At an age when U.S. children are starting school, David Koffa was starting a whole new life, fleeing the civil war in Liberia. “I was only 6, so I didn’t understand the magnitude of what was happening,” he said. “But when we got to the U.S., I remember it was a night-and-day difference.”
David traces his passion for health care to his early years in Liberia. “Being in Liberia taught me a lot about disparities — social and economic, but also in terms of health care,” he said. “My dad lost his mom at a very young age due to bad medical practices during childbirth. So many Liberians died from conditions that could have been easily treated with proper health care.”
After a brief stint in Philadelphia, David’s family moved to Minneapolis. “Although it was very cold, the quality of life was excellent and the people I met were nice to me,” David recalled. He had a very successful high school career, participating in a wide range of activities including football, basketball, track, student council, quiz bowl and National Honor Society.
Between classes and activities, David also found time to log more than 400 volunteer hours at local hospitals. “In my culture, we know that a lot of people have helped us, so we have a strong sense of giving back,” he said. “I loved working in the hospital a few times a week, seeing people’s health improve, and the power of support from families helping people get better. It was very eye-opening.”
David says his plan was to become a doctor, a goal he pursued with help from a mentorship program at school. “I was able to shadow an emergency room doctor from Hennepin County Medical Center, which was very interesting,” he said. “My mentor kept talking about the school he had gone to, Dartmouth, so I researched it and decided to apply.”
David was accepted to Dartmouth and received a four-year Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF) scholarship, sponsored by United Health Foundation. “It was so much more than a financial scholarship,” he said. “It helped me learn how to succeed in college and prepare for a career. There’s also an annual conference where we got to meet a lot of high-powered people who pushed us to be the best we could be. It was a great blessing.”
As a JRF scholar, David was able to participate in cutting-edge cancer research at the University of Minnesota. In addition to the research program, David took part a in a three-month volunteer fellowship working with a youth development program in South Africa with the support of a JRF Rachel Robinson International Fellowship. He graduated from Dartmouth in spring 2015 and then served as an intern in Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office in Washington, D.C.
After his research experience, David felt the need to combine his passion for business with his mission to help as many people as possible. It was during this time that David discovered Optum. “When I saw Optum – the scope and the breadth of the people they reach – the number of hospitals . . . they are impacting entire countries!” He knew he wanted to be a part of it.
David is now working as a health care consultant in the Leadership Acceleration Program at Optum. His plans to become a doctor changed as he gained more experience in the health care industry. “I realized my passion involved helping people and I could have a greater impact by helping to improve the overall health care system,” he said. “I’m excited about the scope and breadth of what Optum is doing and I want to be a part of that effort.”
David says he is amazed at how his life has turned out and grateful for all the support he has received. “Never in my wildest dreams could I have guessed I would have had these kinds of opportunities,” he said. “Now I want to do my best to give back.”
Learn more about the Diverse Scholars Initiative.