Growing up in Tanzania, Rashida A. Khakoo, MACP, knew she wanted to be a doctor even though her country had no medical school. “I always wanted to become a physician. Yet for the three East African [Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda] countries there was only one medical school which took 64 students.”
Dr. Khakoo enrolled in that school—the Makerere University Medical School in Kampala, Uganda—in 1964, a time when, in the U.S., Martin Luther King was struggling with education and other civil rights issues. More than 40 years later her career intersected with his legacy when in January Dr. Khakoo received the Martin Luther King Jr. award for “sharing of self” in honor of her helping young people pursue careers in medicine.
The annual award recognizes West Virginians who are living Dr. King's dream by working toward peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people. “From the time I was a student, I have always been very interested in helping other students,” said Dr. Khakoo.
A month after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, West Virginia recognized Dr. Khakoo yet again for her commitment to racial equality and justice. She was selected as a recipient of the Governor's 2007 Civil Rights Day Award, and honored at a luncheon in February.
During her time as Governor for the West Virginia Chapter, Dr. Khakoo encouraged underprivileged high school students to pursue their dreams. Using a Chapter Development grant, she began a program in 2003 to bring students from the Health Sciences Technology Academy (a math and science summer school for minority and underrepresented students) to the state ACP meeting.
“I was hoping that when we brought some of them to the meeting, they would be attracted to health careers,” explained Dr. Khakoo. Students have been eager to attend, and many have kept in touch with mentors they were introduced to at the meeting.
“What they really enjoyed was the skin biopsy on pigs' feet. These are high school kids and they really got involved in it,” she said. The West Virginia Chapter received an Evergreen Award for the program.
Dr. Khakoo's work with older students has been recognized by numerous teaching awards in her time at West Virginia University, where she serves as an assistant vice president for faculty development and associate chairman of the department of medicine. Dr. Khakoo came to WVU in 1976 as one of the founding members of the infectious disease section at the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center.
Her areas of expertise include hepatitis, influenza, tropical diseases and HIV/AIDS, but she provides faculty development on other subjects through the Teaching Scholars Program. Dr. Khakoo helped design a two-year educational program for WVU professors from all the health sciences, including nursing, dentistry and pharmacy as well as medicine.
The young faculty meets once a week to discuss teaching and scholarly projects, while studying topics such as leadership and philosophy of education. The program was so popular that it was adapted and expanded to include faculty from other universities.
“We started an additional summer institute in which we took most of the curriculum of the program and worked it into a one-week program. We get people from other parts of the country to participate,” said Dr. Khakoo.
Dr. Khakoo takes her educational efforts around the world as well as the country. She is involved in charitable development work to improve education, health and civil society in parts of Africa and Asia. Promoting education has been a constant in her life since she tutored her peers in medical school in Uganda.
Half a world away from Dr. King's fight for civil rights in the U.S., the young student had little idea that 40 years later her work would help his legacy to live on through medical education.