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P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Q&A: Lucy Ogbu-Nwobodo Looks Back At The Fellowship

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The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans provides two years of funding for outstanding graduate students who are immigrants and children of immigrants. After two years the Fellows join a lifelong community of past Fellows. We asked Lucy Ogbu-Nwobodo, a 2015 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, to look back at the first two years of the Fellowship and what they have meant to her.

Born in Nigeria, Lucy was brought by relatives to Oakland, California when she was eleven. The United States promised to provide a better life, but as an undocumented student for over twelve years Lucy had to fight for her own survival. Lucy focused on her academics and graduated from high school at fifteen as the class valedictorian. She obtained her undergraduate degree from California State University, East Bay before the age of twenty. After college, she started volunteering at Highland Hospital—a safety-net hospital primarily serving Oakland’s uninsured patients. Lucy is a medical student at UC Davis School of Medicine.

What have the primary benefits of The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship been for you?

One of the most obvious ways that the PD Soros Fellowship has significantly helped me is by offering me incredibly generous financial support that has allowed me to continue on my medical school journey, without the burden of high student debts and dreadful interest rates. By having such a support, I have been able to focus on my education and undertaken ambitious ventures that I would not normally have done due to financial constraints.

However, the most significant way that the Fellowship has changed my life has been two fold: firstly, the distinction and privilege of being selected for this Fellowship has been an incredible morale boost for me. To know that such a distinguished program believes that I have what it takes to make a difference, and that they found in me someone deserving of such an honor, has given me an incredible confidence and belief in myself. I am empowered by their trust and hope to live up to the potential that the program saw in me. I will never stop working hard towards using medicine as an avenue for social justice—and with the backing of such a powerful group of amazing individuals and program—I know that I have become even more empowered to do so!

Secondly, the program has given me a family. This is incredibly special to me. For many years I did not have family in this country and in the very recent past, I have been blessed to build around me a supportive group of people who have given me a safe space to thrive. I am honored to say that I am now part of the PD Soros family and that I am embraced by a magnificent and brilliant community of people, who I can not only look to for inspiration, but for refuge, in a world that does not always embrace vulnerabilities.  I feel safe and loved by this amazing group. For me it will always be my family and not just a fellowship. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing me into the fold. You have changed my life by unimaginable proportions.

Do you have any favorite memories from your Fellowship experience?

Some of my favorite memories began as early as the first phone call I received from Deputy Director Yulian Ramos informing me of my acceptance. I recall that I was driving and I had a missed call from a New York phone number and my heart skipped many beats as I wondered if this might be the call I had been hoping and praying for! And it was! I called her back after I pulled over, because I did not trust myself to remain steady while I called her, if indeed it was her. As she told me the news, I began crying and laughing hysterically at the same time. The simultaneous emotion of gratitude, shock, and joy was so overwhelming. I can still sense the awe of it all two years later.

Other memories include the joy of seeing the smiling faces of my returning cohort at the second Fall Conference we attended. The way we all embraced one another with the warmth and familiarity that had begun to form in the first year and that had grown over the year was simply priceless! Meeting the Surgeon General, an incredible role model of mine, Dr. Murthy, was another awe-inspiring experience. His genial and approachable demeanor and warmth was so unexpected and his panel, moderated by Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris was one of the highlights of my first conference. I also loved our reception at Mrs. Daisy Soros home! To be welcomed into her personal household showed the great love and affection she has for us and for the program. It exemplified to me that this was indeed a family Fellowship! Though I was awe-struck by my surroundings, the love and kindness was palpable and I remember thinking to myself that evening that this is one of those moments and experiences that I will remember forever.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying?

One of the key pieces of advice I have for someone applying is to not be afraid or daunted by how prestigious and accomplished the Fellowship and its alumni is. I must admit that I was incredibly daunted at the idea of applying for such a competitive and highly regarded program. I felt inadequate compared to the biographies I read online about previous winners. I believe as immigrants, sometimes we have a slight inferiority complex that can sometimes get in our way. It is important to own your narrative, your own accomplishments, aspirations and visions, and to try not to compare yourself to other people. Don’t underestimate the power of your own personal struggles and adversities that you overcame and know that you have what it takes to stand next to those you look up to, even if you don’t always feel deserving. Maintain your humility always, but trust that you too have what it takes to succeed no matter what.

Where are you with your graduate program now? What’s next?

As I return to medical school this year, I am about to embark on my fourth and final year of medical school after completing an NIH/T-32 Pre-Doctoral Fellowship in neurosurgery and concurrently receiving my second Master’s degree in clinical research. The year has been an intensive yet enriching experience whereby I had the opportunity to investigate novel neurosurgical techniques in the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy in a rodent model. I am excited to finish my last year of medical education and go on to specialize in neuro-psychiatry.

Although I entered medical school with the intention of going into neurosurgery, I have had some deep reflections on the type of medicine I want to practice and my vision for my role in the field. I am deeply passionate about issues of health disparity and the social complexities faced by many in the outskirts of society, and I want to specialize in a field that will allow me to tackle those issues on a larger scale. Though my love for the brain persists, I realized that neurosurgery is an all-encompassing field, with little or no room for other such advocacy pursuits. Though I was sad that I had to pivot, I have never been happier and more reaffirmed in my pursuits. This is primarily because part of my past and personal background compels me to do more with my medical degree than operate, and I am convinced that I will have a greater impact as a psychiatrist because it is a field that not only allows such social pursuits, but it is designed to support and encourage it as well.

How do you plan to stay active with the Fellowship community in the years to come?

Moving forward, I would like to become more active with the alumni organization. I would love to work towards linking current Fellows with alumni members for mentorship and collaboration. Due to the hectic demands of my medical school education, I have not had as much time as I would like to dedicate towards such efforts. However, in the very near future, I anticipate a little more autonomy in being able to pursue these goals. I would also love to be involved somehow in the admissions process in the future, either as a reviewer or as an interviewer. This Fellowship is life-changing and it’d be the highest honor for me to play a role in making it possible for deserving candidates in the future. One of my other goals would be to host a workshop or event at the annual conference. I have been inspired by alumni who have led groups etc., during my two years attending, and I would like to follow in their footsteps to help organize and enhance the experience of the newer Fellows.