Building bridges

Abdoulie Njai’s discipline, intellect and charisma have propelled him to become a leader in his class. But his compassion and service will help him leave his mark.

Abdoulie Njai portrait

May 8, 2023
Contact: Deidra Ashley,

Being a first-generation college student isn’t stopping Abdoulie Njai from achieving his goals. The Wichita, Kansas native is on a mission to become an orthopaedic surgeon and make a difference in population health and health policy. Along the way, he’s picked up a Bachelor of Arts in Human Biology from the University of Kansas, and even a Master of Public Health from Harvard University. This week, he’ll grab his third degree, a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Missouri.

Njai’s parents immigrated from the African nation of the Gambia before he was born. As a middle schooler, Njai said he’d often stay after school Googling symptoms of extended family members who might be sick — seeking medical answers for relatives nearly 5,000 miles away.

That curiosity and drive led him to Mizzou, where he found a community of peers and mentors who encouraged him to carve his own path in the field of health care. Their bond was so strong that Njai decided to stay at MU to complete his orthopaedic surgery residency.

Read on for a Q&A with Njai about his Mizzou experience.

How did you get involved at Mizzou?

Coming into medical school, I wanted to broaden the scope of what it means to be a surgeon. I served as president of Mizzou’s chapter of the Student National Medical Association, advocacy chair of Mizzou’s chapter of the American Medical Association, and national delegate of community and diversity to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Each of these positions allowed me to promote health advocacy, serve on committees dedicated to reforming medical education, oversee pipeline programs to increase diversity in medicine, and build bridges between historically marginalized communities and the health care system.

What makes Mizzou’s medical curriculum so good?

One of the awesome things about Mizzou’s curriculum is that it’s patient-based learning. Traditional medical schools are more lecture heavy, but most of our learning is done in small groups for the first few years. And, once I started rotating in the hospital, I felt ready.

Research is also one of the central hubs of Mizzou’s medical school. During my medical school career, I was able to study topics ranging from limb asymmetry to refugee double-standards, to student wellness and safety. As an integrated resident, I am currently working on orthopaedic capacity building related projects in the Gambia where my family is from.

What’s your favorite Mizzou memory?

My favorite memory actually happened recently — this February. With the help of Mizzou’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, we created and launched a pipeline program called Bridging the Gap. It’s a one-day academic enrichment event that specifically targeted Missouri middle and high school students from backgrounds that are historically underrepresented in medicine. We brought them to campus and exposed them to the field of orthopaedic surgery. The goal was to show them that medicine is something they can do, and we tried to help them understand the steps it will take to get there.

What’s a piece of advice you’d give new students?

Find a mentor. There are tons of different events, opportunities and programs for students to network at. Dr. Gregory Della Rocca, Dr. Nathan Gause, Dr. Jimi Cook, Dr. Aaron Gray, Robin Clay, Andrea Simmons and countless others took me under their wings and invested in me and my success. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

In addition to excellent faculty, a lot of students are also happy to act as mentors, especially for undergraduate students. All you have to do is ask.

What’s next for you after graduation?

I’m going to stay at Mizzou for my orthopaedic residency training. At the same time, I will be a concurrent Ph.D. student in the Department of Pathobiology while completing my orthopaedic surgery training  — focusing on how to support orthopaedic surgeons in my family’s home country of the Gambia. I’m excited to continue working with my mentors here and help contribute to overcoming health inequities and improving access to surgical care globally.

Meet more spring 2023 graduates

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