By Stanley Ugagbe
The growing list of Africans achieving giant strides in the Diaspora recently added value as a Black female of Nigerian descent, Idara Edem has defeated the battles of academics to become a Neurosurgeon in Canada.
The Nigerian Canadian News gathered that Edem of Queens University Meds’13 has always been obsessed with the complex nature of the brain. In high school, she knew she wanted a career that involved studying one of the body’s most mysterious organs.
She had averred that “It influences our lives in so many ways. It controls everything but we know so little about it”
“Once I decided (studying the brain) was something I wanted, I wasn’t going to let any barriers affect me. You are always going to have people who think you can’t do something regardless of how good your grades are or what your interests are.”
According to reports, Edem, who emigrated from Nigeria when she was 13 years old, might be Canada’s first Black female neurosurgeon.
Queens University Alumni reported that she can’t confirm the certainty of her being the first Black female neurosurgeon in, but research seems to back it up. It was noted that her sister, Faith, contacted some Canadian medical and neuroscience organizations who said they were unaware of other Black female Canadian neurosurgeons but couldn’t officially confirm it because they don’t keep track of racial data of neurosurgeons.
Meanwhile, official records have it that being a female neurosurgeon in Canada – let alone Black – is rare. Recall that CBC had in December 2019 reported that there were 333 practicing neurosurgeons in Canada and only 36 were women. It was disclosed that Edem has had colleagues who have been working since the 1980s and none of them can recall a Black female neurosurgeon in Canada.
The elated Dr. Edem who has a mix of emotions about her probable historic achievement believes in being a role model and hopes her story will inspire other Black Canadians and women to become doctors and surgeons. But being the first also makes her a little sad.
She said “The more important question is why am I the first? What are the structural barriers and systemic issues that have prevented others over the years from making this a goal?”
The probable history maker faulted various systematic social and financial barriers to medical education that happen even before applying to medical school.
Dr. Edem, who was one of only three Black students in her medical class, succinctly stated that “Mentorship and sponsorship are key at this time. Due to a lack of representation and support, many Black learners don’t even get to the stage of applying for medical school”.
In her words, the Nigerian hopes more Black and female Canadians join her on the front lines of health care, adding that she is trying to encourage others by giving talks to groups such as the Association of Black Aspiring Physicians and mentoring colleagues who need help navigating the unique challenges of being a Black and/or female surgeon.
She said “Twenty years down the line, I want to make sure neurosurgeons look more like the patient populations they represent – more diverse and more multicultural”.
She is now practicing in Michigan but hopes to return to practice in Canada soon.