Mentorship in Neurosurgery from the Lens of a Black Muslim Medical Student

02 Dec 2021

By Habiba Abdullahi

Neurosurgery was something I chose quite early on in life. For many people, something or someone was the reason they chose neurosurgery. For me, it was after reading ‘Gifted Hands’ by Dr. Ben Carson. I was barely 12 then but I decided within me that I would pursue neurosurgery. I was in awe throughout reading the book. 12-year-old me had no idea how the journey would be and all the steps I would need to take to eventually reach my goal. All I knew was I had a dream and I was going to protect and achieve that dream, no matter how long it takes. I kept this dream to myself and never publicly expressed my plan to pursue Neurosurgery till my late teens.

It was in grade 11 of high school that I began to publicly express my wish to pursue neurosurgery. I remember a friend, who was also a medical student then, telling me it is practically impossible for me to go through that long journey because I am a woman, and I might as well give up right from the get-go. I am thankful I ignored that statement. Over the years, I have received numerous similar comments from many other people. I was simply told I cannot have it all. If I dare to pursue neurosurgery, then I will have to give up creating a family in the future. I don’t quite understand, or rather, I refuse to understand what the concept of “having it all” is. In my first year of medical school, I stumbled upon a quote on social media by a prestigious Trauma and Critical care surgeon which goes: “My best advice is to stop thinking of work and life as a balance- that implies they are opposing forces and will only set you up to fail. Surgery doesn’t stop my life and my life doesn’t stop surgery. I am a better surgeon because I am a wife and a mother. And I am a better wife and mother because I am a surgeon.” I have practically memorized this statement because it resonates with me.

Mentorship is everything. It has been a life-changing experience for me. What I did not realize early on was its significance. I had initially thought that just putting in the hard work was all that was needed. I was awfully wrong, and I am glad I caught that early on. For such a long and relatively strenuous journey, mentorship is certainly needed. I am grateful to the women in surgery that are paving the way and acting as role models. They are more than just mentors to me. There is a saying, “the mediocre teacher teaches, the good teacher explains, and the superior teacher inspires.” All the mentors I have made so far have inspired me in more than one way. I was fortunate enough to attend a webinar organized by the Dandy Walter Neurosurgical society titled Women in Neurosurgery. There, I got to hear distinguished women in neurosurgery from all over the world speak about their journey. If I wasn’t fully convinced to pursue neurosurgery, then that webinar alone would have won me over.

Mentorship and representation go hand in hand. Seeing black, hijabi Muslim women in the field of surgery warms my heart and fuels me. Seeing people that look like me in leadership positions, attending the conferences, publishing the papers, performing the surgeries makes me believe that it is indeed possible.



Habiba Abdullahi is a 4th-year medical student at Near East University School of Medicine interested in neurosurgery, pediatrics, brain tumors, and research. Her hobbies include reading, writing, cycling, and baking. Follow her on social media at: Twitter: habibaabdalla_ and Instagram: habibasanusi_

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.