Godwin Maduka, M.D., PharmD.
Photography by Steven Wilson
Godwin Maduka is more than a good doctor. He’s a good businessman as well. He founded the Las Vegas Pain Institute and Medical Center in 1999 and has seen it expand to a total of six locations throughout Southern Nevada. Each facility is a one-stop destination for a wide array of medical services, including primary care, preventative care, urgent care, radiology, lab work, and even surgery. “The product we have benefits everybody, regardless of social class,” says Maduka. “It’s helping people.”
The business growth has been dramatic for the doctor, but his journey began on the other side of the world, in Africa. Maduka was born in Nkerehi (later renamed Umuchukwu), a tiny village in Nigeria. He is now its favorite son, after heavily investing his own fortune to reimagine it from the ground up. His projects include homes, apartments, government buildings, classrooms, churches, police stations, a hospital, a gas station, and perhaps most impressive of all, a 17-story building designed for medical research. Maduka also worked with the government to help bring clean water, electricity, and roads to his people.
The story represents an amazing turn of events when looking back on Maduka’s childhood. His family had little money but there was one important factor working in his favor. “I was given a gift,” he says. “Academic brilliance.”
From kindergarten through high school, Maduka was always first in his class. “Almost a 4.0 GPA all throughout,” he adds, while noting he traveled outside his village to pursue his education. He adored his father, an herbalist who was able to heal patients with roots and other forms of natural medicine. When his father passed away, Maduka made an important promise: “I said ‘Dad, I’m going to be a pharmacist and I’m going to be a medical doctor. I’m going to make you proud.’”
He blew through an entrance exam and was accepted to the University of Port Harcourt School of Medicine, about 150 miles away. “But there was nobody to train me,” Maduka remembers. With few options at home, he started thinking about opportunities in the United States when a friend gave him a scholarship form for Rust College in Mississippi.
Maduka was accepted but the scholarship only covered about half his expenses. Fortunately, his younger brother, who had moved to the Nigerian capital city of Abuja, was able to help cover the rest with money made from auto repair work. “He said, ‘Don’t worry. You’re the smart one. Here’s the money. Maybe the family can now have a chance in life.’”
After receiving a little more financial help from an uncle in the air force, Maduka made his way to the United States in 1982. With the pressure on, he graduated summa cum laude in chemistry in a year-and-a-half instead of four - before the money ran out. That led to a scholarship at the Mercer University School of Pharmacy in Atlanta. “I did what I could to sustain myself,” he remembers. “I worked as a security guard. I washed plates in restaurants.”
He earned his Doctor of Pharmacy, found work as a pharmacy technician and was weighing options for medical school when he received a call from the University of Tennessee in Memphis - a school he hadn’t even applied to. Maduka says the university was heavily recruiting minorities following accusations of discrimination and offered him a full scholarship. “Room, board, books, tuition, everything,” he says.
After receiving his Doctor of Medicine, Maduka’s toughest test came in Boston at Harvard Medical School, where he studied anesthesiology, critical care and pain management. “I took the board and passed it with flying colors,” he remembers about earning his medical license. “Written and oral, even with my accent.”
Finally done with school, Maduka relocated to Las Vegas in 1997, based on a recommendation from a classmate. He received a job with Dr. Eugene Chen, was given $8,000 as an advance payment, and found himself working as an anesthesiologist at UMC, Desert Springs, Sunrise and other hospitals throughout the valley.
After a few challenging years, Maduka wanted to expand his scope to cover pain treatment. The first step was starting his own practice in about 700 square feet of empty space at the Red Rock Medical Group. “I had one exam room, one office and one toilet. That’s it,” he remembers. Maduka started marketing himself and business exploded.
By 1999, he was seeing so many patients, it made sense to find a place of his own. He aimed high and took a bank loan to purchase the commercial space near Jones and Flamingo that would become the first Las Vegas Pain Institute. His vision was to have a clinic for himself and then lease the rest of the space out to other medical professionals. He paid the loan off in less than two years and soon the entire building was operating under his umbrella. Despite the challenge of the Great Recession, Maduka was able to open a second location in Henderson. Over the following years, the Las Vegas Pain Institute expanded to the northwest near Centennial, northeast near Nellis Air Force Base and on Sahara near the Strip. A southwest location on Blue Diamond will celebrate its grand opening by the end of 2017.
“There is no other medical center like this,” says Maduka. “We started as a pain management center but after many years, we realized we had to do more for our patients.”
With a depth of services, the Las Vegas Pain Institute offers convenience, often serving as an emergency room alternative for non-critical patients. Maduka says each facility is strategically located near a major hospital to make sure every patient has quick access to whatever care is needed. “We’ll treat you in-house or find you the appropriate specialist,” he says.
Maduka’s new approach even carries over to wearing a business suit instead of a traditional white coat. But the most important factor is offering each patient understanding and empathy. “You can be the best businessman, but if you generally care for folks and have a passion for what you do, it shows,” he points out. “This is a business of healing. This is a business of making people feel better.”
Maduka continues to visit Nigeria about once a year. Despite the improvements made to his native village, there have been plenty of struggles and challenges along the way. The majority of the people are Christian but Maduka says he’s faced resistance from those who don’t understand his vision, including a small Pagan population who perform animal sacrifices in a public stream and follow outdated concepts. “When twins are born, they kill them because they say people shouldn’t be born in multiples of twos. If you have a headache, they say you’re a victim of witchcraft when you might actually be suffering from malaria. This is the kind of stuff we’re fighting.”
The doctor says he’s been the victim of slander and falsely tied to criminal acts by vigilantes. Those allegations were dismissed by Nigerian police following an in-depth investigation. “They accuse me of all kinds of stuff,” he says. “There’s no connection.”
Whether it’s in Nigeria or the United States, Maduka has a valuable role to play in continuing to help others. “I’m here for a purpose. What happened to me, doesn’t happen often,” he says. “From the jungle to Harvard... how often do you see that happen?”