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Boluwaji Ogunyemi, MD

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Dr. Ogunyemi, Chief Dermatology Resident, writes about how he maintains a work-life balance and the power of mentorship.

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Undergraduate: University of Western Ontario (Western University), 2008
Major: Sociology and Medical Sciences
Medical school: Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2013
Residency Training: University of British Columbia
Specialty: Dermatology

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As someone who always liked learning and going to school, when I was young, I wanted to be a science and math teacher. I loved these two subject areas and it felt very rewarding when I could empower others by teaching. In junior high, after I saw journalists delivering news stories on the television, I wanted to be a journalist delivering news and sharing stories.

It was in high school that I realized I wanted to be a physician because with this career, I could have it all; I could teach medical students and eventually residents and other physicians.  I could also teach patients and thus empower them to take care of their health and develop health literacy.

Which of your personality characteristics have been particularly helpful in medicine and in your field?

For all areas of medicine, the ability to communicate clearly, efficiently and effectively is key. Having been involved with public speaking and creative writing most of my life, communication in many forms was something I looked forward to. Effectively being able to communicate with patients and their families, staff physicians, residents and medical students is central to success in medicine. This includes speaking about very sensitive subjects to individuals from all walks of life. I saw my communication skills improving during my training, especially from a third year medical student beginning my training on the wards to a senior medical student, and now as a resident physician.

In my chosen specialty of dermatology in particular, attention to detail is important. The skin often reveals clues about a person’s medical condition that may evade the untrained eye. Paying careful attention to the distribution, color, and type of lesions on palpation are essential in learning dermatology.

Did you have any fears going into medical school?

I knew that medical school would be very busy and I was afraid that it would be difficult to achieve a work-life balance like I tried to have during my undergraduate years. I worked hard to strike a balance; I would ensure to make time for regular exercise, family dinners, celebrations and other events and hobbies. I also made a great group of friends during medical school that I still have to this day. We studied together, socialized together and shared triumphs together – including graduation day!

What made your medical school the right fit for you?

Going to medical school in my hometown of St. John’s, Canada was great because I had the support system of my friends and family present. This was important both during the joyous times of medical school so that I could share my triumphs (however small) with them and during the more difficult times when I needed their counsel or a shoulder to lean on.

As a smaller medical school, I knew almost all of my classmates at Memorial University of Newfoundland and got to know many of them quite well. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work closely with several senior administrators on many initiatives related to medical education.

Please describe your participation in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school.

In my first year, I decided to take a chance and run for a position in the medical student society. As president, I gained invaluable experience and worked closely with the rest of the medical student society and the dean of the medical school.

In my last two years of medical school, I played a number of roles in the accreditation process of my medical school. This was a good opportunity to participate in making sure our medical school was up to all of the accreditation standards set out by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).

I completed a two-week observership in neurology and internal medicine at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), a major referral center in Nigeria, between my second and third years of medical school. I saw many patients with conditions that are common in North America including strokes and epilepsy as well as patients with illnesses more rare in North America including certain parasitic infections such as leishmaniasis.

I took part in history of medicine research and presented at the National History of Medicine conference three times during medical school. And lastly, I helped out with the charity gala that our medical school has every year. It is nice to maintain ties to the community during medical school!

What did you enjoy most about medical school?

I loved the opportunity to work with such a motivated, diverse and energetic group of classmates. I loved learning about the human body in health and in disease from dedicated teachers who are experts in their fields. From the biochemical level right through to the population level, medical school fulfilled my appetite for learning.

How did you choose your specialty?

My interest in dermatology was piqued after shadowing a Dermatologist in my first few years of medical school. I enjoyed seeing patients of all ages and was interested in the tremendous variety of skin disorders. For me, an important draw was the ability to diagnose skin disorders clinically, and I really enjoyed working through differential diagnoses. In some cases, the dermatologist would diagnose the patient after just a few minutes! I also liked that there is a procedural side to this specialty.

During medical school, I completed rotations in a skin cancer clinic, pediatric dermatology clinic, and in a wound care clinic. At that stage, I felt that the breadth of dermatology would surely sustain my interest. And it has!  Having an interest in public health, I take part in public skin cancer screening initiatives and have written articles for the public about sun safety and skin cancer prevention. I am quite interested in dermatologic manifestations of systemic diseases such as connective tissue diseases and endocrine disorders; the skin can be a window into internal problems!

What does it mean to be a chief resident and how did you get there?

The responsibilities of a “chief resident” varies among specialties and hospitals. In general, it is a leadership role that is selected by the residency program director and other faculty members based on a combination of leadership capability and clinical prowess. In some cases, a resident may need to devote an additional year of training to perform the duties of chief resident. Duties include teaching medical students, liaising between residents and faculty, creating schedules, and advocating for the other residents. It is a great opportunity to enhance skills in teaching, problem-solving, leadership, and administration.

I was selected as chief resident based on my track-record of taking on and completing leadership and administrative duties. I took many opportunities to be involved within the dermatology department including research and teaching endeavors. I also represented the Department of Dermatology by giving lectures to groups of medical students and pre-medical students, and in community-based events.

What is your work-life balance like, and how do you achieve this?

I like to play basketball and enjoy running, road biking, and going to the gym. I find that keeping active is a great source of stress relief. Spending time with colleagues outside of school and work hours and developing strong relationships is important to me as well. Talking with family and friends outside of medicine is useful to keep things in perspective. I love to travel and have been fortunate to be able to travel abroad during medical school for clinical rotations and leisure.

I set limits to commitments that I undertake. This prevents me being overworked and not putting enough energy into my different pursuits.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career track similar to yours?

Mentorship can be very powerful. Medicine is an apprenticeship and the approach to patient assessment, diagnosis, and management is best learned from one who is proficient in their craft. In medical school, I was fortunate enough to have mentors interested in clinical research, dermatology, and the medical humanities like I was. Mentorship is a two-way street. Now I take time to mentor medical students and junior residents.

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