Life after college

RWJF Scholars Forum & SMDEP 25th Anniversary Alumni Luncheon

This past weekend I was in Washington, D.C. for the SMDEP Alumni Summit and 25th Anniversary Celebration. Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded program for underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged students on the medical or dental path. It offers academic enrichment, clinical exposure, career development, health policy seminars, and development of study and learning skills. It is 6 weeks long and is held at 12 different sites in the country. I participated in this program in 2010 at Howard University College of Medicine. If you are a current freshman or sophomore in college reading this, I HIGHLY encourage you to apply. It was an amazing experience and hands down one of my favorite clinical experiences. You may notice that two of the med student spotlights featured on my site are also SMDEP alumni.

Hey it’s me!

The alumni summit takes place every year, but this was my first time attending. It started out with the “RWJF Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health” on Friday Morning. The first part of the event was a “Why We’re Here” session with three speakers. One poignant point that came up with all three speakers was the importance of looking at systems that relate to social determinants of health, access to quality care, education, and more instead of health policy. In other words, focusing on health systems to address health disparities.


The highlight of the forum was “A Conversation on Health Disparities” which was moderated by the Director of Hopkins Center of Health Disparities Solution, Thomas LaVeist, PhD, and included four panelists:

It was a very stimulating and interesting discussion and I ended up live tweeting the event. Topics that came up included: the importance of data and research in effecting change; the importance of engaging the right key holders when doing research – essentially the importance of doing community participatory research; the importance of including (and possibly mandating) cultural competency courses in medical education; and the current political and social justice climate with the non-indictment of Eric Garner, and how this is relevant to the discussion on health disparities (there needs to be a focus on political determinants of health). The conversation ended with the conclusion that community resilience can be learned and modeled. The question is how can we build resilient communities to tackle/ eliminate these disparities in health care.


Next was the SMDEP 25th Anniversary Alumni Luncheon


Darrell kirch, MD, President & CEO of the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), as well as Richard Valachovic, DMD, MPH,  President & CEO of the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) spoke during the luncheon. One statement particulary stood out to me from what Dr. Valachovic said:

“SMDEP doubles your chances of getting accepted into dental school..It’s a game changer for dental school.”

Again, if you are a freshman or sophomore in college, I highly encourage you to apply. With such a strong statement from the president of ADEA, and with data to back it up, SMDEP is definitely a summer program worth participating in.

Other speakers also gave their perspectives. One of them was James Gavin, MD, PhD, Founding Director of SMDEP. He took us on a journey of how SMDEP was founded and how it progressively changed over the years. It was very fascinating.


Lastly, there were reflections from two SMDEP alums, Richard Ansong, DDS and Tyeese Gaines, DO. They talked about the impact SMDEP made on their lives and the importance of the program. It was encouraging to listen to their journey and success story despite the obstacles they faced. You can read more of Dr. Gaines’s story here.

All in all, I had a great time at both events. I met some really cool people, including a physician from UTHealth at Houston. We had a long discussion on primary care mental health integration, my research, his work as a psychiatrist, and more. Furthermore, I ran into some old friends from my program – Nailah and Kathryn. Kathryn (featured as a med student spotlight) gave a poster presentation later that night on research she conducted over the summer.


In conclusion, it was definitely a packed first day. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the entire conference and had to leave the next morning. Regardless, I had a great time. FullSizeRender

My First Radio Appearance: Impact Africa!

In a previous post, I mentioned that I recently joined the Memunatu Magazine team as a campaign manager for their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Just a brief synopsis, Memunatu is a classroom magazine for teenage girls in West Africa that promotes literacy, leadership, and empowerment. It was started in 2011 by two friends of mine, Mariama and Fatmata Kabia (sisters and fellow Penn alums). The launch event I mentioned in my previous post was a success. Although a modest turnout, the audience was very engaging and asked some really thought-provoking questions.

Me and Mariama Kabia, co-founder of Memunatu Magazine, Inc.

At the end of the event, we asked individuals the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” There were some pretty cool responses i.e. “#BOSS.” The goal is to include these images in the magazine, alongside the answers of girls in Sierra Leone to show, hey, we’re actually very similar. Here was mine:

Doctor. Public Health Expert. Change Maker 🙂

As a campaign manager, my goal is to raise awareness about the campaign, reach out to my network, and tap into any opportunity that gives us a platform to spread our message. This is a volunteer position, so it’s not too demanding. Well, in the midst of reaching out to my network, an awesome opportunity presented itself. A friend of mine put me in touch with Ibukun from Impact Africa radio and Tope Fajingbesi, the creator and producer of the radio show.

Impact Africa is a weekly radio talk show that tells the African story of opportunities, development, and resilience through guest interviews, case studies, and audience participation. The primary mission of the show is to inform listeners about important developments in Africa, and to inspire them to invest in African development through enterprise. Via site.

The talk show aired live on Sunday, November 23, 2014.  In the interview, we talked about the Indiegogo campaign and my involvement. Mariama and Fatmata also spoke at length on how Memunatu got conceived and the impact they hope it will have in West Africa. I feel blessed that we were able to capitalize on this opportunity. You can watch the interview with Mariama (in the video), Fatmata, and myself (who both called in) below. The show begins at 2:44 mins and I come on at 8:36 mins and 27:03 mins. 

Thank you to Vienna Mbagaya for hosting us on the show!

Photo Credits: Memunatu Magazine, Inc. 

Building a Culture of Health: The RWJF Vision

The gap year chronicles continue. About a month ago, I had the opportunity of listening to Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey MD, MBA speak at the University of Pennsylvania. This particular event was part of a seminar series being held by The Center for Public Health Initiatives at Penn. Who is Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey? She is the CEO and President of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. When I found out she would be speaking on campus, I was more than excited to attend this event for several reasons:

1. During undergrad, I did the Summer Medical Dental Education Program (SMDEP),  a national program established by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It’s goal is to increase the representation of minorities in the medical and dental workforce to address the gaps in health disparities.

2. I LOVE what the Robert Wood Johnson foundation is about – providing grants to examine social and economic factors that can impact health, poverty, and access to health care, among other things. As I may have mentioned in the past, this is related to the work/ research I currently do full-time. I mean just awesome work in general.

3. Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey is the first woman and the first African-American to head the foundation. Um what? A black woman in power? I’m with it!

4. Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey is also a fellow alum of the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton Business school) – woot woot!!

5. I’m tryna get like her – yep, she’s my career crush.

I got to chat with Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey! Clearly in the moment.

She shared the new vision of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Building a culture of health and delved into what that meant. She also shed light on some of the health issues we currently face, one being childhood obesity. Despite these stark realities, she provided hope – it is up to us, the people, to change our current trajectory. It is up to us to build a culture of health and it starts with a vision. Her talk was very inspiring and as she gave examples of everyday people and community leaders striving to change their community, I felt empowered. You can read more about these individuals here: The RWJF Culture of Health Prize Winners.

Click to enlarge and view texts.

I’m incredibly glad I went to the talk. What made it even more awesome, is when a few weeks later during my last med school interview, my faculty interviewer brought up the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She mentioned she loves the work they do and would love to get a grant for a current community project she’s working on. You can imagine how thrilled I was. I was freaking ECSTATIC! One, because I could actually talk about this topic (note: My interest in the RWJF is not mentioned anywhere in my application, it came up organically due to my interest in health disparities) and two, I was like YES! My faculty interviewer and I have similar interests.

You can learn more about the RWJF vision of building a culture of health in the video below. Ciao!


Just Call Me Coach D!

Nothing shapes your life more than the commitments you choose to make. Your commitments can develop you or they can destroy you,
but either way, they will define you.

Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

This is another post on my gap year chronicles. I did mention it was full of adventures right? Check out my post on “Teaching My First College Seminar” and “My Interview with” for more details. This brings me to my latest adventure.

I was recently offered a position as a high school cross country coach!

I’m still kinda like whoa on this because it’s just wow, unexpected. I mean when I sent in my resume, it still didn’t seem like a possibility. I mean I’m just a year and a half out of college, why would they hire lil ole me? And even if I got hired, I figured ehh, probably an assistant coach. False. Not only was I offered the position after my interview, but I’m not an assistant coach, but the head boys and girls coach. Um whattt?? Yea all I can say is God is good!!

I’m super excited for this because:

One: I get to work with kids again – Yay! I worked with middle and high school students during undergrad, so I’m excited to be in that environment again.

Two: Fitness! I’m pretty sure it’s clear I’m passionate about this so I’m definitely excited to get my students active.

Three: Nurturing resilience. I always compare long distance running to life. There are many obstacles (i.e. beastly hills!), high moments, low moments, times when you just want to stop and give up, but still, you just have to keep plugging ahead. Just keep moving. I’m looking forward to nurturing this attitude of grit and resilience in my students.

This was my first week, and alas, it looks like I have my work cut out for me! Still, I’m excited – the kids are great and are willing to work, which is AWESOME. Plus, I now have something to look forward to after work (not that the research life isn’t interesting, but this is a nice change of pace).

That’s all for now. Ciao!

Grit: You Better Get You Some!

I really want to talk about the importance of Grit in achieving your goals. For all my folks on this pre-health journey, I’m sure you can relate. If you were ever an athlete or ever had to overcome adversity to accomplish a goal, well then you’re most likely familiar with this term:


Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” – Angela Lee Duckworth

Personally, I am convinced that to accomplish your goals, whether it’s a fitness goal, a career goal, or an academic goal, you need Grit.

photoIn her Ted Talk, Angela Lee Duckworth, a Psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, describes Grit as the key to success. She studied kids and adults in very challenging situations i.e. West Point Military Academy, rookie teachers in tough neighborhoods, and private companies, and observed that:

In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. It wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t I.Q. It was grit.”

Now if you ever struggled with a course i.e. Organic Chemistry, this is good news. One obstacle doesn’t predict your success as a future Physician. Your ability to persevere and keep striving towards your goal does. In other words, intelligence is not the sole predictor of academic and professional achievement.

According to Wiki, Grit can be described as a powerful motivation to achieve an objective. “This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realization.”

When you think Grit, think:

  • Perseverance
  • Resilience
  • Ambition
  • Need for Achievement
  • Conscientiousness

Folks have asked me why I choose to do seemingly painful activities like obstacle racing or long distance running. Besides loving the sense of accomplishment I get, I personally believe it helps to strengthen or reinforce that grit within me. On some runs I have thought to myself:

“Derin don’t stop. Keep going. You can slow down, but don’t stop. NEVER stop. You can do this. Just like you can beast the MCAT. You WILL be triumphant. Just keep trying. Keep pushing. You CAN do this!”

So yea, want to accomplish some goals? Get you some Grit. 

Teaching My First College Seminar – “Say No to the Freshman 15!”

Taking a gap year has its advantages. It’s certainly not for everyone but this period is invaluable in allowing you to mature as an individual, explore your passions, and better yourself  – which has definitely been my case. My gap year has been full of many adventures – gaining more research experience, two Spartan obstacle races, taking my passion to greater heights by teaching fitness classes, making new career mentors, and the list goes on. My goal is to live my life to the fullest and enjoy my gap year as much as possible – my way. This brings me to my latest adventure. A few months ago, I was asked to teach a preceptorial during the UPENN New Student Orientation (my alma mater) this past weekend, on maintaining an active lifestyle.

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Of course, I was elated! One, I felt honored that I was approached to do this (my passion and experience in fitness isn’t going unnoticed!) and two, I love teaching and sharing information/ resources that I know; hence why I adopted this Maya Angelou quote for my blog:

When you learn, teach; when you get, give.”

Now the event: there were 12 students enrolled (the maximum) and when I received the roster, I thought to myself, Okay, well at least about 8 students will show up. I imagined some folks wouldn’t show up, after all these preceptorials aren’t mandatory. Well it was 4:50PM and there were about 6 students. Then the number slowly grew and at 4:57PM, I was hit with a wave of students. Whoa. The count? 18. Then a few more showed up, making it 22 freshmen in attendance for the one-hour seminar. I was surprised and at the same pleased. Totally unexpected turn out! All in all, it was a success.

nso description

So am I enjoying my gap year? Absolutely. Although I am extremely anxious to start the next phase of my life and begin medical school, I am also enjoying this period of growth, life lessons, and adventures. If you are interested in taking a gap year or two, definitely do your research – the pros and cons – and consider how you would like to spend it. As seen in my med student spotlights, some medical students did structured programs during their gap year(s) – teaching, research, and so on. Another option is doing international work. Find out where your passion lies and how it would make you a better person and ultimately, an awesome physician.

A big thank you to the Preceptorial committee and the NSO committee for setting this up.


Ebola Virus: Disseminating the Right Information

“Pass the right information. Ebola no be airborne.”

This issue is one that hits close to home. The 2014 Ebola outbreak is one of the largest Ebola outbreaks in history and the first in West Africa. It has now being declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) and is affecting four countries in West Africa: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and my beloved home country of Nigeria.

The statistics are alarming. According to the CDC as of August 21, 2014:

  • The suspected and confirmed case count: 2473
  • The suspected case deaths: 1350
  • The laboratory confirmed cases: 1460

Mind you, this disease is NOT Airborne, yet the death toll is shockingly high.

A significant challenge is getting the right information on prevention and treatment to the population. Unfortunately there are some folks who believe Ebola can be cured with traditional medicine – which quite frankly is just wrong – along with other rumors and misinformation being passed around. The problem here is lack of information and more specifically, the RIGHT information. So the question is how do you disseminate and tailor the public health campaign for the target population? I’m glad to see some folks figured this out for Nigerians. I really love the commercial below – Educative with a dash of humor (FYI they are speaking in Nigerian pidgin English):

And this Ad directed to the people of Lagos, Nigeria (where I am from)

stop ebola rumours

My hope is that this campaign reaches the masses and reduces the spread of the fatal disease, along with the violence and instability that has resulted.

More Info: Click HERE for CDC Infographic on Ebola

Together, we can fight ebola. 

My Interview with

Blogging is turning out to be a really interesting experience, I embrace it all. I was recently interviewed by, an admissions consultancy. Although I am not utilizing any consulting services for my application process, their website does have useful tips and advice to guide applicants. In my interview, I discuss my premed journey, my gap year, my current medical school application cycle, and my lovely blog. I also offer some advice – please learn from my mistakes! Do check out the interview HERE 

(Click image to go the link)

Thank you to Sarah Pritzker for the interview and opportunity to share my story. 


7 Fun Ways To Get Physically Active

Folks, it’s time to get down and dirty with FITNESS! As mentioned in a previous post, working out is one of the strategies I use to manage stress. The benefits are simply POW, out of this world. Not just physically, but mentally. When you exercise you release chemicals called endorphins aka “the feel good” hormones. According to WebMD, studies have shown that “people who exercise regularly benefit with a positive boost in mood and lower rates of depression.” Yes, exercise has been proven to reduce symptoms of clinical depression, reduce stress, boost self-esteem, and even improve sleep.

Now I know for some, working out is comparable to doing dishes. It’s that chore you just hate to do and if you can avoid it, you would.

However, you shouldn’t. For your own health.

Working out, believe or not, CAN be fun. You just need to find that activity that makes you feel like “Yes! I can’t wait to do this again!” Having tried several fitness classes and exercise programs in the past, I figured I’d speak from my personal experience. Here are 7 fun ways to get physically active (my pictures included):

1. Dancing

Dancing with my old troupe: African Rhythms

This is one of my favorite ways to get physically active. Friends and family can attest to this – I LOVE to dance. The great thing about dancing is that you can do this in the comfort of your room. Simply turn up the music and get to grooving. No one is watching and in as little as 15 minutes, you should start feeling pretty good (endorphins kicking in!). You can also take dance classes – Salsa, Batchata, Hip Hop, West African – the options are endless. Personally, I take West African dance classes when I can and I leave each session extremely sweaty but very excited for the next class.

                                                                  2. Runningphoto (1)

Interesting story here. I initially got into running because at times, I would get so angry that the only thing I felt I could do was run. Just escape it all. It was my way of coping with feelings of anger. It was about the same time I joined cross-country (middle school) and well, the rest is history. It’s an activity I actually like to do. Running is not only a great workout but an awesome way to relieve stress.

                                3. Gym time

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If running isn’t your thing. Try hitting up some weights. There are several phone apps that guide beginners into strength training. I personally like Jefit. The benefit? You not only get a good workout but you also improve your muscle tone. Feeling good and looking good – double win!

               4. Home workouts

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If you aren’t into the gym culture or maybe these application fees has you eating ramen for lunch and dinner and well, gym memberships are simply not in the budget, then home workouts are a really great way to get physically active. Just get a resistance band, a jump rope, maybe an Ab rollout wheel or any other equipment you desire, and you’ve got a home gym. I bought these pictured equipments from Marshall’s and the cool thing is being able to use it when I’m bored, don’t feel like going to the gym, or when I feel like trying a workout DVD or a workout on YouTube. The best part? It’s very cheap!

5. Doing fun races

10411100_10154361093935521_7326526804804366260_nI’ll be honest, this isn’t the cheapest way to get physically active but it can definitely motivate you to get moving! By registering for a race – a 5k, mud race, obstacle race, or if you’re feeling daring, a half-marathon or marathon – you set a goal for yourself. Registering in advance means that you’ve already coughed up a certain amount of money that you know you can’t get back. Now since you registered for it, you are well aware that if you don’t train or get in some sort of shape – you’ll end up regretting that. No one likes to be injured. So this is a cool way to get motivated into being physically active. When you do it with friends, it’s even better. Plus you get bragging rights – hollaaaa!

6. Yoga

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All body strength and still a workout. This can be done through yoga classes or in the comforts of your home. For classes, I highly recommend Power Yoga – a form of hot yoga that focuses on strength and flexibility. I tried this a while back and absolutely loved it. I always left feeling like I got a workout! Unfortunately, these classes can get expensive but the cool thing about yoga is that you can do it the comforts of your home. Get to practicing, build up your strength, and in that process de-stress and reduce any anxiety you might have – perfect!

7. Other fitness classes

There are so many interesting fitness classes and often times you can get good deals on them through Groupon or Living Social. There are boxing classes, cross fit, pole fitness, and zumba classes to name a few. I was feeling adventurous once and tried a pole fitness/ dance class. I saw the deal on Groupon and thought “Hey, this would be really cool!” I tried one class and quickly realized this activity required a lot of upper body strength – Ha! Although I didn’t end up using the remaining 4 classes, the two classes I did experience were quite interesting. So again, check out some interesting classes. You never know, you might end up liking it and coming back for more.

Workout. Manage your stress. Release your emotions.