Meet the Next Generation of Neurosurgery | Medicine School


Meet the next generation of neurosurgery

Cleresa Roberts shares her journey by becoming a member of the class of 2021 of neurosurgery residents

Reading time: 3.5 minutes

As Cleresa Roberts eagerly donned her white lab coat in 2016, then a new medical student at the University of Minnesota, the idea of ​​pursuing the field of surgery interested her.

“But, neurosurgery was definitely not in my brain,” she said with a laugh. “No pun intended.”

She also did not intend to become a pioneer in the discipline. When Roberts graduates this month with two degrees – a medical degree and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the U of M – she will move to Virginia to begin her residency in neurosurgery as one. of the only two black female medical students in the United States to have matched a North American residency in neurosurgery program.

While the U of M Faculty of Medicine contributed to the training and graduation Alexa Canada, MD, the very first black female neurosurgeon, in 1981, there is still a lot of work to be done – by all medical schools – to close the diversity gap among neurosurgery physicians. According to a recent historical overview published in the Surgery world, only 6% of practicing neurosurgeons are female, and only 4% are black or African American. By combining race and gender, college students like Roberts hardly exist – only 33 practicing neurosurgeons in the United States identify themselves as black women, making up 0.6% of the current workforce. .

“It’s terrifying,” Roberts admitted. “I didn’t come up with the idea that I would be in this position, especially given my experience just trying to get into medical school. But, as soon as I recognized the role I had… I felt like I was fighting for this diploma.


A young Roberts loved science and she loved helping people. At the time, she couldn’t identify the type of career that would mix these two passions. Then her father fell ill – and almost died – after reaching a blood sugar level of over 800.

“He had diabetes, and he didn’t know,” Roberts said. “Most of my family comes from poor areas and has limited access to health care. After almost losing my father, it was a turning point for me as I really started to realize the disparities in health and the impacts of inequalities. Within my family, there is certainly a certain distrust of medicine, and this underscores the importance of having doctors who resemble the diverse populations of America. ”

With a clear path, she began her educational journey in Ohio, surrounding herself with a group of black undergraduates who all dreamed of studying medicine.

“There were five or six of us and we all wanted to get into medical school,” recalls Roberts. “But I was the only one to succeed. Not that they didn’t try, but those barriers did happen, and it just didn’t work – even for me at first. The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and lack of mentorship was a huge hurdle for me, so I had to work a few years after undergraduate to boost my CV.

In 2016, after casting his net away, Roberts happily accepted an offer to attend U of M medical school.

“This experience with my classmates really gave me the drive to improve the system, and my studies in medical school at the University of Manitoba really taught me what I am capable of,” he said. she declared.


Cl̩resaRoberts, in his second semester in medical school, remembers his first day in class Рand his very first exposure Рstudying the concept of neuroscience.

“I absolutely loved it and got a 100% in this class with the material,” she said. “In our second year we had a neuropathic component, and I really enjoyed learning about diseases, pathology and the nervous system in general, but neurosurgery never occurred to me. . “

In his third year, the medical school program allowed Roberts to “choose a path” for a period of three weeks. She chose neurosurgery out of curiosity.

“And, I fell in love with it,” she said. “They were performing an evacuation of the subdural hematoma and, as a medical student, I had to make a burr hole and clean the case. I ended up going back after those three weeks for a full week that I had to get more exposure, and I absolutely knew that was what I wanted to do.

But, when she found her place in medicine, she began to notice all too familiar patterns.

“I was often the only black woman in hospitals and on teams, and it was really hard to find mentors,” said Roberts. “I began to realize, even more deeply, the importance of having that ‘seat at the table’. That’s why I decided to get my MBA.

After completing his first three years of medical school, Roberts took a break from medical school to begin the first year of his MBA program. Then, during the last academic year, she took courses for both degrees simultaneously. Not to mention the fact that she was a medical tutor and president of the medical school chapter of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.

“I needed to build my skills to understand minority leadership and the healthcare sector,” she said. “We don’t get a lot of that in medical school, and I really believe that in order to understand healthcare and make a difference, you have to know how it was created and how it works.”

The privilege of practicing

Roberts says that while it hasn’t been easy, she feels confident going into residency with what she learned from U of M medical school. Practicing medicine, especially in neurosurgery, is ” a privilege “.

“With being a neurosurgeon comes the privilege of caring for some of the sickest patients in the hospital,” she said. “Neurosurgery is not without health inequalities. This is why I want to build my career in academic medicine, so that I can not only take care of my patients, but also advance their health through research. I really see myself doing it from a managerial position – maybe even as the dean of a medical school one day. “

This privilege described by Roberts is felt even more deeply as she recognizes her place in history – a future black neurosurgeon, but also the great ancestor of slaves and the granddaughter of sharecroppers.

“Where I am is a testament to my family, who had the strength to endure, and I couldn’t have done anything without them. It’s important for me to remember that,” she said. “My goal is to make a difference, where what I discover can be used as a model for all of medicine, because the system has to change.”


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