Rashidi Kitete will never forget the startling sounds of war the day he was forced to leave his home. Now he’s using the power of sound to help diagnose patients and save lives.
Kitete, whose future seemed bleak just a few years ago after leaving the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is on his way to earning his bachelor’s degree in vascular ultrasound this spring from Rush University’s College of Health Sciences. He talked to us about persevering and making it to the U.S., and how he became interested in using ultrasound — sound waves with frequencies higher than a human can hear — to make his mark in health care.
Tell us about your background.
Rashidi Kitete: I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, during the Congo War. The country continues to have a lot of conflict, but it was particularly bad during that time. I left there when I was 12 — in the 6th grade — when there was war-related shooting near my school. Everyone was running in every direction. There was no way to reach my home, so my brother and I had to flee. We were taken to a boat that was bringing people to Zambia, a country to the south. We didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to our parents.
Then we lived in a refugee camp in Zambia. I was able to finish my high school education there, and then in 2015 I had an opportunity to go to the U.S. as a refugee. That’s when I started college, earning my associate degree at the City Colleges of Chicago before attending Rush to work on a bachelor’s degree in vascular ultrasound.
That is an amazing journey. When you were fleeing Congo, did you ever think you would end up having the opportunities you have now?
RK: No. Not at all. It was like all of my childhood dreams were shut down in an instant. At the refugee camp in Zambia, I had nobody to lean on other than my brother, who is two years older than me. There wasn’t much reason to think life would get better.
There were language barriers in Zambia. They speak English there, but in Congo we spoke French. So it was very difficult for me to finish school, and there wasn’t anyone to really support me through it. I even took time off from school to work, but I was later able to finish high school.
The opportunity to go to the U.S. was like a miracle. If I hadn’t come here, there wasn’t much hope of a promising future. I still haven’t been back to Congo, but I communicate with my family there frequently.
Did that experience influence your decision to pursue a career in health care?
RK: Definitely. It’s one of the big things that drew me to health care. Growing up in Congo, there was war everywhere. Many people needed health care — some of them with very serious injuries — but they didn’t have access to hospitals. Many hospitals weren’t open and there weren’t enough trained health care professionals. Seeing people struggle because they didn’t have access to care had a big impact on me.
I had a passion to work in health care from the time I was very young, but the only health care workers I knew about back then were doctors. So I grew up thinking one day I would become a doctor. In high school, I started learning about different types of health care workers. When I was working on my associate degree, I had no idea what field I wanted to go into.
As I started looking at bachelor’s programs, I visited a hospital with my brother because he needed to have some imaging tests done. I saw how incredible the imaging technicians were, so I wanted to learn more about ultrasound and the different schools offering a path to employment. I was considering a couple of programs, but I liked that Rush offered exposure to real-life patient cases.
Tell us about your experience at Rush.
RK: I really like that I get to practice what I have learned in the classroom in clinical settings. We are able to go to the Medical Center here at Rush and observe the technology and work directly with patients. That has been especially true in my final year, which is entirely dedicated to clinical work. It’s invaluable to be exposed to experts who are working with this technology in real-life situations.
What do you plan to do after you graduate?
RK: I’m eager to enter the field, work in health care and gain experience. But I also have bigger plans to continue my education and get my master’s in imaging technology.
There are a lot of areas in the world that desperately need these technologies, which can be life-saving for many people who are suffering. One day perhaps I can go back to areas like Africa where they don’t have these technologies. I would also like to one day teach imaging science so even more people will be able to understand and can use the imaging technology to help people.
What would you say to someone younger who dreams of being in health care but might be held back by circumstances? What advice would you give to your younger self?
RK: When I was in Zambia, it was hard to see how my education would pay off. I was working hard to continue my education, but it was tough to stay motivated, because there wasn’t really a future for me there.
To anyone going through a similar situation, I would tell them to never give up. When you have a passion to do something, never stop. Just continue with your education. Finishing high school may not have gotten me anywhere in Zambia, but it allowed me to continue on and get an associate degree in the United States. If I gave up and did not finish high school, there really wouldn’t have been much of a future for me.
So, never give up. Continue with your education no matter what because you never lose the education you receive — regardless of your circumstances in life.