With Saint Leo Biology Degrees, Twins Work Toward Careers in Medicine
Meet Chidozie and Chigozie Igbonagwam, identical twins who are proud alumni of the Saint Leo University biology degree program now pursuing medical school.
Chidozie and Chigozie Igbonagwam were born only one minute apart. Twenty-six years later, the identical twins and graduates of the Saint Leo University biology degree program are on their way to adding “MD” after their names. And they have supported each other along the way.
Chidozie (meaning “may God keep you” in English) also goes by his middle name, Brian. Chigozie (meaning “may God bless you”) sometimes goes by his middle name, Brandon, as well. Born to Sandy and Dr. Okey Igbonagwam (a Saint Leo professor whom we highlighted in this blog article), they have an older brother, Uzoma (middle name Stanley), who is 38. The twins were born in New Brunswick, NJ where they briefly lived before their family moved to Virginia. They now both reside in St. Augustine, FL.
“I came out one minute earlier, so I can say I’m the big brother,” Chidozie says with a laugh.
Chidozie and Chigozie are 2014 alumni of StoneBridge School, a private, Christian school located in Chesapeake, VA. While there, they played basketball and soccer. They explain how their dad, who started teaching for Saint Leo in Virginia while they were still in high school, was a bit of an influence on them when it came to choosing a college.
“Our dad said good things about Saint Leo, and we had heard good things about it from others as well,” Chigozie explains.
In terms of a major, they decided on the BS in biology in biomedical and health sciences.
“I want to help people with their health, especially the less fortunate,” Chidozie says.
“When I asked myself during my junior year of high school if I wanted to do anything else, I decided that the medical field was a good fit for me,” Chigozie explains.
In the fall of 2014, they moved from Virginia to Florida to begin their higher education journeys at Saint Leo’s University Campus. Both brothers lived on campus during all four years. They cannot say enough good things about this experience.
“We got to interact with and hang out with so many different people,” Chidozie says. “We would go grab food or play intramural sports with our friends. It felt like a nice community there, and you could feel the togetherness among everyone on campus.”
“The best thing was the community aspect,” Chigozie adds. “You can literally see someone you know anywhere you go on campus. Everyone knows everyone, so people are always willing to help each other out in any way possible.”
According to Chidozie, Dr. Cheryl Kozina was his most impactful professor in the undergraduate Saint Leo biology program.
“She was my advisor and taught first-year biology and Genetics,” he recalls. “I was inspired and motivated by her to work hard. She was very encouraging to what everyone wanted to do in their lives professionally.”
Dr. Sergiy Borysov also stood out to him. He remembers the senior project he worked with him on and the Summer Undergraduate Research Internship Program (SURIP) that Borysov connected him to for a unique research opportunity.
Chigozie also fondly recalls Drs. Kozina, Borysov, and Audrey Shor.
“They all shaped my interest in medicine,” Chigozie says. “They were very supportive and realistic about how to approach our goals.”
He specifically recalls a Biochemistry class with Borysov.
“When people hear the term ‘biochemistry,’ they probably don’t even know where to start to try to understand it. Dr. Borysov did a great job of making it engaging and putting a hard subject into something simpler.”
Along with their academics, they were highly engaged in University Campus activities. They worked as Orientation Leaders for new students coming to campus. Both were also biology lab assistants. Plus, they were members of the Biology Club, TriBeta National Biological Honor Society chapter, Pre-Med Club, and served as committee members on the Campus Activities Board (CAB). Recreationally, they played flag football, soccer, and basketball. Chidozie worked for the Recreation Department and was a referee for intramural basketball and soccer games.
In addition, both brothers were very involved in Leo for Saint Jude, an organization on campus that supports fundraising efforts for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“We first got involved to help our friend with it,” Chigozie says. “After she graduated, we wanted to keep it going and decided to take the reins.”
During their involvement, they helped raise over $10,000 for the chapter.
They explain the Saint Leo University core values that have resonated most with them in their lives.
“Community is the one I think Saint Leo embodies the most,” Chidozie says. “Personal development is also important to me. I matured a lot as a college student. All of my experiences there helped prepare me for what I’m doing today. I honestly do love the person I have become.”
Chigozie agrees and looks back on how he matured as an undergraduate student as well.
“When you first start out in college, you don’t see yourself doing certain things. There were a lot of character-building moments throughout my time there, and I don’t think I would be where I’m at if it weren’t for Saint Leo.”
The twins completed the biology program in the spring of 2018. They both add that since graduating four years ago, they are still connected with numerous friends they made on campus, exemplifying how they are still impacted by the university community.
Following graduation from Saint Leo, the brothers both worked as medical scribes at a local hospital, AdventHealth Zephyrhills, for a year. They then went on to earn master’s degrees in medical science from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2020 at the school’s Bradenton, FL campus.
Both have continued their paths in medical school through Lake Erie. They are now third-year medical students based at Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine. Chidozie is currently doing emergency room rotations. After his fourth and final year of medical school, he is interested in pursuing cardiology. This would likely require a residency and fellowship. As for Chigozie, he is considering a career in either physical medicine and rehabilitation or sports medicine.
According to the Igbonagwam twins, the fact that they have attended the same schools and chose to pursue medical school was not necessarily intentional.
“It just kind of happened that way,” Chidozie says. “For a long time, we also shared a car. Everyone thinks we are attached at the hip, but most of the time, we do certain things together out of convenience.”
They also try to make sure others can distinguish which twin is which.
“We really do go out of our way to make sure we don’t look alike,” Chigozie says.
“We have different haircuts, and we stopped dressing the same pretty much since our mom stopped dressing us,” Chidozie adds.
They admit they have had some fun with their similarities at times. Chidozie recounts an instance when he tried to play a trick on one of his Saint Leo professors.
“In my junior year, we both were taking Genetics with Dr. Kozina,” he says. “But the classes met at different times. I tried to show up to class for my brother. Not more than three seconds later, she noticed I wasn’t Chigozie and told me to leave.”
For the most part, however, they have been there for each other in a positive way.
“Throughout our lives, we have motivated each other and kept each other accountable,” Chigozie explains. “More recently, we have relied more on self-motivation and use each other as a support system.”
Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Chidozie and Chigozie Igbonagwam and are used with permission.