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One Year Out: Anu Sopeyin ’15, Yale Medical School

Anu Sopeyin ’15 knew she wanted to be a doctor even before she arrived at Vassar from her home in Nigeria in 2010. Now in her first year at Yale Medical School, Sopeyin plans to return to Nigeria when she earns her degree and apply her knowledge and skills where they’re needed most. “It’s been a blessing to come to this country to learn,” she says, “but I see myself working for an organization like the World Health Organization or Doctors Without Borders.”

Anu Sopeyin ’15, MD candidate at Yale University School of Medicine

Sopeyin was excelling in math and science courses in secondary school in Nigeria when she was selected by the United States Embassy in Nigeria to participate in a college preparatory program aimed at placing her in a top American college. She says one of her counselors at the embassy suggested Vassar “because the college had a broad-based liberal arts curriculum and I didn’t know what kind of science I wanted to pursue.”

Sopeyin was immediately captivated by that broad-based curriculum. “In Nigeria, they have you specialize early, so I was only taking math and science courses in high school,” she says. “In my freshman year at Vassar, I took astronomy and history and economics. It was like a party.”

Sopeyin decided on a pre-med track and majored in biochemistry. And early in her Vassar career, she connected with chemistry prof. Teresa Garrett. “I took a freshman seminar with Teresa, and she became my mentor and academic advisor,” Sopeyin says. She spent two summers working with Garrett at Vassar’s Undergraduate Research Summer Institute and the two published a paper on their research.

While she was working with Garrett on the Vassar campus, Sopeyin gained some hands-on experience with physicians at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie. She volunteered in the pediatric department during her junior year and landed an internship in her senior year shadowing physicians as they made their daily rounds.

Sopeyin says that experience was transformative. “Watching the doctors and nurses interacting with the patients really resonated with me,” she says. “As they explained why they were making the decisions they were making, I saw the social and economic side of medicine, the part that is more an art than a science.”

Sopeyin decided that before she enrolled in medical school, she should learn more about the research side of medicine, so after she graduated from Vassar she accepted a position as a laboratory technician in an RNA lab at Rockefeller University in New York City. “I wanted to round out my experience after all the doctor-patient interaction I observed at the hospital,” she says. “I wanted to find out if I wanted to earn a PhD as well as an MD, and it was fascinating to plunge into research projects with world-renowned scientists. I’m really grateful for the experience.”

Now that she’s in medical school, Sopeyin is leaning toward a primary care career, and she says she’s benefiting from the wide range of courses she took at Vassar and the faculty-student relationships she formed there. “I can’t overemphasize the importance of having Teresa as a mentor,” she says, “and I built and fostered other relationships taking so many classes outside of my major.”

Sopeyin formed many close ties with students outside the classroom as a member of Vassar’s Christian Fellowship and the African Students Union and as a tutor for high school students in Poughkeepsie. Those experiences are also contributing to her success at Yale, Sopeyin says. “At medical school, they want you to have the social skills and economic background to succeed in the profession, and Vassar broadened those skills for me as well,” she says.

Sopeyin says she’s looking forward to joining a group of students at Yale who run a clinic for disadvantaged families in New Haven. And while she’s genuinely enjoying all aspects of her medical school experience, she’s also looking forward to going back home. “Nigeria has my heart,” she says. “Being an international student in medical school can be arduous -- you don’t qualify for a lot of funding -- but there are advantages, too. I think I bring a different perspective that is welcome.”

Photo by Michael Marsland

Posted Monday, September 19, 2016