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Lola Abdul

U student Lola Abdul plans to combine her passion for theater with her vocation for healing.

Setting the stage

University of Minnesota student combines the study of biology and theater

By Stephanie Xenos

From eNews, December 2007

One of Lola Abdul's fondest childhood memories is of lying on the porch looking for shooting stars while her mother recounted tales from her native Nigeria.

"Storytelling was very much a part of my childhood," says Abdul. "My mom could tell me to clean my room, and it could go in one ear and out the other. But once she told me the story of how the turtle broke his shell from tripping over a misplaced stone, suddenly, I would pay more attention to picking up my toys."

The stories both educated and motivated her--and proved a precursor to her love of drama, which she plans to carry through into a career as a doctor and public health expert working in developing countries.

A fourth-year biology major and theater minor, Abdul decided early on to incorporate theater into her college plans. Along the way, she's discovered some surprising parallels between drama and medicine. "In a play that I was in, as I watched the director help create the performance, I realized that directing required certain skills," she says. "What I didn't expect was to find that the skills required in medicine seemed very similar to those required in theater. ... It was the discovery of the unexpected similarities between these two very different disciplines that helped shape my decision to merge theater and medicine."

Abdul lists confidence, trust, creative problem solving, and, especially, teamwork as key shared characteristics. "Whether watching a doctor consult with a nurse, pharmacist, or physical therapist, or watching a director collaborate with a costume designer, stage manager, or actor," she says, "both doctor and director seem to understand the importance of teamwork."

For now, Abdul is knee-deep in the medical school application process. Last summer, she completed a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Exceptional Research Opportunities Program Fellowship at the University of Washington, studying the interactions of the key proteins in the Hedgehog pathway, a key regulator of development. She spent this summer as a research fellow at the Mayo Clinic. Abdul is now back in the lab of Robert Hebbel, Regents Professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, studying the genetic basis for the large gap in stroke rate and severity between African Americans and Caucasians.

As her final year at the U progresses, Abdul's motivation to study medicine remains strong. It is, after all, a lifelong ambition.

"After losing my father in Lagos, Nigeria, when I was 6 due to poor medical practice, I dreamed of becoming a doctor to help improve medical practices in Third World countries," she says. "I want to write plays that help raise awareness and facilitate necessary dialogue about the needs within national and international healthcare--plays that educate and inspire."