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    A Medical Student’s Journey From Burkina Faso to Uniformed Services University

    A Medical Student’s Journey From Burkina Faso to the Uniformed Services University

    Courtesy Photo | ENS Roland Kiendrebeogo, a first-year medical student at the Uniformed Services...... read more read more



    Story by Vivian Mason 

    Uniformed Services University

    U.S. Navy Ensign Roland Kiendrebeogo’s sentences are often peppered with the phrase, “But that’s another story.” This first-year medical student says, “I’ve had a crazy life. There’s been so many things that have happened to me, that have nothing to do with one another, that have gotten me to where I am today.”

    Amidst drama, misfortune, struggles, challenges, cosmic loopiness, and blessings, he found his way to the Uniformed Services University (USU). In 2009, Kiendrebeogo learned about the unique school with its innovative curriculum, tuition-waived-in-exchange-for-service education, and world-class reputation.

    “It’s always been a dream of mine to practice medicine and to serve something greater than myself,” Kiendrebeogo offers. “This environment attracted me because, at its core, there is a deep sense of commitment within the students and faculty. Despite my difficult life, I can identify with that.”

    He was born in Africa’s Ivory Coast, but his parents were from neighboring Burkina Faso. At age 12, he had to leave his parents to go to school in Burkina Faso, where he stayed with his oldest sibling who was a college student. After finishing high school, he stayed there for college, which is made affordable for most people in Burkina Faso who graduate high school.

    “There were about 3,000 students in one space that had no air conditioning. The board was impossible to see because most students were so far away from it and the lighting was terrible,” Kiendrebeogo recalls.

    But, he persisted with his education because he still wanted to go to medical school despite financial difficulties. Enmeshed in a family of six boys, he and his youngest brother applied to medical school at the same time. Interestingly, over the years, Kiendrebeogo had to stop and start school because of finances. Three of his brothers had to stop their education in order to give him and their youngest brother the opportunity to attend school. This arrangement eventually allowed his little brother to catch up to him academically.

    When Kiendrebeogo and his brother tried to apply to medical school in Burkina Faso, the school of medicine would only allow one of them to apply because the number of applicants exceeded the number of places available. So, Kiendrebeogo decided that his brother had a better chance of being selected, so he instead applied to the economics program, reasoning that earning that type of degree could help him support the family. Subsequently, he earned a master’s degree in economics. Later, Kiendrebeogo worked as assistant director of Economic Planification for the country’s National Department of Economics. He also taught college-level math and economics.

    One day, Kiendrebeogo accompanied his best friend who planned to fill out a visa application to go to America through the Diversity Visa Lottery. The program allows nationals (or “diversity immigrants”) from countries with historically low rates of immigration the opportunity to apply for an immigrant visa to enter the United States.

    “I told my friend that it was a scam, and we laughed about it. After completing the application, my friend suggested that I apply as well. At the time, I had no idea what the United States was like or if this opportunity was real. Still, I completed the application and turned it in,” he says.

    “About a year later, I went to the post office, and there was a big, white envelope with English on the front. I couldn’t even read it. I took the packet to my older brother who tried to read it. Finally, we had to go to a translator to figure out what it was. But that’s another story.”

    The odds of winning that lottery were astronomical, he says. “I kept wondering how could I have been so lucky to get this gift? I always reached for the stars and chased my dreams. But where I was at that time allowed me to finally see another future for myself and the people I love who made sacrifices for me.” At age 28, Kiendrebeogo emigrated from Burkina Faso to the United States, leaving his entire family and everything behind him.

    “People in America don’t understand the image this country has overseas. People need to go overseas to get that perspective and understanding. In my mind, the American Dream was alive and well, but I knew that I needed to work really hard to live my dreams,” he explains.

    Kiendrebeogo was ill-equipped in this new country. He had to learn English and start all over academically because, even with his master’s degree in economics, his courses weren’t recognized in the United States. With his degree practically worthless, he says he wondered, “What is it that I can do that will help me sustain myself, help my parents back home, and pursue my educational goals?”

    One of his brother’s best friends came up with a solution. He told Keindrebeogo about the U.S. military. So, he checked into it, and that avenue seemed like possible salvation. He joined the U.S. Navy on December 15, 2009 and headed to Great Lakes, Illinois, for basic training, but then asked himself, “What did I just do?” Just prior to departure for basic training, Kiendrebeogo also got married. “But that’s another story,” he claims.

    It took him six years to progress from an E1 to First Class Petty Officer. After two years of being a hospital corpsman, he trained to become a cardiovascular technician, as well as an instructor. He also improved his English and went back to college and earned a master’s degree in Public Health. In the meantime, he also became a father of two daughters.

    Kiendrebeogo often talked about his medical school dreams to other people, but he was told that at age 29, he was too old to start that journey. “I was told a lot of things,” he marvels, “but I always believed in myself.” His dream of studying medicine stayed with him, particularly his love of cardiology. Fortunately, he heard about USU’s Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program (EMDP2) that is a two-year pathway for enlisted service members to successfully prepare for application to medical school.

    Kiendrebeogo applied to the program at age 36, but didn’t get picked up the first time because of issues with his foreign academic credits. But, he reapplied the next year and was accepted. He left his family in California to attend the full-time program at George Mason University in northern Virginia. His family was finally able to join him after six months, just before the COVID-19 pandemic started.

    His wife is a Naval Officer, serving in the healthcare administration field. She is currently stationed at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. “So, with my wife having to physically be at work because of COVID responsibilities, guess who stayed home, studied for the MCAT, juggled four classes, and took care of six-year-old twin girls and a two-year-old boy?” he questions. “My mom [who was visiting] helped as much as she could because she was unable to return to Burkina Faso due to travel restrictions.”

    Even through COVID, he finished the program and was eventually accepted into five medical schools.

    “But, USU is the best medical school that suits me,” he remarks. “If it wasn’t for the military, my twins would not have survived. They were born at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego when my wife was six months pregnant. The NICU team there went above and beyond. I cannot tell you how many times our one pound, six ounce twins were resuscitated by that never-give-up team of talented people. I’ll never forget all that they did for us. I just want to pay it back in some way and be that person for other military families.”

    Kiendrebeogo reflects back on his journey and on his future. “I know where I’m coming from, and I know that my life has worked out the way it has because I believe that there’s a reason for everything. So, I’m going into medicine with a very open mind. Maybe I’ll fall in love with something that comes my way. I don’t know. But secretly, I’m leaning toward cardiology. But where I’ll land is the big question.”

    Laughing jovially, he exclaims, “But that’s another story!”



    Date Taken: 10.05.2021
    Date Posted: 10.05.2021 11:13
    Story ID: 406731
    Location: BETHESDA, MD, US 

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