DMU student Ruffin Tchakounte was named to the 22nd annual list of the Des Moines Business Record’s Forty Under 40 honorees. These 40 central Iowa leaders, who were chosen by past award winners, are under the age of 40 and have demonstrated impressive career achievements and unparalleled community involvement.
Together, they join 840 past Business Record Forty Under 40 honorees to bring the total number of honorees to 880 since the publication began the awards in 2000. Each of the honorees will be profiled in the March 20 edition of the Business Record and recognized at a virtual event on April 7, 4 to 6 p.m.
ONE: In 2018 Ruffin received his master’s degree in anatomy at Des Moines University, and then decided to stay to pursue his doctor of osteopathic degree. He also is a recipient of DMU’s Glanton Scholarship, which supports minority students under-represented in health care professions.
TWO: Perhaps Ruffin couldn’t get enough of DMU because he met Leanne (now Tchakounte), D.P.T.’20, here on campus. Ruffin shared, “Leanne has been a gift that I did not foresee. I am so grateful to have her as my life partner!”
THREE: Growing up, Ruffin had many inspirations that led him to choose the path to become a physician. He says the most influential of these was his parents, who were immigrants from Cameroon, a country in West Africa. He shared, “As a child and into my teenage years, I spent summers in Cameroon with family. I was humbled to see the stark difference in lifestyle between there and how I grew up in America. The most shocking was the lack of access to education, health care and freedom of speech. At a very early age I always thought it would be amazing to become a physician and travel back to Cameroon and establish a free clinic where I could educate and equip others to take better care of themselves.”
FOUR: He is the former co-president of Des Moines University’s Student National Medical Association. In that role he created a mentorship program between DMU medical and health sciences students and Genesis Youth Foundation, a central Iowa nonprofit dedicated to helping refugee families level the playing field through a variety of after-school, weekend and summer athletics, arts and academics. He says, “Mentoring youth has always been one of my biggest desires, because we know that a lack of minorities in medicine is directly linked to the fact that younger kids at the grade-school level do not have information on the steps to take to pursue a career as a physician.”
FIVE: Perhaps some of Ruffin’s passion for the younger generation stems from his son. Although he is now married, most of his journey in his pursuit of becoming a doctor was spent as a single dad to his son, Aaden. He shares, “Having Aaden as a part of my life has given me tremendous confidence to graduate as a D.O., because I know how much he looks up to me and how important it is for me to be a positive role model for him.”
SIX: He is fluent in French. French is spoken widely in Cameroon, and he learned the language from spending all of his summer vacations there. “I teach my son Aaden French and have been able to take him to Paris where we have family…Aaden was very much excited to make the connection that Dad was not the only person who likes baguettes and cheese and speaks this weird language.”
SEVEN: Not only does Ruffin possess the intellect to become a physician, but he is also athletically talented. He was an NCAA Division I wrestler at the University of Iowa, where he was a part of three NCAA Division I wrestling championship teams. “Wrestling at Iowa is definitely one of the coolest things I have done…but what is cooler is realizing your son does not care and will love you either way, as long as he has a full glass of chocolate milk,” Ruffin laughs.
EIGHT: He says his secret to balancing life as a college athlete and maintaining his GPA in his chemistry major was reminding himself that he was doing something no one in his family had had the opportunity to do. Ruffin stated, “Getting a meaningful bachelor’s degree that will propel me to become a physician…that still gives me balance and drive today!”
NINE: Ruffin was instrumental in DMU’s creation of its annual Boys Reaching for Opportunities in Science (B.R.O.S.) program and was the keynote speaker for the program as a first-year medical student. The program was created in response to statistics regarding the high likelihood of disengagement that minority males can experience early in school if they are not exposed to creative learning opportunities. B.R.O.S. allows boys in grades 2-6 to experience activities including scrubbing into a sterile unit in the surgery lab; handling and learning about real human organs; making castings of their own feet; exploring the body with ultrasound; practicing basic first aid skills; learning how to tape ankles; participating in balance activities; peering through microscopes; and interacting with medical mannequins in a simulated emergency room, among other activities. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have the opportunity to take part in something like B.R.O.S.,” Ruffin says. “I think it is important that we are here today providing this opportunity for these boys and exposing them to field of medicine and science, to allow them to dream of what their future could look like as a doctor.”
TEN: He is humbled to be considered one of the Des Moines Business Record’s Forty Under 40 for demonstrating impressive career achievements and unparalleled community involvement. “As I sat in on a Zoom call listening to the other recipients of this award speak, I could tell within one minute of hearing them speak just how passionate they are about making our community better,” he says. “I wondered if my fellow classmates had to hear me speak for only one minute, would it be easy for them to understand what I am truly passionate about? I am so grateful to have this experience so I can share what those things are for me. I want kids that look like me know that it is possible to pursue a career in medicine. I am dedicated to increasing diversity in medicine and finding more ways to give to our underserved communities here in Des Moines. I am extremely passionate about bringing along other people who look like me and who don’t look like me to try to accomplish this task.”