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Pathbreaker in Neurosurgery

Nancy Abu-Bonsrah hopes to mentor minority doctors in training.

On Match Day last March, Nancy Abu-Bonsrah ’17 made Johns Hopkins history when she became the first black female resident in neurosurgery here. Born and raised in Ghana, she says, "I hope to be able to go back over the course of my career to help in building sustainable surgical infrastructure."

As a child, Abu-Bonsrah moved periodically between small villages and big cities—wherever her father needed to be in his work for Adventist Development and Relief Agency, a nonprofit that helps small-scale business owners and farmers expand their businesses. When she was 15, that job took her family thousands of miles away to Maryland, where Abu-Bonsrah quickly adjusted to American life.

"It was a little bit of a culture shock," she remembers, "but we were very lucky because we came into a church community."

While she rushed around at a harried pace Monday through Saturday, trying to make friends at her new high school, study in a language not entirely familiar and understand American cultural peculiarities, her Seventh-Day Adventist church family offered a welcome respite on Sundays. The familiar faces, food and rituals helped Abu-Bonsrah and her family ease into their new lives.

Members of her church family, she says, helped her navigate the U.S. education system, which offers considerably more freedom to students than the Ghanaian one. After graduating from Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, Abu-Bonsrah decided to attend medical school at Johns Hopkins for multiple reasons: proximity to family, excellent training and outstanding mentorship opportunities. She’s hoping to pay that mentorship forward by serving as a mentor to the next generation of neurosurgeons—particularly those searching for a role model who looks like them.

"I didn’t make it this far by myself," she says. "I’m hoping I can use the positive attention I’ve received to help others make it just as far."
Pathbreaker in Neurosurgery