By Debbonnaire Kovacs, May 11, 2017 A recent report of a young Adventist woman who is the first black female to become a resident in Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s highly prestigious and extremely competitive neurosurgical department motivated us here at Adventist Today to learn more. I was able to talk by telephone with Dr. Nancy Abu-Bonsrah. (The “Dr.” will be officially official upon graduation May 23, but she has completed all course work and is a doctor now.)
Growing up in Ghana, Abu-Bonsrah told me, a student must pick a “track” in high school. Based on her grades and how well she was doing, people were recommending a college preparatory track for her, and she thought medicine would enable her to give back to her community.
The idea of giving back came naturally to Abu-Bonsrah. She and her three siblings were raised by an Adventist Development and Relief Agency employee, Seth Abu-Bonsrah, whose job in Ghana was to monitor whether grant objectives were carried out well.
“I was born into Adventism, I think three or four generations, and my parents really set an example for us in terms of giving back,” she told me. “When you have been blessed with a lot, you have a responsibility to help and give back in whatever ways you are able. My parents’ involvement in volunteerism, seeing what they did for the families, for the community around them, which was informed by our faith, was a good example for us, the children, to do the same thing.”
She said she had never even thought about coming to the United States, but when she was fifteen, her father applied for an opening in ADRA international, and got it. In 2005 they moved to Maryland, where Abu-Bonsrah went to Hammond High School and then Mount St Mary’s University.
“Since I came to states for my education,” she said, “I thought more critically about [medicine], and it fit with my goals and dreams for my life.”
Every year, ADRA paid for the family to go home for a visit to Ghana. During the Christmas break in Abu-Bonsrah’s junior year in college, she had the opportunity to shadow a surgeon. She had not particularly thought about neurosurgery at this point, but the doctor she shadowed was in that specialty.
“I was very impressed,” she said, “not just because of the surgery he was doing, but because of the work they did even though they were incredibly overwhelmed. A patient would come, and wait, and then have to go home and come back. They needed more hands. I realized I would have opportunities in the US to learn from people who are pioneering in this field.”
She spent five years in medical school at Johns Hopkins, taking a year for research between her third and fourth years. In March, on “match day,” when medical students learn where they have been assigned (of the top choices they’ve listed), Abu-Bonsrah and her family were thrilled to learn she had been accepted as one of the small handful of neurosurgery residents in JH Neurosurgery.
And her dreams for the future?
“I would like to help in building training programs not just in Ghana, but in other places that don’t have as many surgeons. The global neurosurgery community is looking at this a lot, not just for short missions, but for long term clinical modalities. Being part of that group who is dedicated to teaching more surgeons is something I want to do.”
I asked if she thought of herself as teaching rather than doing actual surgery, and she laughed gently. “You teach surgery by doing surgery.”
And while doing that, she says, “I will be drawing more attention to global neurosurgery and the great needs.”
As for now, besides fielding congratulations and feeling a bit overwhelmed by the attention, Abu-Bonsrah says she is finished with classes and “mostly taking it easy, trying to read, taking time to reflect on everything that’s been going on so far and thinking ahead to what needs to be done in the future.”
She says she is incredibly honored and very happy, but adds, “It’s going to be a character-building seven years.”
Our hats are off to you, Dr. Abu-Bonsrah, and we pray for God’s blessing on all the people you will help in the coming years.
Debbonnaire Kovacs is a speaker and the author of 28 books and over 700 stories and articles for adults and children. To learn more about her work or ask her to speak at your organization, visit www.debbonnaire.com.