State Hero: Ngozi Ezike, MD

State Hero: Ngozi Ezike, MD

Illinois Department of Public Health 

From early on, Ngozi Ezike, MD, seemed destined to be a doctor. Her father, an immigrant from Nigeria who settled in Los Angeles, dreamed his firstborn would become a physician. Ezike realized that aspiration, going into medicine and eventually becoming director of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

Ezike thrived in medical school, choosing two specialties, primary care and pediatrics. “I wanted to be able to take care of so many kinds of people, so many kinds of issues, and to know a lot about many different things,” she says.

Ngozi Ezike quote Before she became IDPH director, Ezike was well-versed in the field of public health, having been a medical director at Cook County Health and at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center.

“I chose intentionally to work for Cook County Health because their motto is to give everyone the care and respect they need, regardless of their ability to pay,” she says.

As director of the IDPH, Ezike moves seamlessly from English to Spanish when she reports Covid-19 updates during Governor J.B. Pritzker’s press conferences. She also speaks French and Swahili and is learning Portuguese. “Speaking with a person in their native tongue is a great way to connect with them,” she says.

Reporting the number of Covid-19 deaths has been difficult for her, she says. “It’s so sad because these people are not just numbers on the page. They represent a gap in families, communities, and job communities.”

Yet, she maintains hope. “I’m hopeful we will find an effective vaccine, but also a treatment so people can stay out of the [intensive care unit] and the hospital, and rapid, robust universal testing so we don’t have to have these continued mortalities.” 

Originally published in the Fall 2020/Winter 2021 print issue. Photo by Jim Vondruska