Yes, we know Mother’s Day was nearly two weeks ago, and that we’re now well into graduation season. We also know feel-good moments have sadly been far and few between, as of late—so bear with us, because this mother-daughter graduation story is a bright spot.
Jasmine Kudji grew up around medicine. Her mother Cynthia Kudji was an RN and nurse practitioner for nearly a decade, and after becoming pregnant with Jasmine in her early 20s, she often brought her daughter along as she treated patients throughout rural Louisiana. But eventually, the Ghana-born Cynthia, a Tulane graduate with a Master’s of Science in Nursing from Loyola, decided to become a physician, enrolling in medical school at the University of Medicine and Health Sciences (UMHS) in St. Kitts and Maine at the same time her daughter was pursuing her medical degree at LSU School of Medicine. Both graduated this spring.
“I remember when we were young there were TV shows like ‘The Cosby Show’ and ‘A Different World,’” Cynthia told the publication. “Seeing African Americans in college or being successful was like firsts,” So, for me it wasn’t like ‘Oh, yes, I want to be a physician’. It was more like, ‘Oh, no, can I really do this? Or, ‘Am I smart enough to do it?’”
She may have been a nontraditional student, but Cynthia was certainly smart enough. The UMHS Endeavor reports that “these groundbreaking women are the first mother and daughter to attend medical school at the same time and match at the same institution.” On July 1, 2020, the newly minted Dr. Cynthia Kudji will begin her residency in Family Medicine at LSU Health in Louisiana, while Dr. Jasmine Kudji will work at LSU in General Surgery. Personally, we think they should go into Genetic Research since Cynthia clearly cloned herself; in fact, the two are often mistaken for sisters.
“All the time,” Cynthia laughed. “I’ll take it. I’ll take it.”
“I’ll never forget when my mom came to lunch with me my freshman year of college and the guys were like ‘who’s this new girl?’” Added daughter Jasmine, who also attended LSU for undergrad.
Of her return to matriculation as an older student and parent, Cynthia told the Endeavor:
It’s a lot. So, if you haven’t been in school for a while, it takes some getting used to the volume of material. The second thing is you still have the responsibilities of an older individual, of a mom or a dad or whatever you are. So even though I was in medical school, I was still Jasmine’s mom. So, if she needed something financially or she needed someone, I still had to be there as mom regardless of whether I was in medical school or not. Those were some of the challenges that you face as an older student versus being in your 20s in medical school without all those additional responsibilities.
The mother and daughter also shared that their closeness made living and studying far apart challenging; the duo relied on FaceTime and Skype to communicate and support each other from afar.
“I always tell people we laugh together, we study together, we cry together,” said Jasmine. “I think medical school is one of those experiences that you don’t truly understand until you’re in it. Sometimes people struggle to find someone who relates to their struggles, so for that person to be my mom was extremely helpful.”
Of course, all human interest warm-and-fuzzies aside, the two women are graduating amid a global pandemic and will now be working in areas already deemed a hotspot for COVID-19. While each has justifiable concerns about exposure, both see the crisis as an opportunity to educate our community about overall health as a mechanism for protection against the coronavirus.
“I think this is a great opportunity for us to show that physicians are true leaders...This is the point where we get to educate our patients,” said Cynthia, who has so far only administered tests as a nurse, but is looking forward to taking a more holistic approach to addressing the risks.
“Due to events such as the Tuskegee Experiment that occurred in the not-so-distant past, there is a lack of trust of medicine in the African-American community. Because they don’t know whether or not you are telling them the truth,” she continued. “One thing about the African-American community that I will say is when they pick up on the sincerity of what you are telling them, they will protect themselves and their families. You have to explain why this population is so vulnerable and really bring it home.”
“I also think that this is really an important time to explain why African Americans are more likely to have serious complications from COVID-19,” daughter Jasmine agreed, noting the multiple disparities that put our population in jeopardy. “I think it’s a great time to shine a light on the causes of diabetes and high blood pressure and heart disease in our communities and show that our daily actions and diet contribute to our health disparities and how going forward we can try to improve our own health and try to prevent anything like this from happening again.”
It’s a daunting moment to be starting careers as doctors, but the Kudjis are comforted by the fact that they’ll at least have mutual support.
“I feel so blessed because she has been my security blanket and my best friend and it’s amazing to know that I can drive down to a different city and not just have to Skype her. I can talk to her. I can be around her,” says mom Cynthia. “The other thing is going through this together we really depend on each other for information...we help each other and understand whatever it is that we are going through, so to be able to continue that while you’re learning and while you’re going into residency is a huge blessing.”