The ProspectiveDoctor Podcast

From Housekeeper to Neurosurgeon

Erkeda DeRouen talks to Kojo Sarpong who is a student at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. He is an incoming resident at Vanderbilt Neurosurgery. Dr. Sarpong shares his inspiring story of how he started as a housekeeper and became a neurosurgeon. 

  • [01:03] Moving from Ghana to the United States
  • [05:43] Pivot to Medicine
  • [10:08] The African Research Academies for Women
  • [16:34] From Housekeeper to Neurosurgeon
  • [26:38] How to Match in Competitive Specialties
  • [31:49] Dr. Sarpong’s Advice: Own Your Story

From Business to Medicine

Dr. Sarpong was born and raised in Ghana, West Africa. As a kid, he wanted to study business so he received no education about the sciences. Out of everyone in his family, he was the only who was granted a diversity visa to the United States In 2009, he moved to America and worked two jobs as a cashier and as a housekeeper at a hospital. He prioritized work over studying to support himself and his family.

After a year of working in the hospital, Dr. Sarpong now dreamed of becoming a doctor himself. One day, he had a conversation with a general surgeon who offered mentorship. From then on, he quit his cashier job but continued to be a housekeeper so he could shadow his mentor. Dr. Sarpong also enrolled in community college to learn the basics of science.

In 2013, he got into Emory University to study neuroscience. That same year he also started a non-profit called African Research Academies for Women (ARA-W) to bridge the gender gap in research. Before heading off to medical school, he took a post-baccalaureate program and helped establish the ARA-W. During medical school, Dr. Sarpong found a black neurosurgeon to mentor him and to do lab work with. Recently, he matched as a resident in the neuroscience department of Vanderbilt.

Matching as a Resident in Neurosurgery and other Competitive Fields

Seek mentorship early. Find someone who believes in you and who can eventually put in a good word for you in the physician community. For Dr. Sarpong, this tremendously helped his application. Build good relationships because your network is your net worth. Another tip is to accept leadership roles and to work in teams to help you stand out.

Reach out to Dr. Kojo Sarpong by sending him an e-mail at [email protected]. Follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. To learn more about the non-profit he started, visit www.africanwomenresearchers.org.

Got questions, feedback, or suggestions? Send a message to Dr. Erkeda DeRouen’s Instagram or MedSchoolCoach’s Instagram

Erkeda DeRouen

Dr. Erkeda DeRouen is a graduate of Hampton University with a B.S. in Biological Sciences, followed by completing medical school at the Boston University School of Medicine. She then completed residency at The University of Maryland Family and Community Medicine Program. After that, she worked at an underserved community health center, and currently is an Associate Medical Director of a telemedicine company. She recently became one of the first 1,000 lifestyle medicine certified physicians in the world! Her areas of interest include: health equity and eliminating health disparities, service of underserved populations, HIV management, transgender care, mentorship, and lifestyle medicine.

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