A Toronto physician, spoken word poet, and advocate for diversity in medicine and medical education reform, Dr. Chika Stacy Oriuwa, has become one of six globally who have received their very own, one-of-a-kind Barbie dolls, part of the Barbie Role Model Program.
Having this Barbie represent being a Black female doctor really is such an inspiring story that I believe is going to really resonate with a lot of young girls everywhere, Oriuwa told Yahoo Canada.
Being able to have a doll thats made in my likeness really speaks to the narrative that I’ve been trying to emulate throughout the course of the last few years, which is really honing in on your own authenticity and unapologetically displaying that confidence within yourself.Dr. Chika Stacy Oriuwa
She stressed the importance of young girls, in particular, being able to have mentors, role models, and even being able to play with dolls growing up, that represent them.
I think that representation and diversity, and inclusivity, are absolutely imperative because I believe in the mantra that if you see something then you can believe that you can actually achieve it, Oriuwa said.
I know growing up myself, I did not necessarily have a Barbie that was with my skin tone, with my hair texture, becoming a doctor I imagined that the Barbie was Black and had my kind of hair and was becoming a doctor.
She added that its great to now see Barbie dolls in over 200 different careers and a variety of different skin tones and body types, to allow girls to see themselves reflected in these different fields of work at a young age.
Oriuwa explained that at Barbie there is discussion about the dream gap, where girls as young as five believe they are not capable of doing things, simply based on their gender.
Now when you compound that with other intersections like race and other kinds of adversities that they might face, one can only imagine that, that dream gap is wider, Oriuwa said.
So being able to do what Barbie is doing by having the most diverse and inclusive doll line on the market ensures that we’re closing that dream gap, that we’re speaking to the subconscious capabilities of young girls, and letting them know that they can be absolutely anything.
Oriuwa will certainly be a role model that young girls will, and should, look up to.
The ‘why’ moments to fight through difficult times
Looking back at her childhood, Oriuwa always wanted to be a doctor. While she maybe didnt know exactly what that would entail at the young age of four or five, she always knew that she loved taking care of people.
She was the only Black student in last years class of 259 students at the University of Torontos medical school and the first Black woman to be chosen as sole valedictorian for a graduating class.
When her valedictory title was released publicly last year, Oriuwa received a lot of amazing support and feedback, but also saw a lot of racist comments, bigotry and hate online. She recognizes now that one of things that got her through that was reflecting on her why moments.
What I mean by that are the moments throughout my journey that I tuck away with me and reflect on during the difficult times, that reminds me why I do the work that I feel like I need to do and that I love to do, she said.
For example, one of the moments I had was actually when I was giving a talk at a high school in Brampton…and a young Black girl came up to me and she said, Oh my goodness you are a doctor and if you can be a doctor then I can be a doctor too. And so during those really, really hard moments where I know I’m putting myself out there, it’s a very vulnerable thing to do and Im kind of getting backlash for that, I just remind myself that I have this incredible opportunity to inspire a generation.
In the throes of residency & in the face of escalating online racism that upended my sense of personal & professional safety, I put my heart into this TEDxTalk as an affirmation of the power of presence and resistance. Dare to Occupy Powerful Spaces: https://t.co/fIoFgO1MjO
Chika Stacy Oriuwa (@chikastacypoet) March 23, 2021
‘We are still very much human beings’
Being a physician during the COVID-19 pandemic, Oriuwa, reflecting on her time on the frontlines to date, says that shes learned that there is a profound amount of resilience within our society.
Our ability to overcome tragedy and persevere, collectively, is one of the most beautiful things that I’ve witnessed, she said.
Additionally, she stressed that the pandemic highlights the importance of mental health for everyone, but particularly people on the frontlines.
I’ve also come to recognize the power of vulnerability, Oriuwa said. I think that throughout the course of the pandemic, recognizing that mental health really does need to be put at the forefront, especially for frontline workers, and really everyone who has been impacted by this pandemic, it’s one of the most important things that I’ve taken away from it as a physician.
I think that during this entire pandemic weve seen a lot of stories come about from frontline workers, physicians, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and really recognizing that, despite the fact that we are called to do these superhuman things we are still very much human beings with real emotions, who are struggling at times.Dr. Chika Stacy Oriuwa
She added that its also important to recognize that we all need to take care of each other and protect the most vulnerable people in our communities who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ultimately, learning how to take care of ourselves is something that has come out of this but also, most especially, learning how to take care of others is probably the most important message that we can take from this pandemic, Oriuwa said.
I think that the pandemic has really highlighted a lot of inequities that I think both impact our understanding of medicine in general, especially medical education and how it is that we move forward ensuring that we are addressing these inequities in the next generation of doctors that we are training.
She recognizes that medical schools have made incredible strides to address diversity, equity and inclusion but there are still a ways to go before true equity and genuine inclusivity is achieved.
I do think that considering how far we’ve come, that is something that should be recognized and celebrated, but we should never lose sight of how much further we have to go, Oriuwa said.
The other five women honoured with a one-of-a-kind doll are:
- Amy OSullivan, RN (United States) – Emergency Room nurse Amy OSullivan treated the first COVID-19 patient at the Wycoff Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. OSullivan later contracted the disease, and soon after returned to work to continue to help others.
- Dr. Audrey Cruz (United States) – Dr. Cruz, a frontline worker from Las Vegas, NV, during the pandemic, joined forces with other Asian-American physicians to fight racial bias and discrimination.
- Professor Sarah Gilbert (United Kingdom) – As a Professor of vaccinology, Professor Gilbert led the development of the University of Oxford vaccine in the U.K.
- Dr. Jaqueline Goes de Jesus (Brazil) – As a biomedical researcher, Dr. Goes is credited for leading the sequencing of the genome of a COVID-19 variant in Brazil.
- Dr. Kirby White (Australia) – As a general practitioner in Australia, Dr. White co-founded Gowns forDoctors, a gown that could be laundered and re-used, allowing frontline workers in Victoria, AU to continue seeing patients during the pandemic.