Nancy Abu-Bonsrah shares how she feels about being the first black female neurosurgery resident at Johns Hopkins, and what she plans to do in the future.
Last week, Nancy Abu-Bonsrah got some really good news: She was accepted into the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s neurosurgery residency program — the first black woman to do so in the 30-year history of the program.
“There was a rush of emotions,” Nancy tells Teen Vogue about her initial reaction to the news. She found out on “Match Day,” when medical students nationwide learn if and where they “match” for postgraduate residency programs, which they must complete before practicing medicine in the United States. A representative from Johns Hopkins tells Teen Vogue the school accepts three to five neurosurgery residents into its program each year.
“The first [emotion] was honestly amazement,” 26-year-old Nancy, who also attended medical school at Johns Hopkins, added. “I could not believe that right there, in that moment, I was going to be given this incredible opportunity to remain at Johns Hopkins to begin my neurosurgical training. Then came the joy and happiness.”
Nancy moved to the United States from Ghana when she was 15, and it was on a trip back to Ghana during college that she realized she wanted to pursue neurosurgery. “I had an opportunity to go spend some time in one of the teaching hospitals, the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital,” she says. “It was there that I experienced the uniqueness of neurosurgery as well as the general lack of access to care. Not only was I impressed by the surgical skill and fascinated by the anatomy, [but] I was also stunned by how overwhelmed the surgeons were.”
That experience inspired her to go into a field that she believes will give her the opportunity to serve others in a meaningful way, and she hopes to return to Ghana someday to do so. “I look at neurosurgery through the light of service,” she says. “Neurosurgical patients are a unique population who put a great deal of trust in their surgeons, and I see that to be a great privilege and honor. […] I cannot wait to go back and serve, not only in Ghana, but in other low-resource settings.”
She’s also committed to serving in a different way: “I am very interested in increasing the number of minorities in the field and would be working toward that goal throughout my career,” she says. As for black female neurosurgeons (the first in the U.S. being Alexa Irene Canady in 1981), Nancy says, “I do not know the exact numbers, but I know that they are too few.”
“In every field, it is always a little easier to see yourself in a role if those you look up to look like you or have had similar experiences,” she adds. “For me, this was the hardest part in my journey into neurosurgery, knowing there were not as many people who were like me.” But she says she’s received “immense support and mentorship” along the way from Johns Hopkins, and plans to pay it forward. “Being part of the Johns Hopkins neurosurgery department is humbling, but I believe that I would be in a unique position to help in mentoring other students.”