Dr. Disep Ijeoma Ojukwu, a recent medical school graduate, has been involved with WINS and the WINS social media team. Here, she tells how mentorship has been vital in her journey to becoming a neurosurgeon.
I was born and raised in Glendale, California. Attending a private high school with a strong emphasis on the sciences strengthened my desire to pursue medicine. After graduating from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, I attended Loma Linda University (LLU) School of Public Health. I graduated from LLU with a master’s degree in public health as a triple major in epidemiology, international health and biostatistics. After graduate school, I worked as a public health statistician for 11 years at a county health department in California. One of my mentors during that time was Maxwell A. Ohikhuare, MD, FACOG, Health Officer. He believed in me and encouraged me to pursue my vision of becoming a physician. Being a statistician made me cognizant of the health disparities that existed among minority communities. This helped to solidify my decision to attend St. George’s University School of Medicine as a dual-degree (MD/MBA) student.
Because my parents were immigrants from Nigeria, I was raised with a sensitivity towards resource-poor communities and I knew that international health would be integral to my career as a physician. However, I never considered being a neurosurgeon. During my first year in medical school, I was fascinated with the nervous system and for the first time, considered neurosurgery as a career. It was not until my neurosurgery clinical rotation that I finally realized that this was my true passion. In medical school, my most impactful mentor was Tuula O. Jalonen, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience. Working with her on epilepsy research in Grenada provided me an opportunity to explore a “culturally-taboo” neurological disorder in a developing country. After graduating from medical school, I have become involved in amazing opportunities working with renowned neurosurgeons. Jennifer A. Sweet, MD, FAANS, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery at Case Western Reserve University, has been pivotal in my journey to becoming a neurosurgeon. As a physician-leader, she exudes confidence and compassion. Through her, I have gained insight into the strength and grace needed to navigate such a demanding profession. In addition, working with Casey H. Halpern, MD, FAANS, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery and Director of Epilepsy Surgery at Stanford University Medical Center, has broadened my horizons regarding ground-breaking and innovative approaches of neuromodulation. Sheri Dewan, MS, MD, FAANS, neurosurgeon and spine surgeon at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage and Delnor Hospitals, has been a great source of feedback and encouragement regarding my communication skills.
Mentors have and will continue to be instrumental to my medical career. Without their support, encouragement, and guidance, I would not be where I am on my journey. Just as my mentors have been pillars for me, I look forward to being shoulders upon which future neurosurgeons can stand.