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‘Lucky I was’

PhD Medicine graduate finds Memorial supportive, 'serene and charming'

The Gazette’s latest special feature celebrates Memorial’s newest alumni.

By Terri Coles

Dr. Joseph Amegadzie says he will always have fond memories of his time at Memorial.

Thanks to the immense support he received in the Faculty of Medicine and the natural wonders of the island of Newfoundland, the fall PhD graduate says it is a special place.

“Memorial University is a serene and charming place to learn,” Dr. Amegadzie said.

In particular, he credits the help of his supervisor, Dr. Zhiwei Gao of the Faculty of Medicine, with helping him through his program, particularly with the challenges of pursuing a doctoral degree in clinical epidemiology during a pandemic.

“I remember the day he put my mind to ease. He told me, ‘Joseph, whatever you want or want to do, I will support you 100 per cent,'” he said of his supervisor.

“He made my PhD possible and I am forever indebted to him.”

From Ghana to Canada

Dr. Amegadzie earned both bachelor of science (honours) and master of science degrees before coming to Canada in spring 2015.

Before that move, he worked at the Ghana Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), as a regulatory officer and deputy pharmacovigilance officer and was responsible for medicine and vaccine safety.

“Working with vaccines and medicines evoked my passion for research” he said.

“I wanted to get involved in decision-making pertaining to vaccines and medicines that find their way to people’s homes.”

After completing a research assistantship at Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research in Accra, Ghana, he worked with an epidemiologist and a respiratory specialist researching asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma-COPD overlap.

That experience led him to being accepted at Memorial with full funding to pursue his PhD. He will collect his doctoral degree during the Friday, Oct. 22, session of fall convocation at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.

Respiratory illnesses

The focus on respiratory illness has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the conditions affect millions of people around the world, Dr. Amegadzie says.

“My study so far has provided important and novel insight for clinicians, policy-makers and patients to examine the risks and benefits of β2-agonists-based medications commonly used to treat asthma and/or COPD patients.”

COVID-19 challenges

As it did for many other students, the COVID-19 pandemic added new challenges to Dr. Amegadzie’s studies.

“The global pandemic came at a very challenging time of my studies, at a point where I was in the heat of my statistical analyses, revising a manuscript for publication and about to submit two more manuscripts for peer review,” he said.

His PhD funding had also just ended, adding another pressure, but Dr. Amegadzie credits the support of his supervisor and committee members for helping him through that time.

“[Dr. Jamie Farrell] had no funding to support me but was willing to give me money out of his pocket to get me going.” — Dr. Joseph Amegadzie

His supervisor Dr. Gao was able to provide alleviating funding matched by the Office for Research and Graduate Studies for a year.

“I could recall one of my committee members, Dr. Jamie Farrell, who told me he had no funding to support me but was willing to give me money out of his pocket to get me going,” Dr. Amegadzie said. “How lucky I was.”

The pandemic also gave him the opportunity to explore the province outside of St. John’s, as well as the chance to find a new hobby to enjoy during breaks from his academic work.

“I developed a habit of driving around Newfoundland, picked up a hobby of fishing for cod and mackerel fish and almost driving to every available cove and bay that can be found on the island for hiking to exercise the body, mind and soul.”

With his PhD complete, Dr. Amegadzie has begun a post-doctoral fellowship at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of British Columbia. He is also an official member of the university’s Respiratory Evaluation Sciences Program.

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