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Caring for the Community

Even as a young child, Kofi D. Essel, MD '11, MPH '17, FAAP, was drawn to medicine. His interest in the sciences, a mom who was a nurse, and the need to manage his food allergies and asthma so he could excel in sports combined to put the young Dr. Essel on his career path.

He uses those early lessons and the training he received at both the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences and GW’s Milken Institute School of Public Health in his work in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. as a board-certified community pediatrician at Children’s National Health System.

“I focus on not just providing clinical care but also engaging in population care of the community,” says Dr. Essel. “We look upstream and try to address social determinants of health so we can get to some of the root causes of the issues faced by the families we serve.”

Dr. Essel completed further training in academic pediatrics and studied epidemiology to gain a master’s degree in public health at GW. He is committed to working with marginalized populations and has a special interest in issues around food insecurity and obesity. “You see health consequences that families face because of health inequities,” he says. “We work to help improve the socioeconomic structure, provide better access to health care and fresh fruit and vegetables, and help our patients have a medical home.”

Growing up in a single-parent multigenerational immigrant family in Little Rock, Arkansas with limited knowledge of important resources, Dr. Essel recognized the unique experiences, challenges, and disparities that shaped his background, and is using them to more effectively care for his patients. “I wanted to see what I could do to improve access for others when I became a doctor,” he says.

Dr. Essel says that the great mentors he had at GW guided him in becoming the doctor he is today. “My mentors have continually shared the importance of having a strong understanding of research skills to effectively work alongside families to design and assess meaningful interventions,” he says. “Dr. Rhonique Shields was just one of the people who helped teach me how to listen to community members and work to empower them.”

Dr. Shields, who is now vice president of medical affairs at Holy Cross Health Network, was impressed by Dr. Essel as a student and now values him as a colleague. “As I have witnessed his professional growth over the years, he has been unwavering in his commitment to the health of the community, to academic growth for himself and his peers, and now as a mentor for medical students and residents,” says Dr. Shields.

In addition to his work in the community, Dr. Essel is active at GW where he serves as an assistant professor of pediatrics, director of the Community Urban Health Scholarly Concentration, a key member of the school’s Clinical Public Health team, and director of the Clinical Public Health Summit on Obesity for second- and third-year medical students.

Dr. Essel says he is honored to be a member of GW’s medical school faculty.” It’s a privilege to be a colleague of those who invested so much in me,” he says. “And it’s exciting to be able to invest in the next generation of students who will become physicians helping others.”

Scholarship support from GW relieved some of Dr. Essel’s financial burden and allowed him to commit himself to primary care. “Medical school is expensive and a huge investment,” he says. “But I knew I wanted to be at GW because of the strong education, great mentors, and opportunities for community experiences.”

This article originally appeared on GW Alumni News