Creating opportunities to make an impact
Dr. Chinelo Okafor knew from a very young age she wanted to work with children and see them thrive. As a young girl, she debated between becoming a teacher or a pediatrician, but eventually found herself on a path toward medicine. In her work as a pediatric hospitalist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn and through her volunteer work, Dr. Okafor has made it her life’s mission to help kids.
Born and raised in Chicago, a first-generation child of Nigerian parents, Dr. Okafor serves as a physician mentor through the I Am Abel Foundation, a nonprofit seeking to bridge socioeconomic gaps and promote achievement among underrepresented youth in math, science, research, medicine, public health and medical entrepreneurship. During the pandemic, Dr. Okafor and her co-volunteers use Zoom to support young people ranging in age from teens to medical students and have seen existing health inequities exacerbated by COVID-19 and all its repercussions.
“Even after we make it through the pandemic, our children will have been deeply affected and many will struggle mentally with that burden, developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression, etc.,” Dr. Okafor said. “We were already seeing that rise in pediatric mental health issues pre-pandemic. As physicians and as a society, we have to think through how to support all our kids – particularly children of color in under-resourced communities who have recently been shown to struggle with higher rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts when compared to their white counterparts.”
She’s not only focused on raising up her community but also bridging gaps within Advocate Children’s Hospital. She’s a co-lead of the leadership team focused on increasing the pool of diverse applicants to its pediatric residency program.
“Growth in this area doesn’t happen passively, so we’re trying to be as intentional as possible,” Dr. Okafor said. “My fingers are crossed we’ll see the fruits of our labor for this year’s Residency Match in March.”
Dr. Okafor is also using her voice to advocate for women in medicine, helping lead a symposium on the topic alongside other female physicians in 2019.
“It’s diversity in people and perspectives that leads to much more thought-out decisions and plans that help organizations thrive,” Dr. Okafor said. “I applaud our organization’s leadership in helping to support the endeavors we feel important to elevate the different voices within Advocate Aurora Health.”
About the Author
Bridget Kozlowski, health enews contributor, is a public affairs manager with Advocate Aurora Health. She holds a masters degree in Public Affairs and a bachelor’s degree in journalism, both from the University of Missouri. Bridget previously worked as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and has also lead local government communications teams for both the City of Sterling Heights, Michigan and the Village of Lombard, Ill. Bridget loves trying new restaurants, traveling and spending as much time as possible with her son, husband and rescue mutt.