A physician that bridges the gap

Dr. Rwigema just completed his third year as a general surgery resident at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.

Growing up, Jean-Christophe Rwigema, MD, had three loves: sports, science and his family.

“I grew up loving and playing sports,” Rwigema said. “My other love was science, I was always drawn to biology.”

Originally from Africa, Rwigema, who just completed his third year as a general surgery resident at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville, was the youngest of four boys. His family moved to the United States as refugees from the Rwandan genocide when he was 9 years old and settled in southern California in search for better opportunities. However, the journey was not always easy.

“Being immigrants brought about many challenges for my family and I. My parents had to work very difficult and physically taxing jobs with long hours,” Rwigema said.

As a result, his mother’s health began to decline. This allowed Rwigema to see firsthand the challenges patients with limited access to care face. His experience with his mother would catapult him into a career in medicine.

“We had no insurance, so her only way of seeking medical care was through the emergency department. I would accompany her and it was there when I first noted her interactions with physicians,” Rwigema said. “The cultural barriers significantly hindered these interactions and negatively affected the care she received. I wanted to become a physician who could bridge the gap and take care of patients like my mother.”

Each day, he worked toward the goal of becoming a medical professional. Rwigema received his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with a concentration in pre-med from the University of California, Irvine and his medical degree from the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

The perfect fit

Reflecting on his time at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville, Rwigema highlights the direct training residents receive in their programs and the dedication to advancing medicine.

“In our department, we see a wide range of pathology. Our commitment to helping patients keeps us going and from day one we get to the operating room early and often,” Rwigema said.

When researching and interviewing for residency programs, it was important to Rwigema that the program he chose have a positive work culture that made doing what he loved enjoyable. 

“I got a sense the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville was a warm environment that felt like family,” Rwigema said. “There was a healthy resident-to-faculty relationship and with a surgical residency being so challenging, I wanted to train in a place where I could be supported and be happy going to work.”

In addition to a healthy work environment, he wanted to be sure he could help some of Jacksonville’s most vulnerable.

“I have always wanted to serve underserved communities because that’s how I grew up. It has been rewarding to give back at UF COMJ,” Rwigema said.

Leaving to return

Now that Rwigema has completed his third year of residency training, he will leave for Chicago to complete a two-year research fellowship in bariatric, foregut and hernia surgery. While he will leave UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville for a time, his training will bring him back.

“I am very excited for this opportunity and this next chapter to further my knowledge and skills in clinical research and to learn more about bariatric surgery,” Rwigema said. “After two years, I will return to complete my residency training with the goal of doing a bariatric surgery fellowship afterwards.”

Marie Crandall, MD, MPH, FACS, professor and associate chair in the department of surgery, speaks highly of Rwigema.

“His path has been unique and his warmth and dedication palpable. I am proud to have had him as part of our program and await his return in two years’ time,” Crandall said.

Fun facts about Dr. Rwigema

When Rwigema is not working, he likes to work out and be active. He enjoys all forms of art and draws in his spare time. His favorite teams are the Carolina Panthers and the Los Angeles Lakers. No stranger to the kitchen, Rwigema loves to cook and is quite confident in his recipes for a tasty steak and lamb.