All new medical students bring a lifetime’s worth of unique experiences that help define the kind of doctors they will become.
Folu Ani, first-year medical student at UC Irvine, has a distinctively African perspective that drives him to one day make a difference for the billions of people around the globe who do not have access to adequate healthcare.
Ani, 22, left his family in Ibadan, Nigeria, when he was 14 to live with relatives in Inglewood, Calif. His family told him he would have greater opportunities in the United States.
Certainly Ani has taken advantage of them. He earned a bachelor’s in biology this spring from San Diego State University with a 3.78 grade point average, and the faculty in the College of Sciences named him the outstanding graduating senior.
But his work outside of the classroom draws greater attention. He spent three years volunteering in an emergency room at a San Diego hospital and has donated his time to the area’s Ronald McDonald House. He’s participated in AIDS and breast cancer awareness walks. And in a final project before graduating, he worked with the nonprofit organization Locks of Love to gather hair donations from SDSU students to provide hairpieces for children suffering from alopecia areata, a disease that causes permanent hair loss.
Ani’s heart and mind, though, are firmly rooted in his African homeland. Although Nigeria is an economically and politically stable country, he learned firsthand how little access to healthcare most people in Africa have, and how these healthcare issues are ubiquitous around the world.
“My background has really inspired me to want to become a doctor,” Ani says. “Coming from Nigeria has given me a distinctive worldview. I’ve seen the need for healthcare access in the third world, and I know it’s a crucial issue for millions here in America.”
His goal is to pursue a practice as a pediatrician in the U.S.; but regardless of the medical specialty he chooses, he plans to work with international organizations that provide medical care in poorer countries, like those in Africa, and to help medically underserved Americans.
Within the medical school, he’s finding others who share this passion. Many UCI medical students and faculty members spend the summer months involved with global health projects in Latin America, Asia and Africa, and much of the year working with underserved Orange County communities. Ani says that once he becomes integrated in the rigorous lifestyle of a medical student, he’ll explore these possibilities.
“I have a great opportunity at Irvine,” he says. “Just going to medical school in the U.S. is a blessing. I’m grateful, and I’m going to use that to make a difference.”