Profile: College of Medicine graduate overcomes barriers

Elom Amoussou-Kpeto

Elom Amoussou-Kpeto

Growing up in Togo, West Africa, Elom Amoussou-Kpeto was acutely aware of the barriers that kept people from accessing quality health care. Not only was there a lack of highly skilled providers, but transportation was a challenge.

He spent a lot of time with his grandfather, a nurse, who cared for the whole community “doing almost what a doctor would do,” he said.

Amoussou-Kpeto realized that by becoming a doctor, he could give so much back to the community: “That is my ultimate objective.”

So, upon graduating high school with good grades, he applied to Camden Community College near Philadelphia, where an uncle lived. Once accepted, he began the process of obtaining a Visa to come study in the United States, where he felt like he would get a better education.

After two years studying biology there, he transferred to Temple University to finish a degree in biochemistry. It was a rocky road though.

Language was a huge barrier. Amoussou-Kpeto grew up speaking Ewe and French. In school, he learned to read and write some English, but had difficulty expressing himself in the new language. “I felt like time was constantly working against me–especially with standardized tests,” he said. “I felt like I was fighting a combat on two fronts–between who I am and who I want to be.”

He worked to compete not with his classmates, but himself. And he relied on the help of classmates and friends: “I am a very outgoing person.”

While studying, he also worked as a cashier in a parking garage and in valet parking to pay for his education. By the time he came to visit Penn State College of Medicine, he had already been accepted by two other medical schools.

A friend convinced him to check it out anyhow, and it was love at first sight. “The place was so quiet and serene. It seemed very conducive to learning,” he said. “I also loved that the staff was very approachable.”

He relied on a support system of faculty, staff, and classmates who helped him over hurdles. “I will not forget their commitment to my success and making me believe in my potential,” he said.

If his sister decides to study medicine, he plans to recommend she come to the College of Medicine. “The personal growth you attain here at Penn State in four years, in terms of patient care, professionalism, medical knowledge, and interpersonal skills is truly amazing,” he said.

Milind Kothari, D.O., assistant dean for student affairs, described Amoussou-Kpeto as “very engaging and personable.”

Choosing a specialty was easy for him. “I knew that I wanted to practice family medicine because my ultimate goal is to go back to my home country. We don’t need specialists–I can help more people this way.”

In July, Amoussou-Kpeto will begin his residency in family medicine at St. Vincent Health Center in Erie, starting over again in a new town where he knows nobody. “But I know how to deal with that,” he said. “I didn’t know anyone in Hershey and now I have a lot of friends. Medical school has been a lot of work, but fun, too.”

He would also like to spend time in rural South America to get more exposure to global health issues and practice his Spanish before returning to Togo.

Although his home country experiences political conflict, he prefers to focus on the beauty of the place, with tropical beaches, extended family, and a need for his services. “That is where I can contribute the most.”

The 2013 Penn State College of Medicine commencement is this Sunday, May 19, at 1 p.m. in Founder’s Hall at Milton Hershey School.

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