Dr. Eseosa Ighodaro: First African-American Female to Graduate With an M.D., Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky

Dr. Eseosa Ighodaro: First African-American Female to Graduate With an M.D., Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky

Ese graduates

Speaking of making black history, Dr. Eseosa Ighodaro, M.D., Ph.D., became the first African-American female to graduate from the combined degree program at the University of Kentucky’s College of Medicine (UKCOM). She obtained her medical degree (M.D.) and doctorate (Ph.D.) in neuroanatomy in the face of adversity.

Throughout her 12-year educational training at UK, including her undergraduate years, she was commonly recognized by her professors and peers as a brilliant young lady with an eagerness to learn. Amongst Dr. Ighodaro's well-known strengths were her knack for scientific solutions, her ability to implement change, and her resilience.

According to Dr. Ighodaro, cases of adversity in the form of racial discrimination, micro-aggression, and macro-aggression took place across many departments at UK and in the local community. Due to numerous cases, Dr. Ighodaro and her colleague, Dr. Erica Littlejohn, organized "UK Call To Action," a campaign to address these concerns and to implement positive changes. “We developed a survey to collect data, met with several stakeholders at UK, conducted a town hall meeting and made our voices heard,” she said. One can even search #UKCallToAction for more details on the campus movement and its outcomes.


Numerous positive changes were made including the implementation of bias incident reporting and she hopes UK will continue to support underrepresented students.

“I persevered in adversity,“ Dr. Ighodaro remembers. “Looking back now, I cannot believe I had the audacity to speak up but we empowered other students through our actions and changed the campus for the better," she said.

Eseosa Ighodaro and Erica Littlejohn

Dr. Ighodaro proved the limitations and barriers of stereotypes could be broken, but her resilience in the face of adversity did not stop there. During her first year in medical school, Dr. Ighodaro faced family hardships which made her consider leaving the program.

“Struggling to transition from medical school to graduate school then back to medical school, was extremely exhausting,” the Dr. said. “But remembering my father kept me going."

Dr. Ighodaro credits her immigrant parents for starting the dream for her when they came to the U.S. and felt it was only right that she pressed on.

“[My parents] left everything they had so that I could make something of myself and I had a good support system during those trying and precarious times– my mom, significant other, sisters, friends, and my colleagues…studying for exams became even more difficult but they were my backbone.”

Dr. Eseosa Ighodaro

Dr. Ighodaro’s advice for those interested in a career in science or medicine is to do some soul searching before pledging to many years of medical school and research. "It's a lifetime commitment," she says. "Figure out your reasons for wanting to pursue medicine and research and if you determine that you want to follow this path, get involved in various medical and research-oriented programs."

She also advises students to leverage on national programs such as the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) and in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs to aid their efforts in entering these fields as well.

“Simply find what makes you happy but more importantly, have the mindset of a winner,” Dr. Ighodaro emphasizes.

As you can see, the road to great things takes time and determination--Dr. Ighodaro's path to graduating as the first African-American female in the UKCOM dual degree program was no different and I am proud to call her my big sister.

Dr. Eseosa Ighodaro is currently in her first year of her neurology residency at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota with career goals of improving awareness and outcomes of neurological diseases within the African-American community.

You can follow her medical and research practice on social media: Twitter (@Dr_Ighodaro), Facebook (@Dr.Ighodaro)

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