Dr. Odera Umeano Hyduke

When Odera applied to the program in the fall of 2005, she wrote in one of her essays that she planned to be a neurosurgeon and that nothing – absolutely nothing – would stand in her way. After I read it, I admitted, “This one scares me a little bit!”  It’s funny in retrospect that we wondered about Odera, because the moment we met her we were swept away by her warmth and optimism.  Odera believed in herself and in her dreams, and that belief did not stem from arrogance or ruthlessness. 

You know when Odera’s in the room.  She has presence.  Her generous laugh and playful sarcasm float above the routine chitchat.  You would think she would have a curated collection of successes that bolster her assurance.  And you would not be altogether correct.  Odera has had to reach deep within for this confidence, because there have been times when her capacity for excellence has been questioned.

When she was accepted to Duke Med, we all thought she was on the path she had always dreamed about.  The dream became a nightmare when, as a fourth-year, she did not match with a residency program in her intended specialty of neurosurgery.  She was told that the “fit” was not right.  The next few years were characterized by unexpected shifts of both plans and geography as she navigated her medical training.

Odera’s resilience has been remarkable.  She reflects, “I made the choice to be okay with failure. To not let my mistakes or less successful endeavors define me. Rather, I pivoted and adapted and became something more, something better. And more importantly, I learned.”

Her mother has always been her biggest cheerleader, consistently remaindering her of her worth.  “My greatest role model has to be my mother. The woman is unbelievable. She has been like some mythical Amazonian creature my whole life. Super powerful. Intimidating. Strong. She could fix any problem. But as I got older, I realized that she is flawed and vulnerable.  A lot of the time, she's been scared, but she never gives up on herself or her family. Finding out how ‘imperfect’ she is has made her all the more special and perfect to me.”

Odera, now a practicing hospitalist in Baton Rouge and mother of one adorable toddler, wants to give first-year students permission not to know what they want to do.  “Freshman year is a gift. It's a time to explore and grow. Give yourself the time and space to do just that.”

photo of Odera Umenao Hyduke