Forty Under 40: Irlna Tantchou

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Class of 2023 Forty Under 40 Irlna Tantchou Colorectal Surgeon Highlands Oncology

Irlna Tantchou’s father had a dream that his three daughters would grow up and become doctors. And they did.

“I can’t ever remember not wanting to be a doctor,” she said.

A native of Cameroon, Tantchou moved to northern Virginia in 2000 after high school to begin that healthcare journey. Twenty years later, the winding road led her to Northwest Arkansas as a double-certified surgeon (general, colorectal) and a master robotic surgeon. She is one of just two colorectal surgeons at Highlands Oncology and the only one in Arkansas who is a woman.

Tantchou was drawn to colon and rectal surgery, she said, because it’s a broad field. Because many interactions are personal, she’s developed lasting friendships with patients who no longer need her care.

“Making people comfortable about those types of personal interactions is something I like doing,” she said.

When asked for her No. 1 health tip, Tantchou is direct. “Fiber and water,” she said. “Those are the two magic words.”

Tantchou has a bachelor’s degree from Howard University and a medical degree from Rutgers University. She completed additional training in New York, Texas and Pennsylvania.

Tantchou addresses the impact of colon cancer on minorities through guest speaking and community outreach events. Recognizing the lack of Black doctors in her field, especially surgeons, she dedicates her time to inspiring and mentoring students and medical residents.

Tantchou co-founded the Society of Black Colorectal Surgeons. She’s also a member of Women in da Vinci (Robotic) Surgery, a mentorship organization.

“I love teaching and sparking young minds and debunking myths about what a surgeon should look and act like,” she said. “That’s how we get more people in the field.”