Rhoda Ojwang: My Journey from Nyeri to Dreaming Big in America

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By African Warrior Magazine

The scent of coffee lingered heavily in the air, and I felt for a moment as though I was with her, back in Kenya. Yet, she left that life 17 years ago in search of fulfillment of the many dreams in her mental skies. Walking away from the life she’d built in Kenya with her family, to go to school in the United States, was traumatic, scary, challenging, exciting…

Dr. Rhoda Ojwang reflects on her journey from Kenya to America, and how this transition has altered her life-for better.  True to herself, she talks straight up about giving back through mentorship to girls in America, and helping forgotten communities in Kenya access better medical services.

African warrior magazine sat down for an interview with Rhoda and this is what she had to say:

 Please tell us about your family

A. I was born in Mount Kenya Hospital in Nyeri, Kenya. I come from a family of seven children, five girls and two boys. My family lived in Nyeri for a few years before relocating to Kitale.

What do you remember most about your childhood?

My parents put a strong emphasis on education. My bringing home a bad report card was never an option!  They made private tutoring readily available if my siblings or I struggled with a subject.  I can proudly say my parents worked hard to ensure all of us received the best education starting from primary school all the way to college — I am forever thankful for that.

When you were young, what inspired you?

Both my parents raised me even though they each had their own very successful careers. Yet my mother was my greatest inspiration. She began as a primary school teacher, before moving up the ladder to become a headmistress and eventually an inspector of schools in the region she served. She was my role model and mentor.

I wanted to be like her when I grew up.  She was tough:  a great leader, an inspiration to many and a ‘no-nonsense’ lady.  She believed in education as being the most empowering force in the world.  She worked very hard in everything she did.  She believed in me.   She often encouraged me to aim higher and work very hard toward my goals.

When did you immigrate to America?

I immigrated to the U.S. in June 2001. I landed in Memphis, Tennessee of all places!

Did you experience culture shock? If so, what shocked you that you found so challenging?

Memphis is very different from Kenya. When I arrived in Memphis, I didn’t understand southern slang — at first it seemed like an altogether different language from English.  Another culture shock for me was the concept of being ‘on time.’  I would say most Americans are obsessed with being on time, so that was something I had to learn very quickly.  I am a very punctual person myself today.  I don’t do well with people who don’t respect my time.

How different was life in America, compared to Kenya?

In Kenya I lived with my parents who provided everything for me until I was 20 years old. In fact, I had just turned 20 when I moved to Memphis.  The move forced me to grow up into an adult.  I had to start working to take care of myself.  I wasn’t used to that.

My first job in the States was working at a Circle K gas station.  I can tell you it was one of the toughest jobs I have done in my life.  But I knew that if I worked hard, it would only be a temporary situation.

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make?

Adjusting was not easy! As I mentioned, understanding and communicating with people who spoke with thick southern accents was beyond difficult.   I couldn’t understand them and my classmates couldn’t quite comprehend my English either.  I hated being asked what I was saying over and over.  I quickly realized I had to learn some of their slang.  I also discovered that if I could twist my tongue a certain way while saying some words, they followed what I was saying much better.

What career did you want to pursue when you landed in America?

Being a lawyer was my first option growing up, but that changed in my teenage years. By the time I landed in America, nursing was my career of choice.  I knew I wanted to pursue nursing to the highest level possible, which is exactly what I did.

What path did you choose while establishing your career?

My career path was a long one but worth it. I am forever thankful to God and to my mentors for holding my hand as I proceeded through all the steps I needed to take.

In Memphis I attended Southwest Tennessee Community College where I pursued my Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN).

I started out as a Nurse Extern, also known as a student nurse, working in the Neonatal ICU (NICU) and the emergency room. This prepared me to easily transition into my Registered Nurse (RN) role after graduation.

Thereafter I moved to Loma Linda in Southern California, where I worked as an RN in one of the local hospitals.  While working there as an RN, I resolved to go back to school to get my Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at Chamberlain College of Nursing.

I would urge all ADN-prepared RNs to pursue their BSN, as having your BSN opens more opportunities outside of bedside nursing. I must admit that bedside nursing was not for me.  I worked in ICU, ICU step-down, telemetry and later I worked as a charge RN in an adult psych/chemical dependency unit.

I did not enjoy being stuck at the bedside following the doctors’ orders.  I wanted to be in a position to make more independent decisions regarding patient care.  That’s the reason why I decided to go to Azusa Pacific University.   I wanted to obtain my Masters of Nursing Degree to become a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP). But I only worked as an FNP for two before deciding I needed more.

My original goal was to get to the top of the nursing profession.  So, I went back to school and earned my Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP), which is the highest degree in the nursing profession.

With focus, commitment and consistency, I achieved my goal.  The DNP curriculum focuses on evidence based practice (EBP), organizational and systems leadership, information technology, healthcare policy and advocacy among others.

Please elaborate on what you are doing now.

Currently, I work as a clinician in a local family practice clinic here in San Diego, California. I am also in the healthcare consultancy business and am currently helping to write policies and procedures for an upcoming health care facility. Soon I want to get into an executive leadership position with one of the local healthcare organizations.

When Rhoda is not working, she is a skin care consultant with one of the leading skin care companies in North America, Rodan & Fields.

I am also the founder of Healthcare Access International Group (HAIG), a non-profit organization in the middle of the registration process.  HAIG’s mission is to make healthcare accessible among underserved populations, first in Kenya, then across Africa and eventually the world.

We are planning our first medical mission to Kenya early next year.  For those interested,  we’ll announce details as soon as we have them on our Facebook group (You can join by clicking this link). In addition, in this forum we help connect patients with healthcare providers; provide education via informative posts and live videos; and discuss pertinent healthcare matters affecting us globally.

Finally, I am a strong believer in giving back. I want my academic and career achievements to be an inspiration to many, so I provide mentorship services to many nursing students in both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

What would you say has been your experience with racism in America?

I believe racism remains a big problem in America today. However, I haven’t personally gone through a specific event I can address.

What has been the single most important lesson for you in America?

Do not let anyone discourage you from doing what you truly believe in, whether it has to do with your career choice or life in general. Set your goals and work hard to achieve them, no matter how long it takes you. The journey to success is a marathon, not a sprint. Surround yourself with people that inspire, challenge and believe in you. Hang out with the eagles and you will fly.

What would you tell Kenyans yearning to immigrate to America?

The immigration laws have changed. If you want to come and study in the U.S., first do your research.  Find a school that offers what you want to do.   Be sure to study the job market.  Do not depend on people to give you information without verifying facts.  If you are doing well in Kenya, or Africa, please consider staying there.

Any opinion on Donald Trump?

He is my President, and I have nothing but respect for him. I wish him all the best in making America great again.

PS: Are you a Kenyan in Diaspora? We want to feature your journey. Write to us: info@awmagazine.org

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