Abel Saba’s favorite thing at WSU Health Sciences Spokane is a painting of the campus titled “A Transforming Place.”

“I have been transformed,” he notes. “I came to WSU in 2015 as a nursing assistant, and as of today, six years later, I have my doctorate of nursing practice.” Saba graduated in May and is studying for his board exams to become a family nurse practitioner.

His WSU education is part of his long-term goal to transform his hometown in Burkina Faso, in West Africa, by building and operating a free health clinic. It’s not a stretch to think he’ll succeed, since he founded a school there when he was just 18 years old and in 2019 was part of a team that offered free medical clinics and food.

“What I learned at WSU prepared me to fully care for my patients,” he said. “How to be a leader, how I will make a difference in other people’s lives, how to make a difference in healthcare today and in the future – this is the education I received.”

He’s job-hunting in Eastern Washington and hopes to work as a nurse practitioner with rural and/or underserved populations. At the same time he’s collecting surplus medical supplies to take with him on a visit to Burkina Faso in December. He’s also talking with potential partners and benefactors about ways they can help, including offering specialty care via telemedicine, donating clinic equipment or even pledging to travel to Africa. In a decade he hopes to be splitting his time between Eastern Washington and Burkina Faso.

If that sounds like a challenge, it’s matched by the challenges Saba, 40, has already overcome. He arrived in the United States on a visa in 2009 and worked entry-level service jobs while he learned English. He became a Certified Nursing Assistant while he attended community college for his nursing prerequisites, then got into the WSU College of Nursing in 2015. He and his wife have added two children to their family in the time he’s been at WSU.

“It took a village to make me be where I am right now,” said Saba. “WSU has been wonderful. I feel like the school stands by its mission and values, and today someone who speaks English as a third language is graduating with a doctorate in nursing. I just want to say thanks and give honor where honor is due.”