How I Made It

Chika Stacy Oriuwa, Med School Student & Slam Poet

Chika Stacy Oriuwa is a University of Toronto med school student who has been vocal about the lack of diversity in her cohort. Here, she tells FLARE how she made it

Chika Stacy Oriuwa; Toronto; @chikastacypoet

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I completed my undergraduate degree at McMaster University in health sciences. I am currently finishing my medical degree at the University of Toronto, and my masters of science at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at U of T.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

After undergrad, I took a gap year and focused on my artistic career. I was signed to a slam poetry label called Hamilton Youth Poets, based out of Hamilton, Ont., and had the incredible opportunity to go to the slam poetry national competition for the second year in a row.

What would you say has been your most significant setback, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

At the start of med school, I found it challenging to take ownership of my identity as a Black woman in medicine. I doubted myself and my competencies, and felt that I needed to be perfect to prove my worthiness amongst my peers. These unrealistic, self-imposed expectations caused me to struggle, which led me to become physically and mentally unwell. Thankfully, I had the support of incredible Black physician mentors at the University of Toronto, such as Drs. Lisa Robinson and Onye Nnorom, who provided me with guidance and reassurance.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

Find a mentor! They can provide you with invaluable insight into the process of entering your field, and what life is like in the profession. Moreover, they may connect you with a network of support that can further guide you along in your aspirations.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

“Don’t ever bring up your race. They already know you’re Black, if you talk about it, it makes the situation uncomfortable and awkward.” Not discussing race does not erase race-related issues. I firmly believe that diversity should be celebrated, especially in the workplace. Representation is imperative, and inspires other minority individuals to choose careers in STEM.

When you’re feeling low about your work, what’s the one thing you always do/watch/read/listen to bring yourself back up again?

I watch a speech by my favourite poet, Sarah Kay, entitled What We Build. She starts off the Scripps College commencement address with her poem called Paradox, which discusses the human tendency to feel that we are at the wrong place in the wrong time. It reminds me to dedicate my time to my different passions without feeling that a part of me is being sacrificed.

Who is your favourite person to follow on social media from your industry? What do you love about their social feeds?

One of my pre-clerkship tutors, Dr. Andreas Laupacis. Among his many roles, he is a palliative care doctor, researcher and founder of the website Healthy Debate. I love that he always introduces new, interesting medical topics for discourse within our profession.

How would you describe your industry in terms of representation and inclusivity?

Medicine has come a long way in terms of representation, however—it still has very far to go. One hundred years ago there may have only been a handful of women in the classroom. Today, most medical schools in Canada have equal ratios of men and women. However, seventy years ago there may have been only one Black person in the classroom, and in my experience that has remained unchanged. When we look at individuals who are running hospitals and large academic centres, we still infrequently see women (especially women of colour) in these roles.

Looking to the future, what excites you the most about your career?

I hope to develop a strong clinical knowledge that will not only make me an excellent physician but also a better creative writer. I hope to continue my advocacy for my future patients and my community. I also cannot wait to see future generations of clinicians that are more diverse, where being Black in medicine is no longer an anomaly.

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