Chika Oriuwa, a psychiatry resident at the University of Toronto, Canada, has been named one of Canada’s 50 most influential people by Maclean’s power list
Ms Oriuwa ranked 37 in the 2022 Maclean’s Power List, which according to Maclean, is a list of “50 Canadians who are forging paths, leading the debate and shaping how we think and live.”
“Our ranking hews toward good-faith actors pursuing positive change, even if their approaches, or their notions of positive, are not universally shared,” the power list said about its ranking.
In 2016, when Ms Oriuwa arrived at the University of Toronto as an incoming medical student, she was the only black student in a cohort of 259.
Being the only black student in the cohort became a catalyst and propellant for a new phase which saw her advocating for processes that would increase diversity in medicine and becoming the face of the new Black student application programme the following year.
The programme (Black student application programme), which encourages applications from Black students, has already had remarkable success. The university had just admitted 24 Black medical students, the largest cohort ever.
In 2020, when Ms Oriuwa graduated, she was the sole valedictorian of her class, making her the only Black woman to receive the honour in the school’s 179-year history.
According to Maclean’s, Ms Oriuwa said she chose psychiatry because it has “some of the most marginalised patient demographics in medicine.”
“When I did my clinical rotations, I knew I needed to do something where mental health was the centre,” she was quoted as saying.
Ms Oriuwa, also a Canadian, is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants.
In recognising her impact, Mattel, the American multinational toy manufacturing and entertainment company, selected Ms Oriuwa for its Barbie Role Models programme.
In August 2021, she was one of six women working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic to be immortalised as a Barbie doll.
“It was such a full circle moment for me, as a young girl who played with Barbies and always really wanted to see myself reflected,” she said. “Not only as a child who wanted to be a physician, but as a young Black girl.”
Her advocacy also takes creative forms, through writing and public speaking. She is an accomplished spoken-word artist who has competed nationally as a slam poet; her recitation of her 2017 poem ‘Woman, Black’ has been viewed more than 12,000 times on YouTube.
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She is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including being recognized as one of Best Health Magazine’s 2020 Women of the Year.
She also serves on Indigo’s Board of Directors, is a medical board member for the Made of Millions Foundation – a global advocacy non-profit organisation with a mission to change how the world perceives mental health – and is a member of the Canadian Medical Association Journal Advisory Board.
Just like every success story, Ms Oriuwa’s is not devoid of challenges. “There is a dark side to advocacy, to putting your name and face and work out into the public eye,” she said. “I deal with that on a fairly consistent basis.”
“I’ve spoken at my high school in Brampton, Ont., and had young Black women tell me, ‘I want to be a doctor because you did it, and you’re just like us,’ Maclean’s quoted her narrating one of her uplifting moments.
“To be able to inspire them is so incredible for me,” she added.
“I’m just so excited to be that role model for my own children, to tell them about all the things that their mommy has done,” said Ms Oriuwa, who welcomed her first child in December 2021. “With my son, I can tell him that I drew strength from my pregnancy to do these things. It’s a special experience that I’ve already shared with him in that way.”
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