back to top

Persistence, Passion, and Discipline

Hayden Hollingsworth
Hayden Hollingsworth

It is interesting how words can come to personify an individual.  When you encounter such a person, one is well advised to pay close attention to them, to see how they wear those adjectives, how they got that way.

More than eight years ago I met a gentleman from Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia.  His wife, Kokobe, long a valued member of our family circle here in the United States, was finally reunited with him in Washington just 12 days before September 11, 2001.  I knew he was a physician and was anxious to meet him.  Little did I realize what a profound influence we would have on one another.

I found him quiet and diminutive but friendly.  His dream was to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examinations and teach medicine in this country.  As a physician, I told him I would be happy to help in anyway I could, so we spent that first morning in Washington talking about cardiology, my specialty.  I was impressed with his depth of knowledge and command of English.

He told me that in Ethiopia, all students who finish the equivalent of our high school are required to sit for a government examination to determine if they will be eligible for university education.  A quarter million students take the test and only ten thousand are selected for further study in law, engineering, aviation, or medicine.  Only a few hundred are chosen for medicine and my new friend, Abebe, was one of them.

Entering medical school at age seventeen, he studied for seven years, all classes taught in English by imported teachers.  For his class of ninety there would sometimes be only a dozen textbooks, so they shared, some students sleeping while others studied by candlelight, since electricity was very erratic; at one point there were three months with no power.  When your time came for the book, be it 3 a.m. or 6 p.m., your classmate awoke you and passed the textbook on for the next hour.  The books were used twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

After graduating at the top of his class, he was assigned to a government hospital.  He was well acquainted with modern medical technology but in all of Ethiopia there was only one CT scanner, one MRI, and one sonography lab—this in a country of sixty million people.  His frustration in identifying the diseases he saw and knowing the treatment was enormous:  There was little he could do other than offer comfort. When he completed his government service, he immigrated to America to be with Kokobe.

I helped him secure a job as a monitor watcher in Inova Fairfax Hospital where he worked nights for four years as he passed his three licensing exams with grades in the 95th percentile.  He was then able to apply for a medical residency in this country.

During all those years, Kokobe continued to work two jobs and I never saw either one of them discouraged.  In his applications for residency, I  had assumed he would choose an inner city hospital in New York or Washington known for selecting foreign graduates, but he set his sights higher and was selected for an internal medicine residency at Kansas University Medical Center, a premier institution.

In his first year, the faculty selected him as “Intern of the Year for Professionalism.”  The second year, his fellow residents and the faculty, both independently, chose him “Outstanding Resident Physician.”  The third year, he was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha, the Phi Beta Kappa of medicine.  He was then selected to join the Kansas University Medical Faculty and has just completed his first year, when the graduating class chose him as “The Outstanding Faculty Member of the Medical School.”

I visited him this past weekend in Kansas City and he has changed little from that first encounter in 2001. He is more self-assured, understandably, but his humility remains unaltered.  He gives credit for his success to everyone with whom he has come in contact.  Kokobe and he have two children who are as typical of American children as you would see anywhere:  Big chicken nugget and SpongeBob SquarePants fans.

Abebe and Kokobe, obviously, are quite intelligent, but that alone would never have brought them to the place where he now finds himself:  On the threshold of a brilliant career.   It took twenty-two years of monumental persistence, passion, and discipline for them to achieve this.

As my visit ended and the plane lifted off the Kansas prairie , I thought if everyone had the qualities, even in small measure, that have brought Abebe and Kokobe so far, how different life would be.

By Hayden Hollingsworth
[email protected]

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Related Articles