Growing up in Sudan, Jihad Abdelgadir, M.D., always knew she wanted to be a surgeon. But to affect real change in her country and other low-resource health systems, she felt that she needed a wider view. So after earning her medical degree in Sudan, she applied to Duke’s Master of Science in Global Health program, which she completed in 2016 while also earning a certificate in international development policy. Now a neurosurgery resident in her fifth year of training at Duke, she discusses her journey and how she plans to bring a global health perspective to her future work as a neurosurgeon.
How did you end up at Duke?
I grew up in Sudan and attended medical school at the Sudan University of Khartoum. During my time in medical school, I was involved in the International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA) and did a lot of public health work. In my final year of medical school, I decided to apply to programs in the US and ultimately chose Duke because I wanted to work with Professor Michael Haglund, who was starting a neurosurgery program at the university. I was certain that I wanted to pursue a career in neurosurgery.
What sparked your interest in neurosurgery?
I made the decision to pursue neurosurgery in my fourth year of medical school during my neurology rotation. The infrastructure for neurosurgery in Sudan is not well-developed, and many conditions that could be treated surgically are instead treated medically. That experience, along with a neurosurgery rotation I completed in my sixth year in Poland, solidified my desire to pursue neurosurgery. I have always known that I want to be a surgeon.
How did a master’s degree fit in your career journey?
My interest in global health was inspired while working with IFMSA. I also wanted to work on a system level rather than just individual level because in medicine, unless you focus on public health, you don’t get to affect much on a system level. I needed that to gain the skills to impact change back home in Sudan.
What happened after graduation?
After graduation I worked for a year with Professor Haglund’s Duke Global Neurosurgery & Neurology (DGNN) program then I joined the the Duke Neurological Surgery program as a resident.
Was it easy to join such a highly coveted program?
Absolutely not. It is always difficult to secure a residency, and it is even more challenging to get into a neurosurgery residency due to the limited number of openings. I consider myself fortunate that I was in the right place at the right time. However, networking played a role in my acceptance, and I am grateful to have had a strong team of mentors who guided me.
Dr. Isaac Karikariwas especially influential in encouraging me to pursue the program. He told me that if I wanted something badly enough, I needed to put in the effort and time to make it happen. That advice has stayed with me, and it helped me to keep going when I was feeling discouraged about the application process. I am happy that my dream of joining the program came true.
What is your typical working day like?
As a resident, my day often starts at 5 a.m. if I am not the chief on call. We are then divided into teams and go on ward rounds until 7 a.m. After that, we go to the operating rooms. This routine occurs from Monday through Friday. If I am the chief on call on the weekend and there is a case, I work on it until it is finished. Most days at the hospital end at 5 p.m., although I still have research work to do. As a fifth-year resident, I also assist the junior residents.
What has your greatest struggle been in your career?
I initially found the examination system in the US challenging because it differed from the system I was used to in Sudan. In Sudan, the longest examination period was about three hours, but in the US, it can last for up to eight hours. I have had to work on improving my time management skills because the schedule can be demanding. In the past, I used to agree to everything, but I have learned that I cannot do everything.
What advice would you give to those hoping to follow your path?
Training in neurosurgery is both long and challenging, and I often advise students to consider other options in medicine if they have any doubts about their passion for the field. This is because it is important to be fully committed to neurosurgery to be successful and happy in the field.
What do you hope for the next phase of your career?
After my residency, I plan to do a one-year fellowship. After that, I hope to have a hybrid practice where I am affiliated with an academic institution while also working in clinical practice. I believe that a significant amount of learning occurs after residency, and I hope the institution will support me in contributing some of my time and work to Sudan as well. While my plans are not set in stone, this is my current general plan.