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Opinions of Sunday, 31 March 2013

Columnist: Owusu, Francis

A Ghanaian surgeon making a difference in the world

From humble beginnings in Ghana, Derek Kofi Owusu Boahene was the unlikeliest person to pursue a career in medicine, let alone one that would eventually earn him the title of one of the world’s leading head and neck surgeons. The eldest of eight children, Dr. Boahene’s parents, Pastor and Mrs. James Owusu, operated a pharmacy store before becoming full-time missionaries in the early 1980s. To support the family, they also run a small poultry farming business. After school, all the kids pitched in to help with the chores. Petrified at the sight of blood, Kofi stayed as far away from the abattoir as possible. It is this aversion to blood, coupled with his modest background that makes his story of becoming a surgeon even more remarkable.

Like most inspiring stories, the road to success was fraught with several challenges and setbacks. It required a lot of hard work, dedication and perseverance. Dr. Kofi Boahene grew up on Binton Street, a less affluent neighborhood in North Kaneshie, Accra. He attended primary school at Bubiashie, Datus Preparatory School and his secondary school education at Prempeh College in Kumasi. After his A-Level exams and National Service with the Ghana Meteorological Agency, Kofi Boahene travelled to Russia on a scholarship to pursue further education in medicine. A twist of fate landed him in veterinary medicine. Two years into the program, Dr. Boahene’s studies came to an abrupt end, when he had to leave Russia for fear of his life because of growing political instability.

With only the clothes on his back, he made his way to the United States with the support of family and friends. Dr. Boahene then tried to gain admission into medical school, but all his efforts were met with disappointment. No American school would accept his credits from his previous institution in Russia. With his high sense of determination, Dr. Boahene decided to start over by enrolling as an undergraduate at the University of Central Arkansas, where he majored in chemistry with a pre-med track. His unique bilingual ability in English and Russian secured him a tutoring job on campus, which helped pay his way through college.
Upon graduating, Kofi Boahene was met with yet another obstacle. While he had successfully passed the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), no medical school would accept him, because he was a foreign student and did not have the financial means to pay. After exhausting every possibility to secure funds for medical school, God sent a Good Samaritan in the person of his former chemistry professor, who agreed to co-sign a student loan for him. In 1999, after almost a decade since his dream of becoming a doctor was born, Dr. Boahene graduated top of his class from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.
Dr. Kofi Boahene went ahead and completed five years of residency training in head and neck surgery at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and an extra year of fellowship training in facial plastics and reconstructive surgery at one of the leading programs in the country.

Currently, Dr. Boahene works and trains other doctors at John Hopkins University, a premier global institution. His greatest joys are mentoring and empowering medical students in Africa and in giving back to society. He frequently organizes medical missions to developing countries in Africa, South Asia and Latin America. During these missions, Dr. Boahene spends his time removing brain tumors and correcting facial deformities among underprivileged communities. His life’s philosophy is governed by the biblical teaching in Luke 12:48 “ “…From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (NIV)
Dr. Kofi Boahene has made his parents, family and country proud. He is an inspiration to people everywhere: he did not start out with much, but he made the best of the circumstances he was dwelt with despite some very challenging odds. Dr. Boahene is now a preeminent authority in head and neck surgery. He lectures both nationally and internationally, publishes extensively, and has been interviewed by several news agencies. Recently, CNN International featured Dr. Boahene’s compelling story on their popular show, African Voices.
To learn more about Dr. Kofi Boahene and his amazing story, please visit

Links to the CNN interviews and other interviews are listed below: