At the End of a Long Road, the Mother of All Match Days

June 15, 2020 02:11 pm David Mitchell

Match Day was an opportunity for fourth-year medical students to celebrate taking the next step in their training and for their parents to cheer the accomplishment.

[headshot of Cynthia Kudji Sylvester, M.D., M.H.A., M.S.L., M.S.N.]

Cynthia Kudji Sylvester, M.D., M.H.A., M.S.L., M.S.N., did both.(www.today.com)

Kudji Sylvester matched to the family medicine residency program at Louisiana State University Health Lafayette in March while her daughter, Jasmine Kudji, M.D., matched to the general surgery residency program at LSU Health New Orleans.

"It means everything," Kudji Sylvester said. "It's amazing, incredible to be this close. Knowing she's only two or three hours away is heart-warming."

Three hours seems like a short drive to Kudji Sylvester after being apart from her daughter through most of medical school. Jasmine attended LSU Medical School, while her mother enrolled at the University of Medicine and Health Sciences in St. Kitts, which meant living on the Caribbean island, as well as doing rotations in Maine, Georgia and Louisiana.

Taking a unique path was nothing new for Kudji Sylvester, who immigrated to the United States from Ghana with her parents as a 2-year-old. It was on a trip back to Africa as a teenager that Kudji Sylvester starting thing about a career in medicine.

"People there lived in poverty at that time," she said. "There was no electricity or running water in the village where I was born. I came back to the United States before my senior year, and I sat in my room and thought, 'I am so blessed. I have air conditioning, a clean room, a ceiling over my head and carpet under my feet.' I asked myself, 'What do I want to accomplish?' Being a physician became really important to me."

That dream took a long detour when Kudji Sylvester became pregnant as a 22-year-old senior at Tulane University. As a single mom, medical school seemed out of the question. Instead, she opted for nursing school and worked as a nurse for eight years. Later, she earned a master's degree in nursing and worked as a family medicine nurse practitioner for a decade.

During her time as a nurse practitioner, Kudji Sylvester worked in both urban and rural settings and cared for patients of all ages, including house calls.

"I wanted to know more," said Kudji Sylvester, who also earned master's degrees in health care administration and leadership. "I decided to go to medical school."

On July 1, the 49-year-old will start her residency training.

"It's been a long road," she said, "but life happens, and sometimes you have to take what you have and work with it."

Kudji Sylvester said one of her favorite parts of working as a nurse practitioner was her experience in rural medicine. She may return to that setting after residency, and her new dream is to practice with her daughter.

"There's something different about working in a rural setting," she said. "There's a lot of appreciation from the community. Jasmine and I have talked about opening a clinic that could address disparities, especially in African American, underserved communities."

Kudji Sylvester also hopes she can be a role model for other minorities with aspirations of becoming a physician.

"If it's something you love," she said, "don't give up on it."