From the small town of Kokofu in the Ashanti Region, to the shores of Accra, 26-year-old Dr Ellen Boakye is a long way from home. At the young age of 6, her career path had already been destined when tenants in her compound started to call her Doctor Ellen, possibly due to her excitement whenever there was a new birth in the compound she grew up in.
The doctor that swept 10 outstanding awards at the University of Ghana’s medical school graduation set the bar high, with a riveting story to go with it. And it all started, with a nickname.
“I don’t remember, but for some reason they began to call me Doctor Ellen at the age of 5 or 6. At the time I did not dream of becoming a doctor but I went to secondary school with the intention of studying science,” she says.
During her studies in secondary school, she discovered she loved Biology, and added to her nickname ‘Doctor Ellen’, it seemed her destiny was already set and so she went on to pursue medicine, and she has never looked back.
Ellen comes from a family of six, with two older brothers and a sister, born to parents with no formal education of their own but believed that their children deserved the education they never had.
From a basic education at Petra International School in Breman to a secondary school education in Yaa Asantewaa Girls Secondary School, scoring As in all subjects except English.
But of course that did not deter her, as she wrote the supplementary examinations known as Nov/Dec and scored all As across board.
Due to a delay in the results from her Nov/Dec, her application to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology’s medical school was switched to a Pharmacology program. After two weeks, she realized the school was not going to switch her courses and that sparked her decision to move to the University of Ghana medical school.
“It was late in the night, my brother came to pick me up, and we just hurriedly packed my belongings and left. There were some dishes I had left undone but I packed them anyway.” Ellen says with a slight chuckle.
At the time, the medical school in Legon required all students to read biological science in their first year before proceeding to full-time medicine.
“And six years down the line, I made it by the grace of God and won 10 awards.”
“I am so happy not just because of the recognition and money that comes with it, but also because it shows other women that they can achieve anything they put their mind to and also inspires children from disadvantaged backgrounds to not give up.”
Was she expecting her time at the medical school to reap such amazing benefits? “Well, I was. I wanted to be the best, not necessarily to win the awards but the best student overall, and I suppose such a position comes with the recognition,” she says.
The young doctor has actually 18 instead of 10 awards. During her Bachelor of Science graduation, Ellen received 8 out the 9 awards presented.
“Is that my greatest achievement? Possibly. But there are other instances that I consider an achievement. I really love children, so if a child is brought in sick to the hospital and I help to make them better, I consider that a very fulfilling achievement,” a beaming Ellen states.
Ellen attributes her success also to the learning environment in her school, and her class of 2016 whom she said always kept her on her toes. “The mutual determination we all had to be our very best, really kept me on my toes to strive for excellence.”
Ellen started her journey through medical school with one thought in mind; to help people, and to help people, one needs the knowledge.
“ Whenever we started a rotation, I used to tell myself that, imagine a patient brings a problem to you and you have no idea how to help them, that notion fueled me to learn as much I could, be as practical as I could.”
Of course it could not have been easy in medical school. Ellen recalls almost giving up in her final year; not just on school but in other aspects of her life as well. Those were trying times especially with financial difficulties, but the constant conversations with mentors and friends kept her going.
She attributes the most profound lesson she learned in life, perseverance, to her time in medical school.
Touching on the health services in Ghana, Ellen uses her final year research project about Maternal Satisfaction in Ghana’s Health care system as an example. She explained her research discovered that many mothers did not visit the ante-natal clinic, which they were supposed to, because of the attitude of the nurse and doctors that treated them.
Ellen believes that while there are strides being made in Ghana’s Healthcare delivery system, there is a need for attitudinal change.
Every budding young doctor has a specialization in medicine that they wish to follow, and Ellen’s love for children has her looking towards pediatrics, especially pediatric cardiology. Her motivation stems from an experience where she watched two children with cardiovascular diseases die due to unavailability of the treatment in Ghana.
Ellen’s gratitude for her success goes to her parents, who pushed through to ensure she had a good education, her uncle who supported her when she most needed it, and her brother who motivated her throughout her studies. She also thanks Dr Genevieve Mensah, her school mother from her days in secondary school, whose unwavering support during her studies kept her going, and her best friend Dr Christine Anabelle Anowa Ellis.
“One iconic person I was looking up to during my school days was Dr Ben Carson. I read all his books and I initially thought of neurosurgery as a field for me but I did not enjoy my rotation that much. However he is not an inspiration to me anymore because well when we put our hopes in you and you come out that way…” she says, with a sigh of disappointment.
Where does Ellen see herself in the next couple of years? “In Ghana maybe opening a pediatric cardiology center,” she replied, with sheepish smile.
With her newfound recognition, Ellen uses her social media platform to speak up for causes she is passionate about including child marriages and girl-child education. She has been contacted by numerous stakeholders to use her story and current platform to encourage and inspire young women.