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Blessing Oyeniyi: Advocating for Diversity in Medicine

Oct. 5, 2020

This news feature is part of Dell Med's Voices, a series of profiles that highlight the people of Dell Med as they work to improve health with a unique focus on our community.

Blessing Oyeniyi, M.D.

Blessing Oyeniyi, M.D., recognizes how elements like race, gender, sexual orientation and socioeconomic background can impact a person’s health outcomes. This awareness doesn’t just come from her medical education: It’s a reflection of her lived experiences.

Oyeniyi, in her third year of Dell Medical School’s Psychiatry Residency program, works to increase diversity in health care as a way to improve patient outcomes and as a microcosm of larger social issues.

“My mission is to improve the quality of and access to health care for all groups, particularly those that have been marginalized in the past,” Oyeniyi says.

The Road to Residency

Oyeniyi immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria at the age of 7. She spent the next decade accumulating experiences that would later inform her perspective as a physician.

“I encountered assumptions and expectations that were based on things I had no control over, like the color of my skin, my gender or my socioeconomic background,” Oyeniyi says. “What is most striking to me is that I still did not realize the extent of how background affects access to resources until I moved to Massachusetts for my freshman year at Harvard University.”

In college, Oyeniyi noticed that most students were not people with low income, nor were there many people of color in her classes. It wasn’t until she matriculated at McGovern Medical School in Houston that she realized this lack of diversity was likely impacting patients — and began to pick up on patients’ desire to work with providers who shared a background with them.

“It was not uncommon for patients or their families to pull me aside and thank me or tell me they felt more comfortable because I looked like them,” Oyeniyi says. “I realized that I needed to dedicate efforts towards effecting change.”

Making Change in Austin

Today, Oyeniyi’s background informs her work in health equity. Oyeniyi serves as a co-chair for the psychiatry recruitment committee, where she encourages a holistic approach to considering applicants for the Psychiatry Residency. She also works closely with René Salazar, M.D., assistant dean for diversity at Dell Med, who brings a focus on resident recruitment to his work.

“Much too often, there is a bias that while diversity is a good goal, minority candidates are not as qualified,” Oyeniyi says. “This is often without consideration of differences in resources, hardships or opportunities for networking that are often based on background.”

Oyeniyi serves as vice president of both the Dell Med Resident Association and the Committee of Residents and Fellows for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She represents Dell Med on panels and during annual conferences of the Student National Medical Association, a group that serves Black medical students.

“I make efforts towards recruiting other residents and fellows to help with the goals of increased diversity by volunteering with the Dell Med pipeline programs for high school students and by mentoring medical students,” Oyeniyi says.

In the next year of her residency, Oyeniyi will continue to seek avenues for working with underserved populations. As a psychiatry resident physician, she plans to work at the KIND Clinic in Austin, which focuses on providing LGBTQ+ communities with gender-affirming care.

“I always advocate for my patients and when requested, make efforts to connect them with providers that make them more comfortable and with whom they can build a trusting relationship,” Oyeniyi says.

After her residency, Oyeniyi plans to continue prioritizing underserved populations in her work.

“I am tired of being treated differently because of things I cannot control like my race or gender. I am not the only one,” Oyeniyi says. “I hope to help increase diversity and improve the culture in medicine and to decrease the inequities that can make the difference in people’s health and lives.”