Leyla Abdirizak

“I would go back and do it all over again,” says Leyla Abdirizak about completing her Health and Wellbeing Sciences (HWS) degree this past year.

“I attended the information session,” she says, “and 10 minutes into the session, I'm like, Oh, my God! I'm in love; let's go for this major.”

A Track Record of Hard Work

Leyla Abdirizak on the pedestrain bridge over Washington Avenue

Leyla, who grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, was drawn to the health care field at an early age but wasn’t sure which area would be the right fit. She had seen the family doctor at her clinic but didn’t have much exposure to the field beyond that. 

“In Kenya, we don't have the routine vaccinations that we have here,” she says. “We don't have the mailings that come to your address to tell you that you're due for such and such. I was always interested in how it would be different in my country if the children could have access to all of that and even more.”

Leyla came to the United States when she was 14. In high school, she was a PSEO (post-secondary enrollment option) student, where she was able to earn college credits and complete the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum. 

By the time she came to the University of Minnesota, she had already completed two internships, one at Boston Scientific and one at Hennepin Healthcare, where she worked closely with nurses and fell in love with the profession.

“I really saw myself in nursing,” she says. “(But) I was very thankful that I did not do nursing right off the bat and had (HWS) to bridge that gap, to help me familiarize myself with all the science-heavy courses to solidify my decision.”

Preparing for a Career in Health Care

To help position herself as an ideal candidate for nursing school, Leyla chose courses that corresponded with the master’s of nursing programs that she wanted to apply to. 

She also took a variety of psychology courses and worked with the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development with Dr. Gail Ferguson's lab. In addition, she served as a vice president of Sisters Circle, a faith-based student group, and volunteered at the hospital. 

"This major is very individualized, which gives you a huge breadth of specialization."

“I like challenging myself.” she says. “If I was offered a 2000-level class which would fulfill the same requirement as the 5000-level one, I used to go for the 5000 level.” 

Leyla was committed to graduating a year early, so she knew she had to stay on track. She practiced daily verbal reflections, gave herself deadlines, and tried not to procrastinate. 

“I achieved that through my faith and my principles,” says Leyla, who is Muslim. She prays five times a day and finds that prayer and supplications restore her energy every time. “It was like, okay, now you prayed the noon prayer, that's your caffeine for the day. Go on. Let's continue. Let's get more assignments in on time.”

Opportunities Await

Leyla Abdirizak outside Walter Library

Currently, Leyla works at MNGI Digestive Health as a clinic assistant, where she is gaining more clinical experience and time with patients. She rooms patients, discharges them, does their labs, gives them vaccinations, injections, etc. “It's been so rewarding,” she says. “I love it so much.”

Her classes, she continues, teach her what to do and how to do it, and then she gets to apply that knowledge to actual patients, she says, “with all the compassion, care, and value that they deserve.”

In the future, she is interested in working with children in a neonatal intensive care unit. “Growing up in Kenya, you just don't see all of the resources being utilized. I always wonder how children can get the care and resources they require. But now that I work at a GI clinic, I fell in love with it! Let's see if our passions change!”

Leyla is well prepared to follow her passions wherever they take her. She was accepted into the U of M's Master of Nursing program and will begin this fall.  

Biggest Takeaways

Build a connection with your advisor. Set up office hours and talk to them. If you don't want to take a course, explain your point of view and explore the options. My advisor, Amy Burger Sánchez, is the best advisor at the U of M. She really understands students’ goals, our objectives, and how they align with the grad programs that we want to apply to. She makes sure that she does her best to help us attain all our goals, and she keeps in touch. She’s just the best.”

Be open-minded. This major is very individualized, which gives you a huge breadth of specialization. A lot of us are pre-health, and we're always nervous about what if my class is not accepted at the postgrad programs? So the Health and Wellbeing Sciences program works with you on that. Keep an open mind about where your objectives lie and where your aims are, so you can really focus on the fun part of the major.” 

Memorable Courses

General Microbiology with Dawn Foster-Hartnett
“Every time I would take a big exam, I would go straight to office hours after we got our results. (The professor) would go over the questions that I got wrong, and she would ask me, why do you think you got these wrong? And once I gave my explanation, she would let me know that that's a very good way to approach that question, but I was just off a little bit. (The course) sounded very intimidating, but as soon as my professor started talking to me about the questions, it just all lined up.”

Nature of Disease: Pathology for Allied Health Students
“Pathology was an online course taught mostly by medical doctors. What I loved about that course was that it taught us about the diseases that exist, but it also discussed in depth the microscopic analyses of the body systems, how they're diagnosed, and the treatments involved. So even though I had zero face-to-face contact with my professors, it was a very fulfilling course.”


Leyla is a recipient of a Karin Larson scholarship.