DeTonyea Dickson
Category: 2020 College Winner

DeTonyea Dickson

Butler University

As a young black woman who doesn’t come from a family of surgeons or doctors, aspiring to become a neurosurgeon has continued to perplex a great deal of my family members because of its intricacy. I was fourteen years old when I’d made the decision to embark on this career path and for that reason, I was looked at with an eye of skepticism because ‘what would a fourteen-year-old know about brain surgery?’ It was when I had stumbled upon an ER documentary detailing the responsibilities of neurosurgeons, that I’d begun to inform my family of my aspirations. Watching them extract masses from the most convoluted regions of human anatomy, the brain and spinal cord, was incredible. It was clear that their dexterity had been acquired from years of clinical and surgical experience. Even more, I could see that this was not about prestige and respect, instead it was about improving the livelihood of their patients and furthering the field of neurosurgery.

On an everyday basis, neurosurgeons are documented as being one of the first to enter the hospital and one of the last to leave. After having a conversation with my father about social sacrifices, I told him that this may not be for everyone, but it could be for me. This notion went on to compel me to enroll in pre-medicine preparation courses while I was in high school to establish a foundation before college. However, even with this propellant, I felt a bit out of my element because the field of neurosurgery lacked a prominent female African-American presence since Alexa Irene Canady, the first African-American woman to become a neurosurgeon. Even though, there are multiple steps I have to complete before being accepted into a neurosurgical residency, the competitive nature of it intimidated me to no end. It was almost comical how these feelings came to halt the summer before my junior year of high school when I’d come across an article about a woman named Nancy-Abu Bonsrah, a recent Johns Hopkins Medical School graduate who’s the first African-American woman to be accepted into their neurosurgical residency program.

The first thing I did after reading it was to email it to my parents as I was so tickled that a woman like me, braids and all, had reached such a milestone. I saw myself in her, standing there in her white coat and being surrounded by her loved ones as they celebrated her achievements. What has stuck with me the most is a quote from her in which she states that as she went into the field of neurosurgery, there weren’t many people like her to guide her along, however, she herself can serve as a role model for other young women with similar experiences. Nancy Abu-Bonsrah’s impact on me is immeasurable for I have become even more inspired to continue my own journey. In fact, I hope to meet her as a neurosurgeon myself and inform her of just how impactful she continues to be.