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Kwanza Warren, first Black woman neurosurgery resident at Emory, reflects on making history

Kwanza Warren is now in her second year of residency at Emory and remembers the moment she found out she had made history.

ATLANTA — Kwanza Warren broke barriers in the world of medicine when she became the first Black woman neurosurgery resident at Emory University School of Medicine in 2021. 

Warren, who is now in her second year of residency at Emory remembers the moment she found out she had made history. 

"I realized I was the first African American female resident at Emory after the match when Dr. Nduom posted about it on Twitter," she said. "It's a little nerve-wracking at times because I sometimes feel as though I'm representing a whole group in a space that has no experience with someone like me in this capacity. 

Warren graduated from the University of Rochester School of Medicine in 2020. Soon after she moved to Atlanta to start her residency.

She has succeeded in what is a traditionally male-dominated field. According to The U.S. National Library of Medicine, only 12% of neurosurgeons are women and 4% are Black. 

Warren told 11Alive that her passion for neurosurgery started when she heard her brother wanted to become one. 

"He came home from school that day and said that he wanted to be a neurosurgeon and I had no idea what that was. I was probably in first grade at the time and said, 'Oh, I'll be a neurosurgeon too,'" she said. 

Soon after she developed a love for neuroscience. When it came down to picking a path, Warren said it was difficult to choose between the two things she loved the most.

"I was between neurology and neurosurgery because I knew I wanted to do something in the neurosciences and fell in love with surgery and medical school," said Warren. 

To make it through this challenging field, Warren said she often reflects on her dad’s encouragement.

Credit: Kwanza Warren
Kwanza Warren and her family

"Whenever I started going through college and having, you know, rough days and rough times where I felt like I was working really hard and maybe wasn't getting as much out of it as I thought I could - my dad's was always like, 'You know, you're a Warren, so you're going to be fine,'" she said. 

Warren hopes that her presence in this field opens the doors for others.

"Hopefully being in this field will allow others of similar background to consider neurosurgery who might not have otherwise done so," she said. 


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