From Uganda to medical school: Abington graduate reflects on the journey

Man in cap and gown crouching near City Hall in Philadelphia

Edmund Wekunga, Penn State Abington class of 2023, begins medical school this fall after earning a degree in biology.

Credit: Penn State

ABINGTON, Pa. — Volunteering to work with young cancer patients at a hospital near his home in Uganda confirmed then-14-year-old Edmund Wekunga’s plans to become a doctor. 

“The connections I made with the children and seeing their strength in the face of such a tough disease inspired me to pursue medicine. It was those heartfelt interactions that showed me the profound impact a doctor can have on someone's life,” he said recently. 

In 2019, Wekunga moved to the United States to fulfill his dream. He enrolled at Penn State Abington and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, in the vertebrate physiology option, in 2023. He said his coursework and the impact of being selected as a Schreyer Honors College Scholar, the University's honors programs, prepared him for the rigors of medical school, which he begins in August at Drexel University. 

“The faculty at Penn State Abington were exceptionally supportive, and I often relied on engaging discussions with my colleagues to enhance my learning experience. My undergraduate journey at Abington was smooth and fulfilling,” he said, also noting that the alumni network, resources and tuition played roles in his college experience. 

Several faculty and staff served as mentors to Wekunga including Chris Walters, senior coordinator for student success; Kevin Cannon, professor of chemistry; and Christine Krewson, associate teaching professor of chemistry. 

“Each of them provided invaluable guidance in various capacities," he said. "Dr. Krewson played a pivotal role as the pre-health professions advisor. She highlighted numerous resources available to pre-med students such as the pre-health professions mock application, which was instrumental in helping me compile a strong medical school application."

The Schreyer Scholar designation led to Wekunga working with David Ruth, the honors program coordinator and an associate professor of history.

“I joined Schreyer to challenge myself, push my boundaries and enhance my research skills," Wekunga said. "The journey was not without its challenges, and there were times when I was truly tested. However, I gained far more than I anticipated — a rich network of peers and mentors, and a wealth of knowledge. The experience profoundly shaped my academic and personal growth."

In addition to managing challenging coursework, Wekunga said he developed skills outside the classroom to enhance his medical career. He volunteered in the Hospital Elder Life Program at Jefferson Abington Hospital, and he qualified to become a certified pharmacy technician at Holy Redeemer Hospital.  

On campus, he was a member of the Pre-Health Professions Organization and the African Student Organization, and he worked as a peer tutor in the Chaiken Center for Student Success.  

“The opportunity to assist fellow students and observe their academic growth was gratifying," he said. "Witnessing their progression and the honing of their study skills reinforced my belief in the power of collaborative learning and personal mentorship. It was a role that not only allowed me to contribute to their success but also enriched my own understanding and interpersonal skills.”

I often relied on engaging discussions with my colleagues to enhance my learning experience.

—Edmund Wekunga , Penn State Abington class of 2023

Wekunga said he stayed focused on his goals but moving from Africa to the United States presented personal challenges, which he overcame with support. 

“Coming from a different cultural background, I found it difficult to relate to my peers, and they often found it equally challenging to relate to me," he said. "However, I am profoundly grateful for the support and community provided by the African Student Organization on campus. The students within this organization played a crucial role in helping me acclimate to U.S. culture, offering both comfort and a sense of belonging during a pivotal time in my life.” 

Wekunga recently completed a master of science through the Drexel University Pathway to Medical School program, and he will begin medical school there in August.

Reflecting on the last five years, he encourages other students not to hesitate to ask for help when they need it. 

“For those pursuing pre-med, remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint," he said. "It's easy to become burnt out and frustrated on this demanding path. Prioritize self-care and understand that there's no need to rush through the process. Taking your time can lead to a more fulfilling and sustainable journey."

About Penn State Abington

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,100 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 25 majors, accelerated master's degrees, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.