Dr. Gideon Nyakundi B‘16, M’17, senior manager of clinical engineering at the University of Maryland Medical System, will tell you he was born to work in healthcare — and especially to help others.
Back in his community in Africa, where healthcare is a challenge, he watched as his mother dispensed free medicine and herbs to those in need. As a young boy, emulating the service and empathy he saw, he would remind his mother when it was time to take her diabetes medication.
“That humanity developed in me to be a people person, to help out,” he said. “When I ask others why I went into healthcare, they say, ‘You were born to be a helper.’ ”
Dr. Nyakundi attended college in Africa, but he longed to work in clinical engineering and was frustrated by the lack of opportunities in healthcare and technology, so in 2005, he came to the United States to pursue his dream of helping others on a larger scale.
In the U.S., he soon began working in technology and manufacturing, gaining valuable experience with the manufacturing of pacemakers and endoscope reprocessors and working as a medical ventilator forensic analyst. “When the recession came, I lost my job, and I found myself with a lot of experience but no formal educational training, so I struggled,” he said.
After working at Mayo Clinic as a healthcare technologist, Dr. Nyakundi joined Hennepin County Medical Center as an open heart surgery technologist. Because of a desire to grow into a leadership role, he began studying at Saint Mary’s, earning a bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Management in 2016 and then a master’s in Health and Human Services Administration in 2017.
He originally chose Saint Mary’s because it was flexible. During the day, he continued to gain technical training. And in the evenings, he could attend class and study.
He found the research he was doing as part of his coursework was very applicable to his future career endeavors in leadership. And, he uncovered a community of supporters within the faculty, staff, and administration of Saint Mary’s, all working together to help him succeed.
“I had wonderful teachers. Those teachers are very close teachers, advisers, and friends,” he said. “In any area I had a challenge, they were there with me to support me. I feel indebted to Saint Mary’s. It has that family touch.”
After finishing his master’s, individuals at Denver Health Medical Center reached out to Dr. Nyakundi. They wanted someone with hands-on experience in clinical engineering but also leadership training. In 2017, he was hired as director of biomedical and clinical engineering. While working in Denver, in 2022, he obtained his doctorate in Healthcare Administration from Walden University and did his doctoral research on the use of Hester Davis Falls Risk Assessment Scale in medical surgical patients.
“I did all my coursework for my doctorate in one year,” he said. “I was prepared because I had learned a lot from Saint Mary’s, which prepared me very well.”
He also returned to his home in Africa to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Back where I was born, they faced a big challenge during COVID-19; it took a long time for the vaccine to reach Africa. There was also a stigma attached to the vaccine,” he said. “People were dying, and I felt I had an obligation to do something.”
With the help of Delta Airlines which airlifted supplies for free, he shipped medical equipment and supplies to Africa. “We did four airlifts of 20 containers,” he said. For a year and a half, Dr. Nyakundi conducted massive meetings, where, in their native language, he advised individuals to get the vaccine. “I told them how to prevent the spread. There was a stigma that if you get a COVID-19 vaccine, you’re all going to die,” he said. “We had great, great success with immunizations and with education,” he said. “It was a great achievement.”
Now in his current role at Maryland Medical Center, Dr. Nyakundi is working to improve healthcare systems for better patient outcomes.
“I want to envision a healthcare system where everyone has access to healthcare,” he said. During COVID, a lot of people died; many people didn’t have access to the vaccine for many months. There was an inequality. I would like to have a future where we all have access to healthcare.”
“Second, technology has to change,” he added. “We should tap into machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve healthcare. If IT is used in the right way, we will be able to save so many lives. A lot of inventions are yet to be discovered. The old school of guessing is gone. We need to use data analytics to improve patient care. That’s the healthcare of today and tomorrow, and that’s what we should be working toward.”
Dr. Nyakundi said he appreciates that Saint Mary’s is founded in Christianity and its mission has deeply resonated with him. “It aligned to me very well, the ethics and service to community, I found it spoke to me,” he said. “It was very important to me, because that’s what I’m doing with my life.”