From Cleaner To White House And Now Set To Be A Neurosurgeon – Dr. Kwadwo Sarpong’s Inspiring Story
The destiny of a man isn’t rooted in his beginnings but rather in his ability to forge ahead through hard work, clarity of vision, determination, and perseverance, despite obstacles to create his desired future.
Dr. Kwadwo Sarpong is no doubt an influential figure in the United States who rose from humble beginnings in Ghana to rewrite his story serving as a major inspiration around the world.
Passionate about gender equity, he is co-founder and Chairman of the Board at African Research Academies for Women (ARA-W)– a non-profit organization that aims to bridge the gender divide to ignite economic transformations and create a better world for all via powering efforts to increase the representation of women in STEM professions around the world through research with hopes that the African continent can produce excellent female scientists. This the organization looks to achieve by creating summer research opportunities for undergraduate female students, to spark an interest in research.
The social entrepreneur is also a resident neurosurgeon at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the United States of America.
He serves on numerous boards and is a recipient of the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama as well as is a Sheth Distinguished International Alumni Award Winner 2017.
His success journey was fraught with challenges but he pushed through; started as a business student at the University of Ghana
but thankfully along the line he won a US visa lottery and moved in 2010, although he set out to continue with his education straight away, things didn’t go as planned as transferring wasn’t smooth and he also needed to fend for himself, so he pushed his education and tried to make ends meet through cleaning hospital floors and worked at Walmart. Thankfully life gave him another opportunity when he started his housekeeping job, – his colleagues in Ghana had already graduated from university, and his path crossed with a physician, Dr. Robert Fritz, a General Thoracic Surgeon at Gwinnett Medical Center who opened his eyes to a piece of advice that would help change his life for the better.
Dr. Fritz, had been disturbed by seeing such a young boy at his age (21) doing menial jobs and so he took him under his wings upon hearing Kwadwo wanted to become a surgeon like him, he then offered him a job as a personal intern for him, this was his first taste of science and medicine, he poured himself in, learning any and everything and yes, today it’s paid off big – his passion for the world of medicine was sparked
after battling a severe form of typhoid fever as a child and being affected by his brother’s paralytic polio condition, Sarpong began nursing the idea of becoming a physician-scientist.
Recalling how it all started, he says:
“I had no idea about science. My goal was to transfer and just continue my education. But not in the sciences. I realized it’s difficult to start school so I had to prioritize work. So I worked for like a year, as a cashier at Walmart, and then got a job in 2010 as a Housekeeper in a hospital.”
“There was a surgeon at the hospital who basically saw me one time and started talking to me. He said, ‘Hey, you’re pretty young to be cleaning, what do you want to do?’ ” Sarpong recalled.
Dr. Fritz, had advised him to start off at a community college and so he enrolled. Kwadwo after community college, entered Emory University in Atlanta where he studied Bachelor of Science, majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. From there, he continued at Georgetown Experimental Medical studies in Washington D.C where he obtained a Medical Certificate. He then proceeded to Georgetown University School of Medicine for a Doctor of Medicine Qualification and now for the next 7 years, he be working to perfect his neurosurgery practice at Vanderbilt.
Many thanks to scholarships, financial aid from various individuals, and student loans, Kwadwo has been able to push through and stay on top.
His journey into social entrepreneurship started when he transferred to Emory University in 2013, as he was doing neuroscience research at Emory, Sarpong stumbled across statistics about women in STEM, particularly in African countries, and how they are largely underrepresented in the sciences. He knew he had to do something and called up his classmates in Ghana and a survey was conducted which found out that most women in the sciences had no knowledge about non-medical career opportunities in STEM fields. “Most women had no idea that you could get a Ph.D. in biochemistry or have your own lab,” he said. “They only thought of the medical aspect.” This was what inspired the birth of the African Research Academies for Women (ARAW), a nonprofit organization that helps Ghanaian women pursue careers in STEM outside of medicine. Under Sarpong’s leadership, an eight-week summer research program in Ghana that allows undergraduate students to gain professional development and practical skills in the sciences was launched alongside other initiatives over the years.
In 2015 Sarpong graduated with a degree in neuroscience and behavioral biology from Emory University but his passion for ARAW saw him postpone medical studies to fully concentrate on the none profit. Dedication paid off big time and he was granted an invite by President Obama to the United States -Africa Leaders Summit, 2014 where he leveraged the platform to discuss with some cabinet members how to move his organization’s dream forward as well as several other top-notch initiatives and personalities which in turn boosted his non-profit.
Today ARA-W has successfully equipped over a hundred students through its research program. Not giving up on medicine, in 2017 he came to the Georgetown Experimental Medical Studies program where he learned necessary skills.
In March 2022, Sarpong, the only member of his family to move to the United States from Ghana, announced the amazing news of his acceptance to
study neurosurgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, making him the first physician in his family.
“I didn’t think it was possible”, Dr. Sarpong says about whether he saw himself becoming a resident Neurosurgeon at the prestigious Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the United States of America.
Today, Sarpong is a proud recipient of the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama. He has also been recognized as part of Emory University’s 40 Under 40 and the recipient of the Young African Committed to Excellence from Face2Face Africa, among other honors.
“There is hope for our future generation to achieve a gender parity world. A world centered around gender parity would be an ideal world. This encompasses equal access to education and employment for both males and females, equal economic opportunities, and human rights. This will lay a strong foundation for economic advancement and prosperity for women not because women makeup half of the world’s population but also they are more likely to invest their earned capital in their families.”- K.Sarpong