,” Lucarelli continued. “She has the talent, drive, and potential that really impressed the entire HCM faculty committee that selected her as this program’s inaugural Escarce-Kington scholar.”
The new five-year Escarce-Kington scholarship within the Joined MD/PhD program is named in honor of two of the most distinguished graduates of the Wharton HCM PhD program: José Escarce M81 GRW96, who graduated in 1996, and Raynard Kington FEL87 WG88 GRW91, who graduated in 1990. Both were PhD students of Wharton School Professor and LDI Senior Fellow Mark Pauly, who provided the funding for Chude’s and a future second MD/PhD student’s scholarship. Pauly is a former Executive Director of LDI and former Vice Dean of Wharton Doctoral Programs.
“I thought the two provided the best exemplars of MD/PhD minority students,” explained Pauly. “One (Kington) has a distinguished career at the NIH and academic administration, and the other (Escarce) is a very well-known and respected health economics and health services researcher.”
Escarce is Professor of Medicine in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Professor of Health Policy and Management in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and Senior Natural Scientist at RAND. Kington is Head of School at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, former President of Grinnell College in Iowa, and former Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Health.
Born in Nigeria, Chude was 10 years old when her family immigrated to the U.S., but even then, she had an interest in health care. “A number of my family members had chronic illnesses,” she said. “My aunt had HIV, my father had hypertension, and my mother had open heart surgery. So, we were always dealing with health care in the background when I was growing up.”
Early Research Work
In high school, Chude was interested in becoming a nurse because both her mother and sister were in nursing but she ultimately went on to get her Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. After graduation, and funded by a National Institutes of Health grant, she came to Penn as a Research Associate at the Amaravadi Lab at the Perelman School of Medicine, where she focused on the role of autophagy in cancer therapy. Three years ago, she began her MD studies at Meharry.
“Before the pandemic,” Chude said, “I was getting interested in the health care policy arena. Growing up in Africa I wasn’t really aware of a lot of the discrimination in health care that we have in the United States. Sometimes, I joke around and tell people I didn’t know I was Black until I came to America. But when I got here with family members needing health care all the time, I was able to observe some of that discrimination.”
“COVID greatly impacted my thinking because at Meharry I was seeing the disparities in how the pandemic affected essential workers and other populations,” Chude said. “My interest in health policy really increased. I signed up for Meharry’s Health Care Policy and Management certificate program. I wanted to learn how policies came into existence because I realized the kind of care I wanted to provide as a physician could potentially be impeded by policies that were out of my control.”
“Then, as I was studying in the certificate program,” Chude continued, “this email arrived in my inbox with the details of the Wharton-Meharry Joined MD/PhD program and I applied. The other day when I started my Wharton classes, I was about 90 percent excited and 10 percent very nervous. It’s incredible. Five months ago, I was getting ready to apply for residency and if someone would have suggested that I would soon be a PhD student in the Wharton School, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible.”