James Nabwangu, Rapid City, South Dakota


Dr. James Nabwangu, a neurosurgeon practicing in the Dakotas was the first student of African descent to graduate from the Johns Hopkins Medical School, and the first doctor of African descent to complete training as a neurosurgeon. Yes, Kenyans do things in style!

James Nabwangu

James Nabwangu

He graduated from Alliance High School where his academic performance set records across the entire British Commonwealth, and was part of the Kennedy Air Lift program. After completing his basic medical training, Dr. Nabwangu elected neurosurgery as his specialty, and studied under the pioneers of modern neurosurgery, such as Dr. Wilder Penfield at the Montreal Neurological Institute. There he met and married Dr. Marie Joubert, a French Canadian pediatric neurologist, after whom the “Joubert Syndrome” is named. Dr. Nabwangu still practices neurosurgery in Rapid City, South Dakota.

He has published a book entitled Of Race, Intelligence, Africa And Dr. Watson: A Personal Perspective, an autobiographical expose that was undertaken in the light of Dr. Watson’s recent comments. (Source: Wikipedia) 

When he was a freshman in college, James Nabwangu read an article in Life magazine about how difficult it was to gain entry to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Nabwangu didn’t know at the time that the school had never accepted a student of African descent. He simply viewed attending Johns Hopkins as another potential challenge in his life.

He had already overcome the challenge of moving from a rural village in West Kenya to attend college in Indiana. And he had already proved wrong a college counselor who told him that despite his outstanding high school academic record, he was not well-suited for a career in medicine or the sciences.

Nabwangu did, indeed, contradict the naysayers, and in 1967 became one of the first two blacks—and the first African—to graduate from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Although he could not get a haircut or eat in restaurants around the school, Nabwangu enjoyed his time at Hopkins. He found that many of his classmates did not know what to think about his African heritage. He , also found that the university supported him when a Kenyan ambassador attempted to prevent his study of neurosurgery because of Kenya’s need for generalists not specialists.

After Johns Hopkins, Nabwangu moved to Canada for postgraduate studies at the prestigious Montreal Neurological Institute. A fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada and a diplomate of the American Board of Neurological Surgeons, Nabwangu currently practices neurosurgery in Rapid City, South Dakota. (Source: The Indispensable Role of Blacks at Johns Hopkins)

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