Get to know: Eunice Fafiyebi
Meet Eunice Fafiyebi, a first-generation Aggie from Ibadan, Nigeria, who is earning her bachelor of science in public health from Texas A&M School of Public Health this December. Fafiyebi was also a member of the Corps of Cadets and served the university as a member of the Maroon Coats. She plans to become a global pediatric surgeon and health policy advocate. Vital Record spoke to Fafiyebi on her Texas A&M experience, aspirations and views on health care:
Q: What made you take an academic interest in health care?
A: I have sickle cell anemia, a genetic disease where you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry enough oxygen throughout your body. Growing up, I was always sick and in a hospital. The health care in my birthplace, Nigeria, was not that great. That’s why my parents were very excited about coming to America: Over here, health care is far better. I was treated by amazing doctors, they worked with me to find medication that actually helped my condition. I am learning to take care of myself and live with this disease. My life is physically better because of being in America.
Q: How did you immigrate to the United States?
A: Each year when I was growing up, my parents applied for the Diversity Visa, which makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. You fill out an application, and the computer selects your number, basically like a lottery. Once your name is picked, you go through a screening process and clinic testing, and finally you are called for an interview at the U.S. Embassy, where it’s decided whether you get to go or not. We got the visa in 2007 and arrived here in 2009; it’s a long process.
Q: Why did you choose Public Health at Texas A&M University?
A: I started as a biomedical science major, but it never really felt right for me. When I spoke to my advisor in the Corps of Cadets, I mentioned that I enjoy volunteering and talking to people, and I was encouraged by my advisor to look into public health. The next semester, I enrolled in an introduction to public health class, and that just blew me away. I loved being a part of health care and understanding how factors that are outside the hospital also affect health, like policy, for example.
We didn’t have health insurance or a government health care program in Nigeria; we were essentially on our own. I have seen health care from outside the United States, and as an immigrant, I have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act, which makes health insurance available to more people. I am fascinated with health policy in America, where it will go and who will benefit from it, and how it will evolve. I’ve had the opportunity to see it from both the outside and the inside, as well as study it formally in my coursework.
Q: How would you describe your experiences with the Corps of Cadets and Maroon Coats?
A: The Corps was like a fulltime job. The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program prepares you for being in the military. I always wanted to join the military, but I knew I couldn’t because I was born with sickle cell anemia. This was my chance for a military experience. I was really attracted to the uniform and being in a leadership organization. During my last semester in the Corps, I was a Career Readiness Officer. I planned the interview and resume workshops that helped students get jobs and prepare for life after college. I got to play a role in people’s futures, which was really cool.
In the Maroon Coats, you are the connection between the donors and students. We spent time with donors, told them our stories and helped them see what impact they are making at Texas A&M, which is a lot. It was an honor to be with the Maroon Coats.
Q: What are your post-graduation plans?
A: I want to go to medical school; I would like to be in the Texas A&M College of Medicine; I love it here.
Q: How has earning a degree in public health prepared you for a career as a physician?
A: Public health has taught me to look beyond the patient. I have been a patient and in hospitals, and when you’re in that situation, you don’t think about all that impacts health care. There is a great “beyond” from that one person in that one hospital room. When you see a patient, you see the disease, but there is so much more to that. The disease could be due to genetics, or not getting to the doctor on time because the person could not afford insurance or simply lacked the time or transportation to get there. There is a lot more than meets the eye, a lot of social and cultural implications behind the patient. In the future, I won’t just be seeing sick patients, but rather factoring in what their genetics, parents and communities look like.
Q: What is your long-term goal?
A: I would like to be a pediatric surgeon and travel and practice medicine, and help other cultures. God has given me a gift to be here, and I want to give this gift back as much as I can. I would love to work with the United Nations or World Health Organization and help support health policy from there. I have been in a rural setting in Nigeria. I have seen people pass away due to not having a nurse or doctor, or simply not knowing basic health care, like drinking more water. I would like to go back, perform as a general surgeon and reduce the death rate, if I can.
Q: Do you have any advice for those wanting to pursue a degree in public health?
A: Be open minded; I came here wanting to learn what is out there, and that really helped. You will see how you and the environment are impacted with public health. You will learn concepts, so understand how these concepts can impact your community.