Meet Kelechi Okpara, an award-winning doctor who holds both MD and PharmD degrees.

She initially started her health care journey in pharmacy, receiving a Doctorate in Pharmacy from Northeastern University, later pursuing medicine through the Charles R. Drew/UCLA Medical Education Program. After graduation from UCLA, Okpara received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award from the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science for exemplary and outstanding leadership throughout her medical school career.

Okpara is a native of Trenton, N.J., a city burdened with crime, violence, and poverty. There, she witnessed first-hand how those challenges affected her family and the community around her. The experience fueled her passion for addressing health care disparities, and advocating for underserved and disadvantaged patients – which is why she ended up at UC San Francisco.

To that end, she believes that growth is “inevitable” if we provide communities and neighbors with proper and adequate support.

But it all starts somewhere, no matter the doctor.

Follow along as Okpara begins her journey in the UCSF Internal Medicine Residency Program at the Parnassus Heights campus.


A small icon of a clock shows the time 5:30 a.m.

Kelechi's handwriting that reads "Getting ready for the day."


Rise and shine. Okpara’s alarm was set to go off at 5:30 a.m.

But she’s already up anticipating the day ahead.

An early workout allows the new UCSF resident to “reflect and center” herself, while also starting this memorable day on a positive note. At breakfast, she relies on a nourishing and nutritious smoothie to get going.


A young Black woman named Kelechi Okpara brushes her teeth over her bathroom sink early in the morning.
A young black woman named Kelechi Okpara exercises on an eliptical machine in her apartment early in the morning.

A small icon of an analog clock shows the time 7:00 a.m.

Kelechi's handwriting that reads "Heading to the hospital."

Heading to the Hospital.


Strap in. It’s excitement and nerves from here on out.

“[I’ve got] many thoughts swarming in my head as I get closer and closer to the hospital to start the day,” Okpara said.


Kelechi Okpara wears a KN-95 mask while she sits in the backseat of a car and looks out the window.
Kelechi Okpara holds her phone in her hand while she waits for an elevator at the UCSF Parnassus Heights campus.

A small icon of an analog clock shows the time 8:00 a.m.

Kelechi's handwriting that reads "Start of the workday."

Start of the workday.


Now it’s time for a brief orientation with other first-year residents to start the day.

“I don’t think I truly processed any information during this session,” Okpara reflected. “My nerves were getting to me.”

Later, her experienced senior resident, Christopher Gordon, MBA, MD, helps guide Okpara so she doesn’t miss anything vital – including how to use hospital’s the electronic health record system. “There is [a lot] of on-the-job training in residency.”


Two Black medical residents look at a computer. Kelechi (left) is a first-year resident, and Chris (right) is a senior resident.
Two Black medical residents named Kelechi and Chris sit and discuss patients in a resident working area. They are surrounded by computers, chairs, and patient information on whiteboards.

A small icon of an analog clock shows the time 11:30 a.m.

Kelechi's handwriting that reads "Lots of time spent discussing patients."

Lots of time spent discussing patients.


The medical team “rounds,” seeing all patients under their care daily.

Okpara’s first rotation is in cardiology.

Here, she discusses patient care in the workroom before interpreting a chest X-ray. “It’s been a while since I had to do it,” she recalled. “But luckily I remembered my mnemonic on how to read these X-rays.” First, Okpara looks at the opaque areas, then the darker structures and finally the “H” for heart.


Senior resident Chris (left) and first-year resident (Kelechi) discuss a patient with a doctor (center).
First-year resident Kelechi points at a patient's check x-ray while Chris, a senior resident, and a physician look at the computer screen.

A small icon of an analog clock shows the time 1:00 p.m.

Kelechi's handwriting that reads "I made it to lunchtime!"

I made it to lunchtime!


The first day is a total whirlwind. But there’s no time for herself, even when Okpara is alone. “I likely have 10 million things on my mind as I grab lunch,” she said.

She makes sure to eat on the go, food in one hand and her phone in the other to keep up with patients.


First-year resident Kelechi checks her phone with one hand while holding a plate of food and a drink in the other hand.

A small icon of an analog clock shows the time 5:45 p.m.

Kelechi's handwriting that reads "Here I am with a patient."

Here I am with a patient


This is what she’s trained for.

When listening to the heart, Okpara focuses and pays careful attention to all of the sounds. Some heart sounds may indicate problems and listening with a stethoscope is her first chance to find them. She also assesses the neck veins as a visual blood pressure check.


First-year resident Kelechi shows a patient paperwork on a clipboard. The patient is an elderly woman of Asian descent, and wears a beanie and hospital gown as she lies in hospital bed.

A small icon of an analog clock shows the time 6:00 p.m.

Kelechi's handwriting that reads "The end of day 1."

The end of day 1


It’s always great to see familiar faces in a sea of uncertainty.

Okpara’s first day as a UCSF resident ends with just that.

“Seeing Jas at the end of day one made my heart smile,” she said. “We went to undergrad together and are really good friends. Now she’s a 4th year medical student here at UCSF. It’s always a good time with Jas!”

With that, Okpara takes a breath. She did it.


Two Black female medical residents named Jas (left) and Kelechi (right) smile as they greet each other in front of a set of elevators .They wear respiratory masks and medical scrubs.


Kelechi's handwriting that reads "I survived my first day of residency!"

I survived my first day of residency!




The UCSF Internal Medicine Residency Program has a long history of producing leaders in academic medicine, public health and clinical practice.

The program provides all trainees with a broad mastery of the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be an outstanding general internist.

Beyond these competencies, trainees are encouraged to individualize their pathways during residency so they can pursue customized educational opportunities that allow them to enter the next phase of their careers. This also allows residents to track into smaller groups within the large program to maximize the time spent with residents and expert faculty who share similar interests.

Through experiences at diverse training sites in San Francisco and beyond, residents in the program are exposed to the broadest possible range of patients and faculty, leading to an incredibly rich clinical experience.