Focus on Faculty
Uchenna Acholonu, Jr., MD
After teaching computer science at a girls’ boarding school for three years following graduation from Columbia University, Uchenna Acholonu, Jr., MD, finally answered the call to enter medical school. From his youth, Dr. Acholonu, a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, felt drawn to the profession, partly influenced by his uncle, a gynecologist who continues to serve as a role model for Dr. Acholonu.
“In high school I worked in registration in the Emergency Department of North Central Bronx Hospital just to get my foot in the door,” he says. “As an undergrad, I volunteered in the emergency room at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center — again, just doing whatever I could to stay involved in clinical medicine.”
Dr. Acholonu received his medical degree from SUNY Upstate Medical University and completed residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. After three years as an OB/GYN generalist, Dr. Acholonu enrolled in a fellowship in minimally invasive and robotic surgery. Prior to joining Weill Cornell in 2016, he served as Director of Minimally Invasive and Robotic Gynecologic Surgery at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s-Roosevelt.
Throughout his training, Dr. Acholonu never doubted that obstetrics and gynecology would be the ideal specialty for him. “Of all the clerkships in medical school, obstetrics and gynecology was the one that offered the opportunity to interact with patients in a variety of roles,” he says. “I enjoy routine visits as a way of providing preventive care and building long-term relationships with my patients. Having the ability to provide surgical intervention adds a welcome technical component to the field.” Although he no longer practices obstetrics, Dr. Acholonu still describes delivering babies as “the most amazing part of health care.”
As a resident, Dr. Acholonu witnessed the benefits of minimally invasive surgery firsthand. “After seeing how patients fare after laparoscopic versus open procedures, it seems only right to offer the modality that would allow the patient to return to baseline sooner. Not to mention the benefits of decreased blood loss, shorter hospital stay, and improved cosmesis.”
Dr. Acholonu gravitated towards the robotic platform. “The advent of robotic surgery appealed to the computer scientist that lay dormant within me,” he says. “This formed a natural juxtaposition of my interests that has continued to grow.” Today, Dr. Acholonu applies his expertise to a wide range of gynecologic issues from fibroids, abnormal uterine bleeding, endometriosis, and ovarian cysts to routine wellness, contraception, and the prevention and treatment of STDs.
Education is a key component of Dr. Acholonu’s work as he mentors residents and medical students. “You can train a physician to perform minimally invasive surgery, but it’s not just about the procedure, it’s about understanding when it is appropriate to use that modality,” says Dr. Acholonu. “Would this patient actually benefit from a robotic procedure? That’s one of the points I want our graduates to take away from their time with me. I want them to always keep patient care at the forefront of their actions.”
Dr. Acholonu continues his tradition of volunteerism with medical missions that have taken him to Jamaica, Honduras, and his native Nigeria to both teach other physicians and to provide direct patient care. Two years ago he and his uncle returned to Nigeria on a mission trip that sent them back to the town where much of the Acholonu family still resides. “That unique opportunity will always hold immeasurable value for me and my family.”