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Nancy Abu-Bonsrah in the lab at Johns Hopkins

Lives of Significance

Nancy Abu-Bonsrah, C'12

The Doctor Is In

Her story was 124 years in the making. Nancy Abu-Bonsrah, C’12, grew up in a farming village in Ghana before blazing a pathway of excellence at the Mount. Now she spends her days completing a seven-year residency at Johns Hopkins. On March 17, 2017, Abu-Bonsrah opened an envelope that sealed her fate in Hopkins’ history.

Known as Match Day, the third Friday in March is significant to fourth-year medical students across the country. It’s the day they learn where they’ll further their medical careers. On that day, Abu-Bonsrah joined current residents in the Johns Hopkins neurosurgery program from institutions like Harvard, Yale, NYU, Columbia and Stanford. But her acceptance was a little sweeter: She became the first African-American female resident to be accepted into the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Neurosurgery Department.

The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, Essence, BBC and the Independent covered the groundbreaking milestone. Behind the public spotlight, her acceptance highlighted a personal accomplishment to become the first physician in her family—although working hard to achieve her goals was nothing new.

A Propensity for Greatness

From an early age, one thing was obvious to peers and professors: She was going to make big things happen. In 2006 her family moved to Laurel, Maryland, for her father’s job. Abu-Bonsrah was an honors student at Hammond High School in Columbia, and when she was accepted at the Mount, she received the Women in Science Leadership Award and the Presidential Scholarship. The small campus felt right and matched her quiet personality, while the student-to-professor ratio appealed to her love for learning. Abu-Bonsrah was a member of the honors program and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry.

During her years at the Mount, Associate Professor and Chair of the Science Department Christine McCauslin, Ph.D., watched Abu-Bonsrah’s talent and curiosity flourish and soon became her mentor. The relationship was equally as enriching for the student who often turned to McCauslin for advice. “At every point in time I told her what I wanted to do and how I wanted to get there,” Abu-Bonsrah says. “She was there every step of the way.”

Today, as she walks down the hallway in the neurosurgery wing, past photographs of every resident who came before her, she’s grateful. “It’s very intimidating—but it’s motivating, too. When you want to do something, it’s easier to imagine yourself in that position when there are people who look like you or who have been through similar experiences,” she says. “There’s nothing lonelier than wanting to do something and not having anyone to guide you.”

But Abu-Bonsrah’s not alone. C. Rory Goodwin, M.D., Ph.D., the chief resident at Hopkins in 2017 and now an assistant professor at Duke University Medical Center, acknowledges her courage and determination. “My hope is that in the next seven years you won’t hear a thing from her—because she will be busy dedicating herself to this craft and learning it so she can be the best neurosurgeon,” he says. “After that, I think she will be one of those pioneers and champions for global health.”

A Global Perspective

Those similar sentiments were echoed throughout her years at the Mount by McCauslin. “I imagine that she will continue to sort of push the boundaries and expectations for women in that field. I do see her going back to Ghana and establishing some kind of clinic or doing some kind of service and outreach,” she says.

From the farming fields of Ghana to some of the most prestigious hallways in America, Abu-Bonsrah continues to write upon the pages of history what she wants them to say. “The best lesson I learned from the Mount was being of service to others. This is how we show God’s love to others and it allows us to lift each other up as we go through life’s triumphs and tribulations,” Abu-Bonsrah says. No matter where her path leads, she’ll remember the weight of history and carry with her the stories of her childhood and four years in Emmitsburg as her future medical dreams unfold.