Hi, I am Dr. O. Originally Dr. Oguntala. It turns out that was a mouthful for my colleagues and patients and they breathed a sigh of relief when I said, “You can call me Dr. O.” It makes me smile each time because I think as far back as kindergarten when my teacher would pause during the roll on the first day of school and that was how I always knew they had reached my name. Being different is nothing new. I was born in Nigeria and was brought here to get a great education. I did. I have no accent because my father wanted it that way. I decided to be a doctor when I was in kindergarten and my mom’s friend asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I replied, “a nurse.” She asked, “Why not a doctor?” I said,”because women can’t be doctors.” She replied that was bologna and that I could. So, I decided right then and there.
So, I’ll be a doctor then. I don’t know why someone asks a kindergartener what they want to be when they grow up, but I really don’t know why I had such a definitive answer either. Noone had asked me before then so I hadn’t been thinking about it. I had been thinking about how you stick up for and protect children though. I thought a kid doctor should do that. So that was why it appealed to me.Unfortunately, like many kids, I witnessed way too much violence in my home. It not only made me want to stop the immediate violence but be a voice for others so I could stop theirs.I would read stories when I was younger and wish I lived next door to the kid who had no dinner so I could take some over. Or, wish I knew which kid had no shoes so I could secretely give them mine. I believed in the underdog, because I admired the character of these characters so much. This is why when I was at Berkeley doing my undergraduate work at Cal (UC Berkeley), I made the decision to be a voice for teens. I had no idea you could specialize as a doctor. My parents were an engineer and a realtor, and no one talked about medicine; and by then my father had left and my mother had died so it was either make it by my wits or don’t make it at all. I survived by eavesdropping on adult conversations and this is how I learned about how you train in medicine and that you could sub-specialize. When I realized you could learn about teens, it spoke to me. I thought who better to advocate for …I never see a billboard asking for donations for hungry teens. Why? Because teens just don’t garner the same sad and pouty face that babies do. I got that. I decided baby’s had enough advocates and teens were my passion.
My life was heading down a path that had I not been so worried about surviving, I might have realized where I was going. After I left Cal, I took off some years to take more courses and work. I applied to medical school on the east coast and got into what is now Drexel University. Drexel was MCP and Hahnemann to me and then became a lot of names before it was Drexel. I stayed in Philadelphia to do my residency in Pediatrics at St Christopher’s Hospital for Children and there I got all the teens in the E.D. Somehow it had leaked to the attendings and so began my training, but I also figured something else out. The other doctors were really intimidated by teens and their issues. Sure, they could do the medicine, but it was clear I was adding something more. By the time, I got to Teen fellowship at Stanford in Palo Alto, CA the world of teens was changing and no longer were their issues segregated by social class or culture. This changed what you had to know about teens and who had to know it. I completed the program at Stanford and worked for a brief stint at Oakland Children’s Hospital before I headed my current teen clinic. One of the more powerful messages I got from these experiences is that it really doesn’t matter if it is a wealthy, poor or immigrant community. Teens wither when they don’t feel connected. My own life had taught me that you can absolutely survive, but in order to truly live you have to learn from your life and become a better person who can actually thrive. This is more than financial or material success and this is more than keeping your head up, this means you approach each moment with a sense of openness rather than fear. My patients taught me that they wanted more than management of their asthma or a clearance so they could play their sport. They wanted someone they could talk to, who would advocate for them and in doing so make their lives more about the journey to their true self rather than the struggle with their parents. And once I had permission to let their parents know all the unique ways they were themselves, thrive they did.
I am Dr. O, TheTeen Doc!