Ola Hadaya, 22, is passionate about women’s health and becoming an OBGYN

Ola Hadaya
Ola Hadaya, a medical resident at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, is among the youngest physicians in the country. 

'You should never commit your life to something you aren’t passionate about because you will never be truly happy'
 – Ola Hadaya 

Ola Hadaya has always been the youngest. She started high school at 11, graduated at 15, and got her undergraduate degree from Rutgers before she turned 18. So when Hadaya graduated from medical school and became a physician at 21, entering the obstetrics and gynecology residency program at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School before turning 22 was not a big deal.

Not for Hadaya, at least.

“Becoming a physician is a grueling challenge no matter what your age," said Hadaya, who grew up in Princeton and is among the youngest physicians in the country. “Being able to achieve that is my biggest accomplishment. I often forget that I am younger – skimming off a few years is just a little twist in the journey.”

The man behind the steadfast determination to propel Hadaya into a career in medicine, she said, is her Syrian-born father, a physician himself, who fostered his daughter's passion for medicine from a young age – allowing her access to his suture kit to patch up stuffed animals she had torn during play.

While her mother, a stay-at-home mom with a mechanical engineering degree, would spend time after school teaching Hadaya advanced math and science skills and how to think analytically from the time she was about 8, it was her father who convinced school officials to allow her to skip grades and take advanced courses.

“Convincing the schools was one of the biggest challenges in all this," said Hadaya, the middle of five children. "If my parents weren't so persistent, nothing would likely have happened – not for lack of intellect on my part, but merely because there was little precedence."

Hadaya skipped third, fifth and seventh grade and started in high school at 11. She describes herself at that time as very bookish. “I have many fond memories curling up on one of the library's couches –  usually on rainy days – to sneak in a quick read of Harry Potter or a Jane Austen novel before break ended,” said Hadaya who also became interested in drawing and animation.

When it was time to go to college, Hadaya decided she wanted to learn more about her Syrian roots, so she majored in Middle Eastern studies and minored in biology. Since she took numerous advanced placement courses in high school, Hadaya received a year’s worth of college credits before she even started in the honors program at Rutgers.

After receiving her undergraduate degree at 17, before she was old enough to vote, Hadaya was off to Wayne State University School of Medicine in Michigan – one of less than 300 students selected out of more than 4,500 that applied. According to a 2012 American Association of Medical Colleges survey, only 2 out of every 1,000 students were in their teens, like Hadaya, when they started medical school.

The youngest in her class, Hadaya said she ploughed forward with her medical studies and didn’t give age much thought. Neither did those she worked with, many of whom she said were unaware of her age.

All Hadaya knew for sure, from watching throughout her childhood as her father balanced his passion for medicine with the love he had for his family, was that she couldn’t imagine pursuing any other career.

“You should never commit your life to something you aren’t passionate about because you will never be truly happy,” said Hadaya, who is fluent in both Spanish and Arabic and has a keen interest in women’s health issues.

This outlook is helping her get through some long days as a medical resident, particularly the times when she has night call duty, which means arriving at the hospital at 5:30 p.m. and leaving at about 8 the next morning.

And once again, Hadaya finds herself as the youngest in her residency program.

“I don’t think about my age much,” said Hadaya, who would like to practice medicine in a diverse community where she can help those living in traditionally underserved areas. “The most challenging thing so far is realizing that I am operating as a physician now and not a student.”

Gloria Bachmann, interim chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said age was not taken into consideration when Hadaya was selected for the residency, even though her academic foundation and the passion she exhibited as one of our youngest applicants was impressive.

Instead, they saw a young medical school graduate who is a team player and a leader. Someone who would connect with all patients she cared for in a thoughtful and humanistic manner.

“Residents have to think on their feet and this is what is outstanding with Ola,” said Bachmann. “It’s not an age thing at all with Ola. She is the doctor who I would want to go to – as an obstetrician and gynecologist – in a heartbeat.”

For media inquiries, contact Robin Lally at 848-932-0557 or rlally@ucm.rutgers.edu