Being different is a good thing

Being different is a good thing

As a first-generation child of Nigerian parents, Dr. Chinelo Okafor had to navigate cultural norms and experiences outside her lived experiences at home, learning to juggle many identities. That inherent feeling of being an outsider and her journey of self-discovery cultivated a drive to learn more about others.

“I wanted to have a framework of understanding so I was never the reason why someone felt alone or different,” says Dr. Okafor. “As if different is even bad,” she laughs.

Dr. Okafor has spent years learning about people from different cultures. She’s a member of the co-ed Latino fraternity Alpha Psi Lambda to learn more about Hispanic cultures. She spent time abroad improving her French with the ultimate goal of global health work in Africa. With a passion for helping kids and admiring the magic they see in the world, she volunteers to help children, from working at after-school programs for kids of migrant workers to prepping elementary school students on the south side of Chicago for high school. Working with children also guided her to become a pediatrician.

Dr. Okafor has experienced racism along the way and understands what it’s like to work with that burden.

“I started reflecting on this, with the impetus being around the time of George Floyd and civil unrest,” Dr. Okafor says. “There were so many Black people experiencing harm, leaving a mental toll for many of us.”

Dr. Okafor and other physicians soon advocated for her current position as Medical Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion who would look at not only the experiences of patients and families in the community, but of teammates and clinicians within Advocate Children’s Hospital. As she sees it, it starts with medical education, providing an equitable recruitment process not only regardless of race, but of various social-economic backgrounds as well. This led to a concerted effort within the organization’s pediatric residency recruitment processes and even a scholarship program for underrepresented fourth-year medical students.

Additionally, Dr. Okafor co-created the Advocate Children’s Hospital and Advocate Health’s Women in Medicine Symposium. She also feels there is a need to develop a pipeline and expose younger students to medicine. To help this effort, she partners with the non-profit I Am Abel Foundation to host simulation days where Chicago high school students and post-grads practice procedures on mannequins and learn how to care for pediatric patients in a hospital setting.

Dr. Okafor sees progress for diversity in health care, specifically with the holistic review of medical students who apply for residency programs.

“I am hopeful for the future because I think we have a great diversity pool,” she says. “The next generation is more informed and new clinicians are coming in as strong advocates and empowered to use their voices. Every day I find out more and more how beautiful being different actually is.”

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About the Author

Colin Schaller
Colin Schaller

Colin graduated from Marquette University with a degree in communications and has more than 10 years of experience in small marketing firms to Fortune 500 companies. Colin is married to his wonderful wife, Brooke, and they have two children. Outside of work, Colin enjoys golf, going to the gym, watching movies (he is a Star Wars nerd), tinkering with his home theater and spending time with family and friends.