Dr. Sylvia Owusu-Ansah | UPMC Life Changer

When Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, MD, MPH, FAAP, was a teenager, her stepfather worked as a World Health Organization adviser to Namibia’s health minister. The HIV/AIDS crisis was at its height in Africa at the time.

Dr. Owusu-Ansah still remembers her stepfather telling her about the toll HIV and AIDS were taking on the population. On the weekends, he’d take her to visit the poorest neighborhoods, where HIV and AIDS were affecting people most.

“He wanted us to kind of recognize there’s another side of the world here,” Dr. Owusu-Ansah says. “‘You’re going to this fancy international school, so you get to see that eight hours a day, five days a week. But on weekends, I want you to see what the real world is about.'”

That experience sparked a fire in Dr. Owusu-Ansah to help underprivileged and underserved communities. Years later, she’s fulfilling that mission.

Dr. Owusu-Ansah is an emergency medicine physician and medical director of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. In 2020, Dr. Owusu-Ansah helped to create the Career Help Advancement and Achievement Mentorship Program (CHAMP). The program provides education and mentorship, including CPR training, for underserved youth in western Pennsylvania.

Recently, Dr. Owusu-Ansah and UPMC emergency medicine physician Rickquel “Rikki” Tripp, MD, MD, MPH, CDR, USNR, began offering CPR training to other underserved groups.

The training has the potential for a tangible effect.

Research indicates that Black, Hispanic, and other minority communities receive CPR from bystanders at lower rates. The goal is to help improve health equity by providing CPR training to people in underserved communities.

“We know that underserved communities are not getting CPR to the degree that they should,” Dr. Owusu-Ansah says. “They don’t know CPR to the degree that they should. And it’s one of those simple fixes — like, let’s go teach them.”

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‘To Make the World a Better Place’

As an emergency medicine physician and with EMS, Dr. Owusu-Ansah cares for sick children both inside and outside the hospital.

The opportunity to help children in their times of greatest need drives her.

“I truly am fueled by the kid that I make feel better in the emergency department,” she says. “I give him a Matchbox car, and he’s good to go, and his boo-boo’s fixed, and he gets to go home, and he stops crying. Those kinds of things, I’m really fueled by that.”

Another long-held passion for Dr. Owusu-Ansah is advocating for others.

As an undergraduate at the University of Rochester, she created a volunteer group to help teens at a low-income housing community. While pursuing her medical degree at the University of Chicago, she worked with underserved children at a public housing project. And as she worked toward her master’s degree in public health at Johns Hopkins University, she became interested in writing health policy.

She continues to advocate for others today, particularly in addressing health disparities in underserved communities.

“I really don’t like the idea of feeling rejected,” she says.

“For me, that’s one of the worst feelings. I’ve had so many times in my life where I’ve felt that in the way of rejection, whether it’s in family life, or work life, or school life, or whatever. And I just don’t want anybody else to ever feel that way.

“And so, that propels me to do a lot of the things that I do and say a lot of the things that I say. I try to inform people and connect people to know that they’re not alone, to know that there are other people out there supporting them, that they’re doing a great job — to make the world a better place.”

‘The Children Are Our Future’

Health disparities have long been a problem in underserved communities, and the COVID-19 pandemic amplified those problems. Dr. Owusu-Ansah continued her advocacy throughout the pandemic, which included the launch of CHAMP.

Dr. Owusu-Ansah and colleagues Noel Spears, MD, MPH, and Orquidia Torres, MD, MS, began CHAMP in 2020. The program provides STEM education and mentorship for students at Arsenal Middle School in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. Many of the students come from underserved communities, making it one of the most diverse schools in Pennsylvania.

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine students and UPMC health leaders serve as mentors to the middle school students. They hope to inspire the children to pursue careers in science or health care.

CPR training became CHAMP’s bellwether offering. Each year, UPMC and University of Pittsburgh fellows, residents, faculty members, public health students, and teachers visit Arsenal. There, they train seventh graders in CPR.

“As emergency department physicians, CPR is what we do and what we do very well,” Dr. Owusu-Ansah says. “And so we knew it was very important for our middle school students to also learn how to perform CPR.”

Research shows that children as young as 9 years old have the capacity to perform CPR. The CHAMP team realized there was an opportunity for the middle schoolers at Arsenal to learn. The training consists of demonstrations and practice on manikins.

There’s an element of fun because the trainings are set to music, and it ends with a competition.

“Seeing the look on their faces, the questions that they’re asking, seeing their energy when they’re doing chest compressions to ‘Baby Shark,’ all of that fuels me to do more,” Dr. Owusu-Ansah says.

Over 150 Arsenal students have learned CPR since the program began. In recent years, the CPR training also began to incorporate Stop the Bleed and other first aid initiatives.

“As cliché as it sounds, the children are our future, and they need to lead the way,” Dr. Owusu-Ansah says. “So, I think it’s important that everyone knows CPR. I think it’s important that every child knows that they’re important, that they’re loved, and to see their potential and want them to reach their highest goals.”

‘Every Life Is Worth Saving’

Dr. Owusu-Ansah is a faith-driven person. In November 2022, she says she began to feel a calling to expand her CPR training to more people.

She teamed with Dr. Tripp, an adult emergency medicine and EMS specialist at UPMC, to provide CPR training to other underserved groups.

“We recognize the uniqueness of us and what we do,” Dr. Owusu-Ansah says. “Rikki’s adults, and I’m pediatrics, so we joke that we could take care of you from 0 to 120 (years old).”

Drs. Owusu-Ansah and Tripp have provided CPR and Stop the Bleed training to schools and community organizations. They have also taught CPR to hundreds of student athletes at the University of Pittsburgh.

In the summer of 2023, the doctors created a nonprofit called Akoma United through which they provide CPR training and other life-saving resources.

Through her efforts inside the hospital and in the community, the passion to help others remains Dr. Owusu-Ansah’s fuel.

“I think what I’m most proud of is creating the village,” she says. “It’s a team effort. I believe that every life is worth saving.”

About Trauma & Emergency Medicine

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