Onu Udoh

Fourth-year medical student
Founder, Grow502

Going into medical school, Onu Udoh expected to do a lot of studying. But one particular study ended up changing his path forward.

During his first year at the School of Medicine, Udoh read Louisville’s 2017 Health Equity Report. It immediately ignited his curiosity about combatting health disparities faced by specific populations in the community.

“The report was so eloquently put and opened my eyes to which groups are most disadvantaged,” he said. “Then when Breonna Taylor was killed in 2020, I realized it was time for me to take a more active role in trying to make a difference.”

That’s when Udoh decided to launch Grow502.

What began as a simple healthcare disparities series has developed into a nonprofit organization focused on educating and empowering students and community members to find innovative ways to raise awareness and address local health disparities faced by certain populations. Udoh recruited his fellow students as co-leaders to guide the project and together, they concentrated on education, advocacy, community engagement and creative media as key approaches to fighting disparities.

“Without people actively trying to address health disparities, they are going to stay the status quo,” Udoh said. “With Grow502 and our relentless energy toward putting these issues on people’s radars, it will give people the resources and hopefully the human capital to make a difference in the lives of those who are impacted by these disparities.”

It took a whole community to build Grow502 into the organization it is today, Udoh said.

“We made a critical partnership with UofL’s Trager Institute to guide us in the process of being a nonprofit organization,” he said. “It’s difficult to start a business while in grad school, but Trager has really helped us succeed in fundraising and grant writing, helping us grow our team and leadership.”

With the help of the Trager Institute and other community partners such as Feed Louisville and Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Udoh and Grow502 are helping those in Louisville’s unhoused, refugee and West End populations, among others. While Udoh is driven by creating positive, long-term impacts in these communities, he is particularly proud of the immediate influence Grow502 has on those involved in the organization.

“We’re hoping that eventually we’ll be able to see a change in trends of these health disparities, but what’s also important is we’re helping the people working and engaging with this to become better people, doctors, nurses, dentists,” Udoh said. “We’re creating more well-rounded healthcare professionals who can see the complexities of the world through multiple lenses and understand that disparities can be changed.”

Change is something Udoh has grown more comfortable with himself. Even though he feels he is exactly where he belongs, he noted that his journey to medical school wasn’t always a sure thing. It wasn’t until his sister and fellow third-year medical student, Karen, encouraged him to follow the path to becoming a doctor that he chose to pursue medicine. That decision led him to where he is today.

“I came to UofL because I wanted to have the skills to help people live their best lives despite any afflictions they have,” Udoh said. “To be able to help people is all I want to do.”