Fourth place in the 2019 White Coat Investor Scholarship contest goes to Oluwatomisin Bello, an MS4 at Boston University School of Medicine. Her passion for women's health began while watching her mother battle for life and has carried her through financial struggles during medical school. Fourth place this year is good for $2,000 cash, a WCI online course of her choice, and a copy of The White Coat Investor's Financial Boot Camp for her entire class.
I decided I wanted to become a lawyer in elementary school because injustices, such as my friends and I being bullied, never sat right with me. I was also one to never give up in an argument. In fact, many of my parents’ friends began to call me “Barrister T” because of my argumentative nature. However, a series of events over the next few years of my life caused me to become preoccupied with a different kind of injustice – the injustice of a woman being more likely to die or suffer complications from childbirth just because she was born in a developing country – an injustice that caused me to become interested in a career in medicine.
As a 4th grader, I had gone to visit my mother in the hospital because my little brother had just been born. The sight I met was one of tubes and wires strewn across my mother’s body because she was in a critical condition from pregnancy complications. Prior to that moment, I did not know that women could die while delivering a baby but there I was, terrified that my mother might die. Thankfully my mother recovered but in that moment, as a young girl in Nigeria, I began to dread childbirth.
Many years later, as an 11th grader researching the Millennium Development Goal of Improving Maternal Healthcare, I learned that the complications that nearly took my mother from me were, sadly, all too common. My research revealed the great burden of maternal complications and deaths in developing countries such as my native Nigeria due to recurring themes of physician shortage, inadequate access to skilled birth attendants, and low resources. My frustration with these themes fostered an interest in obstetrics and gynecology as a means of preventing other families from going through what mine had gone through, and promoting global maternal health equity.
My pursuit of a career in the healthcare industry began when I left my home country at the age of 16 for the University of Minnesota to pursue a degree in Biology with a pre-medicine focus. Throughout my college years, discouragement about my chosen path was in ample supply, the most jarring incident being my personal physician blatantly telling me in the middle of an appointment to leave the US because my chances of getting into medical school as an international student were abysmal. Despite the abundance of discouragement, I persevered with the support of my family and mentors, and I matriculated at Boston University School of Medicine in 2015.
Unfortunately, alongside my matriculation came my greatest adversity yet: an economic downturn in Nigeria made it incredibly difficult to pay my school fees. Funding every semester since then has been an uphill battle despite my mother’s generous contributions, my part-time job as a waitress, and proceeds from the poetry collection I wrote and published while in medical school. At the start of each semester, there have been times when the only option seemed to be dropping out. Fortunately, through the unrelenting efforts of my mother, friends, and strangers turned friends, I have been able to remain in school to keep pursuing my dream. Nonetheless, finances have been a constant source of distress throughout my time in school.
While I was able to make it through many financially difficult moments in medical school, I hit rock-bottom when I had a nervous breakdown after accidentally spilling my lunch sometime last year. That morning, I knew that my tears weren’t really about the meal I had spilled. They weren’t about the fact that I would be in the operating room all day without eating because I could not afford to buy another lunch. They weren’t about the time I was choking on a piece of bone and refused to go to the emergency room because I could not afford the copay. They also weren’t about the time I considered walking to school in -25 degree weather because the bus wasn’t running and I could not afford a cab. My tears were about all the times that my finances, or lack thereof, caused me to feel helpless in situations beyond my control. And in that moment, I wondered if my pursuit of this career was worth the constant state of distress I lived in.
While I am committed to serving my local community, my efforts towards improving women’s health have gone beyond those borders. I have participated in fundraising efforts for a non-profit organization financing restorative surgeries for women with obstetric fistulas across the globe. I also interned at a clinic in Ghana that serves a community with high rates of child marriage and teenage pregnancy. During this time, I educated young girls on safe-sex practices and the importance of antenatal care. Underlying my desire to promote global maternal health equity lies a singular motivation: a personal commitment to working towards a future where no woman is confronted with her mortality at a time when she should be celebrating new life—as was my mother’s experience. It is this commitment that has kept me going through the toughest of days.
Currently, I am uncertain as to how I will pay for my last year of medical school and the cost of applying for residencies in obstetrics and gynecology. But I am hopeful that I will be able to complete this journey that I began eight years ago. I am grateful for scholarship opportunities such as this because these opportunities give me hope. I am looking forward to May 14, 2020, my graduation day. It is the day I get to look my mother in the eye and say, “It was your difficulties that set me on this path. It was your blood, sweat, and tears that financed my journey to becoming a medical doctor. And today, as they confer this degree on me, they really confer it on us. Because, it is as much yours as it is mine”.