Ebun's Story: Being a "Minority within a Minority" in Healthcare

February 06, 2023

As a young child in Nigeria, Ebunoluwa (Ebun) Fapounda began dreaming of becoming a doctor after watching a documentary about the famous neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. Unfortunately, due to lack of opportunity, limited finances and other barriers, the goal started to feel out of reach as Ebun watched several family members, who had similar aspirations, withdraw from medical school or turn to other professions. “I want to be the first one from my family to cross the finish line,” he shares.

Ebun emigrated to Chicago with his parents and two younger siblings after an economic recession hit their country in 2016. Now 17 years old, Ebun is a senior at Amundsen High School and lives in Rogers Park. His parents are caregivers at a retirement facility close by.

While his home and surroundings have changed, Ebun’s goal of career in medicine remains constant. Through the Lurie Children’s Mentorship and Workforce Development (MWD) program, it feels a step closer. Last summer, Ebun took part in our Discovering Healthcare Careers program, a 6-week internship during which high school students shadow various medical specialties. “I shadowed bioengineering, hematology, medical imaging, neurology, child services and respiratory therapy specialists. It was amazing because having conversations with the healthcare professionals and seeing their work made my goal feel realistic,” he tells us.

Ebun's Discovering Healthcare Careers cohort

The MWD program recruits student interns from communities that are underrepresented in the medical workforce and introduces them to healthcare careers within the hospital. In alignment with Lurie Children’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, the goal is to improve our medical workforce’s ethnic, racial and economic diversity. The numbers can explain why this work is so important: in 2019, 61 percent of the country’s medical workforce identified as white, 18 percent identified as Hispanic/Latinx and only 12 percent identified as Black. Studies show that physicians from underrepresented minority groups are more likely to practice in high-need specialties, as well as in medically underserved communities.

“Families from Africa, like mine, are minorities of a minority in a way,” shares Ebun as he reflects on the MWD program. Although he spoke English when emigrated, settling in and feeling comfortable in a foreign country wasn’t easy for him at first. “When we moved here, there were little things I had to change to fit in. The way I carry myself, the way I relate to people. For example, where I come from, it’s common to greet people excessively, so I had to become less polite in a way. I had to find a balance,” he explains.

While Ebun felt he had to tone down some aspects of his culture to better assimilate, his background and experiences as an immigrant will undoubtedly be a strength in his future career in medicine. More than 20 percent of Chicagoans are foreign-born, and as a Sanctuary City, the number of immigrants to the city is set to increase. In our surveys asking communities about what how their healthcare can be improved, the need for culturally-responsive care – high quality health care that is respectful to and responsive to the needs of diverse patients – is frequently mentioned. The ability to relate to patients, whether by speaking their language or understanding their customs, can be an asset to any hospital and is important for establishing trusting relationships between patients and their medical team.

For Ebun, it’s early days yet – he’s currently preparing for college and is interested in shadowing a surgeon for his next internship. While his next steps aren’t completely mapped out yet, the opportunities provided by the MWD program have shown him and other students how they might be able to turn their dreams into reality.