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Hamilton Medical Center
Olufunso Odunukan, M.B.B.S. (I ’12, CV ’16), completed almost 20 years of training a couple of years ago and is enjoying the freedom to decide where he lives and no longer having to delay gratification in his personal life. He is newly married, practicing interventional cardiology in the Atlanta area, operating a nonprofit organization to improve cardiovascular care in Africa and looking ahead to the day when he returns to his native Nigeria to set up a cardiac center.
“I could not have asked for anything better in terms of resources. There was nothing I needed that I did not get. There was no idea I had that was too grand or too small. There was nothing I dreamed of that I could not execute. There was always someone who would work with me and funding I could count on.”
I was a child actor in Nigeria and was invited to speak at the Children of Africa concert from where I was selected to represent African children at the United Nations in 1992. On the TV game show I appeared on for four years, the children got to meet with different government ministers and ask questions about politics. During the second half of the show, we got to pretend that we were those government ministers. For example, if you were the minister of health, what would you do? We got to imagine the world as we wanted to see it. Getting exposure to advocacy in children’s health led to my interest in medicine.
I’m from Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. Low-income countries such as Nigeria would do well to invest in health promotion and preventive health to keep the population healthy instead of curing people one at a time after illness develops. My true passion is public health, particularly as it applies to global health.
After medical school in Nigeria, I pursued a Master of Public Health degree at Harvard School of Public Health. Mayo is one of few programs in the country with a well-developed global health program that allows trainees to spend a month anywhere in the world. During my training at Mayo, I spent time in India and the Philippines.
I was particularly drawn to Mayo Clinic for residency by the story of the Mayo brothers. The more I learned about the story, the more enamored I became. I found it very motivating that in the middle of rural Minnesota, a structure was built that is the beacon of light in medicine. I look at that story and say, “If you have a dream and are dedicated to it and focused on quality, people will come from all over the world.” There is an international airport in Rochester, with patients coming from other countries. Mayo also has one of the most diverse staff and training programs you will find in the world, and the institution is stronger for it.
I could not have asked for anything better in terms of resources. There was nothing I needed that I did not get. There was no idea I had that was too grand or too small. There was nothing I dreamed of that I could not execute. There was always someone who would work with me and funding I could count on.
As an intern, I received a $40,000 grant for a quality improvement project to care for hypertension and had multiple resources available. As a fellow, I became passionate about burnout among residents. I developed an award-winning wellness program and compared trainees who participated at Mayo Clinic in Florida with those at Mayo Clinic in Arizona who didn’t participate.
Mayo is a great facility with myriad opportunities. It’s a fantastic place to train.
I worked on research in health disparities with Mark Wieland, M.D. (I ’08, CMR ’09; Division of Community Internal Medicine); on hypertension care improvement projects with Sandra Taler, M.D. (MED ’83; Division of Nephrology and Hypertension), Mark Nyman, M.D. (I ’93, ADGM ’94; Division of General Internal Medicine); and on resident burnout research with Michele Lewis, M.D. (GI ’00; director, Internal Medicine Residency Program, Mayo Clinic in Florida).
The needs of the patient come first is paramount. It is not about you or what’s convenient for you. If you make that your guiding light, you will always do the right thing.
I am presently the only interventional cardiologist at Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, Georgia. I am helping to develop an open heart program and cardiovascular institute. My wife is a cardiologist in Nigeria. As an independent contractor, I appreciate the flexibility to be able to travel to see her. She will be moving to the U.S. soon.
I became interested in cardiology during my internal medicine training at Mayo Clinic, and that attraction stems from my interest in public health as hypertension remains the No. 1 risk factor for cardiovascular disease around the world.
I want to fulfill my potential and do as many things as I have been trained to do. My goal within the next decade is to establish a comprehensive cardiovascular care practice in Nigeria. I want to expand preventive care to keep people healthy, prevent the development of risk factors, treat symptoms when they occur and prevent death. I want to make the biggest impact on health that I can. With interventional cardiology, I can operate a standalone catheterization lab if I have to, without having to depend on the government.
I also am the founder and executive director of Revolving Hearts Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on improving cardiovascular care in Africa, especially Nigeria. Because sudden cardiac arrest in Nigeria is almost always fatal due to the severe lack of automated external defibrillators (AEDs), I am working to place AEDs in public places in the country and increase knowledge of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the country with the largest population in Africa. With the hopes of building a sustainable cardiac care center, I am engaging my colleagues in the diaspora to go back and build a cardiovascular workforce. I am also working to promote local research in cardiovascular medicine while creating a network of health care professionals around the world with opportunities for everyone to help. I go back to Nigeria for two weeks every year to do pro bono interventional cardiology care. While there, I and other like-minded colleagues conduct a national cardiovascular symposium with live case demonstrations to build the capacity of our local colleagues. This year, we conducted a virtual symposium because of the constraints of the pandemic, but this allowed us to expand our reach. With fewer than 10 interventional cardiologists in the entire country, many patients with acute heart attacks die even before getting to a hospital. These mortalities are absolutely unacceptable.
Enjoy the experience as a trainee. It comes only once. Once you are done and in the real world, there is a different set of expectations. Maximize the training experience as much as you can – learn and develop strong relationships with your mentors. You will need them when you transition into the real world. Whether you contact them to discuss clinical questions or for help navigating workplace conflicts, it is nice to have people you can count on.
Soundos Moualla, M.D. (I ’03, CVIC ’07), who was on staff at Mayo Clinic in Florida and now practices in Arizona, was crucial in helping me during training. She was passionate about her work and shared her enthusiasm with trainees. She took me under her wing, and I fell in love with interventional cardiology. When I moved to California for my interventional cardiology fellowship, Dr. Moualla continued to be a resource I could talk to. We both come from other countries, and it is helpful to have a mentor with similar training experiences.
Also, take advantage of all the resources Mayo Clinic has to offer —the global health program, research funding, mentors, statistical analyses and publication assistance. There is always someone you can work with and count on. There are not many institutions in the U.S. where trainees have so many resources.
I took a year off after completing internal medicine training. I wanted to be a cardiovascular disease specialist but also wanted to smell the roses. I joined the faculty of Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as a hospitalist and was on the faculty at the University of South Dakota School of Medicine, training medical students and residents. It was one of my favorite experiences. I toured the state by bus through the Rolling School program, visiting Native American cultural locations and interacting with the Native American community. I saw the extent of poverty on reservations and conditions that were worse than some developing countries. For the rest of my life, I will advocate for that population.
While in South Dakota, I made friends with a colleague who taught me how to ride horses. We went camping and horseback riding in the Black Hills. I gained more exposure to the Midwest and experienced rural life.
After having spent three years in Jacksonville and two years in San Diego, I needed to decide where I wanted to live and work. For 11 years, I’d followed marching orders. I wanted to live somewhere that had a travel hub that allowed me to fly back home to Nigeria in a single flight, and that had a reasonable cost of living. The Atlanta area checked those boxes, has a middle class and reasonable diversity.
Not only is it nice to have more income, you also have greater autonomy to make the call in patient care decisions as the buck now stops with you. With that comes a higher level of responsibility with its accompanying challenges.
As physicians, we spend a huge proportion of our lives in our 20s and 30s delaying gratification, often including marriage and family. Training seems endless, and we move from place to place in different parts of the country. I did not want to have children during training and have to uproot them every couple of years. It is nice to finish training and achieve those goals. I have recently married and look forward to building a future with my wife. She is a cardiologist too – we were classmates in medical school. She is still in Nigeria and will join me soon.
I am an avid ballroom dancer. I danced competitively for Harvard and won several competitions. I kept it up at Mayo Clinic. I introduced ballroom dance classes for residents and fellows as part of the Mayo Fellows’ Association wellness program. I also still enjoy horseback riding.
I was a child actor in Nigeria for four years, and I could not go anywhere in the country without being recognized. It was embarrassing to still be recognized deep into medical school.
Also, I do not seem to age. I still look like I am 22. When I was training at Mayo Clinic, patients called me Doogie Howser.
See past New Chapter stories here.