Dr. Ruth Abaya

Staying her course

Dr. Ruth AbayaDr. Ruth Abaya wanted to be a doctor from a young age. As for pediatrics, the branch of medicine she pursued as a resident at Boston Children's Hospital, "I think I always knew that, too," she says.

"I wanted to work with children," adds the 2005 Bluffton graduate, who moved on last summer to a fellowship in pediatrics emergency care at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

That specialty interests her in part, Abaya explains, because it involves learning how to resuscitate young patients in emergency situations. "I just like the idea that I would know what to do," she says. "You're trained to be ready."

Early preparation. A native of Nigeria, Abaya lived in Toledo for about seven years as a child while her parents worked toward doctorates at the University of Toledo. Her father, Mawo, taught at Bluffton for one year before the family returned to Nigeria.

She lived there another seven years, graduating from Hillcrest School in the city of Jos. But the year after her brother, Esuga, came back to Bluffton for college, Ruth followed suit. "It was pretty significant he was here," she says, when they were both far from home.

In addition to helping students get to know others well, Bluffton's size "forces you to be a little bit innovative," Abaya says. For her, that included helping form a group of students interested in medical school. Group members familiarized themselves with the preparation process, she recalls, noting that "being encouraged to take some initiative with that was probably a good thing."

By the time she graduated, "I knew what I needed to know," including academically for the Medical College Admission Test, Abaya says. She went on to Northwestern University, earning her medical degree in 2009, before serving her three-year residency in Boston.

Another influence, interest. Among the Bluffton contacts who had lasting impact on Abaya outside science was Anya Stembler-Smith, an adjunct music instructor. "I took piano lessons from her, and she was just a great mentor and role model," the doctor says.

Stembler-Smith encouraged her to pursue interests outside her academic area, and she sang in Hearts on Pilgrimage—a Sunday night worship group that her brother helped lead—and did some acting.

Abaya learned to play guitar in medical school and has made what she calls "garage-band" recordings with her siblings. In addition to Esuga—a 2004 Bluffton business graduate who was also in a band on campus—she has a younger sister, Miriam, a music major at Haverford (Pa.) College.

Looking ahead. "Right now, I'm trying to figure out my research interests," says Abaya, about eight months into her pediatric emergency training. Noting that gun violence is currently among them, she adds that "some of my antiviolence opinions were influenced by my time at Bluffton."

Her fellowship will last three years, after which she sees herself possibly practicing in a pediatric emergency room. Emergency medicine offers "no end" of interesting possibilities, she says. "Every time you to go work, you are inspired by what you see."