Dr. Enid Okokon’s life hasn’t been a bed of roses, but you’d never know it from her positive attitude and warm disposition. As a teenager, Okokon came to the United States from Ghana and endured the cultural shock. She survived the grueling regime of medical school and subsequent residency. She was widowed at a young age and left to raise her four children alone, and she is a cancer survivor.
Any one of those life experiences might have left a weaker person undone, but not Dr. Okokon. In her own words, “I love what I do and that’s what gets me going in the morning. I do get stressed sometimes and this job can be stressful, but I don’t let people see that in me. I’ve been in practice for more than 20 years and it’s still exciting. If I had to do it over again, I would do the same thing.”
It’s that kind of enthusiasm, commitment and passion that has made Dr. Okokon one of the most beloved pediatricians at Milwaukee Health Services, Inc. She is proud of the fact that she’s now taking care of the babies of children she took care of as babies. Moreover, one of the testaments to her patients’ love for her is that many of them are related. Through word-of-mouth, her patients have recommended her to other relatives, and she said that she often discovers those familial ties by accident.
Dr. Okokon first came to the United States when she was in her late teens, and she lived with her brother who is 15 years her senior, and his wife.
“I came to Milwaukee in December, so first of all, the weather was a big shock for me. I’d never experienced such cold weather,” said Okokon. “Then, by nature I was shy and withdrawn, and because I didn’t know anyone other than my brother, I pretty much kept to myself at first.
“My brother was a father figure to me, and he was very strict. His wife was an educator and she was instrumental in helping me acclimate to life in the United States. She made sure I read books apart from my school books and taught me many things,” said Okokon.
Dr. Okokon finished her high school education through MATC’s Adult Education Program, and then attended Marquette University through the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). She attended medical school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and completed her residency in Parkridge, Illinois at Lutheran General Hospital.
“When I attended MATC, most of the people in my classes were older than me, so I wasn’t really engaged socially. I spent my first year in the United States basically going to school and coming home. I didn’t know anyone, and I hadn’t met any friends yet, so I focused on my studies,” said Okokon.
Always interested in the field of health since she was a young child, Dr. Okokon admits that she didn’t decide to become a doctor until her second year in college. By that time she had become a permanent resident and she was eligible for financial aid, so her brother helped her with the necessary paperwork to enroll in medical school.
Dr. Okokon said that during her residency, she became aware of how important race is in America. She said that if she had not had people pushing and supporting her, she might have given up.
“For the first time (in my life), I realized that the level of education one has in America didn’t matter, because of the fact that I’m in the minority. You see yourself as being equal to any other doctor, but they don’t necessarily see you as equal, especially those who are in positions of authority; they do not see you as equal counterpart. I didn’t let it bother me, but it was discouraging. It was something that always came up and it opened my eyes. It was also something that I did not anticipate. When I was doing my residency, I always had to prove myself and I don’t think it’s that way in Africa. I endured many experiences that almost made me say forget it, but I’m thankful that I didn’t give up,” said Dr. Okokon.
Dr. Okokon credits her first line for her endurance and perseverance. “My father is my first line. He pushed my siblings and me. He believed in education and pushed us to excel. When I came to the United States, my brother became my first line. He took over where my father left off. He was a father figure for me during that time, and he pushed me as hard as my dad. Even though they’re divorced now, my brother’s wife was also critical to my success. She was my mother when I came to in the U.S. She is still a very important person in my life.
For a time, Dr. Okokon lived in River Falls Wisconsin. Her husband was a professor at the University in River Falls, so the family relocated there. After he passed away, relatives talked her into moving back to Milwaukee, where other siblings were now living, so she could have a support system.
“Living in River Falls was one of the most exciting times in my life. It was a hard working time in my life, but it was also a good time. That’s when we were a family; my husband was alive, all my children were still at home. It was good. But, returning to Milwaukee was a good move for me. I basically had to raise my children alone after my husband died in 1992.
Even though she came to America all the way from Ghana, Dr. Okokon admits that she’s not well traveled, so she can’t compare life in Wisconsin to other parts of the country.
“I do know that Wisconsin still lags behind in the area of integration and equality among minorities. There are too many poor black people in living Wisconsin,” said Dr. Okokon.
A cancer survivor, Dr. Okokon has a zest for life and making the most of it. Her philosophy is to “Take life as one day at time. You always have to look to the future, but be present in your life every day and treasure the day that you’re in,” she said.
While she lives one day at a time, Dr. Okokon keeps her eye on the future and she believes that there’s much more she has to look forward to. “I don’t think I’ve necessarily fulfilled my purpose in life. I’m happy with what I do, but I know there’s always more to come; there’s always more.