An Ohio State medical student proves that hard work and spreading awareness gets rewarded.
Deborah Fadoju, a fourth-year medical student studying to become an OB-GYN, received the first-annual Sylvia B. Kelly Medical Scholarship July 12, from the Association for Community Affiliated Plans , which represents not-for-profit Safety Net Health Plans that works to improve the health of those with low income or significant need, according to its website.
According to an ACAP press release , Fadoju was selected for the $25,000 grant because of her teachings in the College of Medicine, political activism and a recent project that addressed maternal outcomes for underserved populations.
Fadoju said as a Black woman, she has always been aware of racial health disparities, but she realized their prominence when she became a medical student.
“Once I started to understand that once you normalize for socioeconomic backgrounds and when you normalize for status and income and education level, that the disparity still existed,” Fadoju said. “I started to probe deeper into it and realized that the structure of medicine, and the structure of medical education and the structure of advocacy needs work.”
Fadoju said she developed a course to teach future medical students the impact history and legislation has on medical racism as well as the effect of unconscious biases in health care, which she developed in collaboration with two of her peers in their first years of medical school, Hafza Inshaar and Abbie Zewdu.
“I remember really just being in a moment where I was frustrated, kind of, with the lessons that weren’t taught in medical education,” Fadoju said. “While we were taught about the pathophysiology of diseases, we weren’t really taught much about social determinants of health — how where we grow up, how what we eat, how all the things that really comprise our health outside of visiting a doctor, really determine our outcomes.”
Fadoju said all first-year medical students at Ohio State are now required to take the course and participate in a case-based discussion where they talk about real patient scenarios.
“We teach students in real time how they can begin to unlearn some of their unconscious biases and really use skill sets and tools to mitigate racism,” Fadoju said.
Fadoju said she testified to the Ohio State Senate in 2020 to pass a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. The resolution did not pass, she said.
“I think what that shows more than anything is that from a structural level, that reform is something that still needs to be had,” Fadoju said.
After George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police in 2020, Fadoju said she organized an event at which over 500 health care workers, legislators and media kneeled in front of the James Cancer Hospital to show that the College of Medicine does not support police brutality.
“I gave a speech where I poured out my frustration and poured out my hope for change within the campus of the College of Medicine but then also within the global sphere,” Fadoju said.
Fadoju and her team created a pamphlet and educational session as partners with Moms2Be — a pregnancy program for low-income women at high risk for mortality — she said. She said the session teaches women about their rights in an OB-GYN office and how they can advocate for themselves.
“We show them what the resources are that they can use if they feel like their rights aren’t being heard by their provider,” Fadoju said. “The scope and the goal is actually to empower our patients, but then also to empower our providers to engage in partnership with their patients.”
Black women are three times more likely to die during pregnancy than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . The reasons for this include underlying chronic conditions, structural racism and implicit bias within the health care system, according to the CDC.
Fadoju said she realized she wanted to create change when she stopped minimizing herself and started seeing herself as a future leader in health care.
“I think often when we think about the health care field and where the key stakeholders are, we think of physicians who’ve already completed four years of undergrad, four years of medical training and then residency, but we forget that key stakeholders are medical students,” Fadoju said.
Dr. Amber Bondurant-Sullivan, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, said Fadoju has done a great job raising awareness about disparities in health care, which can lead to improvements.
Bondurant-Sullivan said she recommended Fadoju for the scholarship because of her passion for her work.
“Having more students and more medical providers like Deborah, who are not only aware but passionate about this work, and definitely increasing our diversity within medicine in all fields — not just OB-GYN, all fields, but especially OB-GYN — I think that’s helpful,” Bondurant-Sullivan said.