Dr. Eseosa Ighodaro Leading the Way in the College of Medicine's MD/PhD Program

As a young student who was proficient in science, Dr. Eseosa Ighodaro, always saw herself pursuing a career in medicine. But it wasn’t until applying to medical school that she discovered there was another path she wanted to follow.

Dr. Fitzgerald Bramwell, former Vice President of Research and Graduate Studies and chemistry professor at the University of Kentucky, quickly recognized Dr. Ighodaro’s intelligence, persistence, and adaptability, which led him to suggest that she incorporate research into her studies as well. He later put her in contact with research-focused professors, including one professor at SUNY College, Dr. Robert M. Hoyte, who broadened Dr. Ighodaro’s research portfolio by giving her the opportunity to study in France.

“I found that I really loved both medicine and research,” Dr. Ighodaro said. “So when it came to deciding between medical school or graduate school, I found out about UK’s combined degree program, I applied, and got in. The rest is history.”

History, indeed. Dr. Ighodaro became the first African-American female graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine’s MD/PhD program in 2019. It’s an accomplishment that she says took hard work, and one that she doesn’t take lightly. Even months after graduation, Dr. Ighodaro remains a bit speechless of her new platform to help empower future non-majority learners to pursue science-based careers. 

“It’s an honor, and I’m extremely humbled,” she said. “I hope that we continue to encourage underrepresented students to follow this path because it can lead to rewarding, impactful careers.

“Diverse teams lead to improved research and health care delivery.”

Her main goal as a scientist and physician is to research health disparities and neurological disorders, shedding light on ensuring studies include all necessary variables to get the most accurate pictures of diseases and how they affect different populations. She was able to gather experience in these topics as a learner at UK, in 2017 serving as lead author of a paper published in the “Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease” that examined the challenges associated with studying dementia in African-American patients.

“During her tenure at UK, Dr. Ighodaro was able to transform institutional and social obstacles into stepping stones,” her mentor Dr. Bramwell said. “Of course, she had an outstanding academic record and an inquisitive mind. However, that has never been enough. Her achievement assumes even greater significance when one considers that such achievements by Black Americans in other areas of the country have a 30-year history.”

Dr. Ighodaro is currently in her first year of her neurology residency at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., during which she will work to become a board-certified neurologist before pursuing a fellowship to enhance her knowledge of strokes and dementia.

Her advice for those interested in earning a MD/PhD is to do some soul searching before committing to multiple years of medical education. “It’s a lifetime commitment,” she said. “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 added that it’s also important to find a place where you’ll have a supportive group of students, learners, and faculty to encourage you along the way. Dr. Ighodaro says the support she received at UK was unmatched.

To be in a position where she can help patients from the bench to the bedside still feels a bit surreal for Dr. Ighodaro, but she can’t wait to begin her career and see her accomplishment pave the way for others who follow her lead.

“I think I’m still processing it all,” she said. “I’m very thrilled and feel so fortunate to earn such a degree. It’s definitely not an easy journey, but it’s worth it.”

For additional questions or information, you can email Dr. Ighodaro at ighodaro.eseosa@mayo.edu. To keep up-to-date with her medical and research practice, you can follow her on social media: Twitter (@Dr_Ighodaro) and FB (@Dr.Ighodaro).

Click here to watch a video about Dr. Ighodaro's accomplishments at UK.