April 15, 2022
Christeebella Akpala, R.N., an M.D. student at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, is a 2022 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow. This prestigious award is given to just 30 immigrants and children of immigrants who are pursuing graduate education in the U.S. Selection is based on a student’s drive, creativity, intellectual spirit, and their commitment to the values of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Christeebella immigrated to the United States from Nigeria when she was 17 years old to escape the civil unrest brought on by the Boko Haram terrorist group. Thrust into a whole new life and all by herself, she struggled to pay for education and rent, but took community classes to begin to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. She was offered permanent residency on an accelerated track through the Movement Accessions Vital to the National Interest program and, with the help of financial aid, she enrolled in Towson University.
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in nursing in 2017, Christeebella was hired as a nurse at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She later went on to study medicine in West Virginia at the Joan C Edwards School of Medicine, where she got sick and was referred to the Mayo Clinic and has continued to be treated. Determined to give back throughout her treatment, she started learning how to make wigs for oncology patients and has since made 20. Christeebella has begun her medical school studies again and is now pursuing her M.D. at the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, on track to graduate in 2025.
Finding meaning in the fellowship
"To illustrate what this fellowship means to me," begins Christeebella, "allow me to introduce you to the story of Forrest Gump, a character that almost accurately paints a picture of my journey thus far. Forrest tries to run away from bullies in this movie but struggles because he has to wear leg braces. He eventually breaks free and rids himself of the bullies as his friend Jenny screams, 'Run, Forrest, run.'"
"As a child in my native country and until this day," continues Christeebella, "It has felt like I had leg braces my whole life, making it difficult to do away with these bullies (challenges) that consistently plague me. Growing up in a third-world country was far from a fairy tale, from managing whatever food we had to being sent home from school for not paying tuition and fees. With my immigration to the United States as a teenager, these leg braces seemed to get heavier. A whole new set of issues arose as I navigated this new community. Despite these challenges, I met people that continued to root for me from the sidelines, without which I would be nowhere. The Paul and Daisy Soros fellowship serves as the Jenny to my Forrest Gump. This fellowship reminds me of the faith people have in me, thus encouraging me to continue to run until the braces fall off. This fellowship award is the 'run Bella, run' that I never stop needing to hear. Receiving this scholarship lends a degree of gravitas to my autonomy in choosing a specialty without feeling coerced into a particular field of medicine because of the burden of student debt. I appreciate the efforts of the Paul and Daisy Soros Foundation in creating awareness about the plight of recently immigrated Americans."
Christeebella remains passionate about social issues like diversity in medicine, cultural competency regarding healthcare delivery, and racial/ethnic biases that may undermine care delivery to underprivileged and marginalized communities. She is currently working on a COVID-19 registry that investigates the multidisciplinary approaches in ICU treatment strategies worldwide, for which she was named one of two American Medical Association emerging scholars in infectious diseases for the year 2020.
Learn more about the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans.