Having grown up in Zambia in southern Africa, where medical care was rare, Dr. Daniel Mwanza was intrigued by missionaries who practiced Western medicine.
But it wasn’t until he met Dr. Rowland Vernon Jr. while performing with a traveling a cappella group in the early 1990s that Mwanza was inspired to become a surgeon.
“There was no stopping my desire to become a surgeon like him,” Mwanza said. “He was my inspiration.”
Vernon welcomed the young man into his family, and Mwanza, now 42, began his education at what was then Westark College. He graduated with an associate degree in 1999.
Mwanza remembers Westark also as welcoming.
“I remember the college having very high academic standards and a diverse student body,” he said recently. “I was immersed in a rich culture of tradition by students and faculty, who came from all walks of life.”
He remembers one faculty member in particular.
“Charles Irish, who taught physics, was a role model to me. It was a tough class, but he had such humility in what he did and really connected with his students. He worked one-on-one with us to help us understand the coursework better.”
After Westark, Mwanza received his bachelor’s degree at Hendrix College in Conway. He went on to earn a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in 2006. He was also fellowship-trained in minimally invasive, laparoscopic, and bariatric surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.
Mwanza has returned to the Fort Smith region to be a general surgeon at Surgical Associates of Fort Smith and Sparks Regional Medical Center. Mwanza’s services include breast, bowel, abdominal, and dermatological surgeries.
“I’m happy that what I signed up to do in life can be put to good use,” Mwanza said. “We came here to serve and to live among the people, and it is my hope that with a level of humility, I can address surgical needs of this area.”
Mwanza met his wife, Maya, in college.
“We met while taking an organic chemistry class together and I guess the chemistry was right,” he said.
They have a 6-year-old daughter, Rebekah.