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Meet Ayodele Odutayo, Rhodes Scholar for 2013

One of three new Rhodes Scholars at U of T

The Faculty of Medicine's Ayodele Odutayo (photo courtesy of Ayodele Odutayo)

Ayodele Odutayo, a fourth-year medical student at the Faculty of Medicine, has been named a 2013 Ontario Rhodes Scholar.

The prestigious and highly competitive scholarship, awarded to 11 Canadians a year, is one of the world’s most celebrated academic honours. It comes with a stipend and tuition expenses to pursue a degree at the University of Oxford.

Having spent the first 12 years of his life between Nigeria and the British Virgin Islands, Odutayo developed a keen interest in improving health care internationally. As a nephrology research trainee at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and former intern with the World Health Organization (WHO), his goals include improving management of kidney diseases beyond Canada’s borders.

The committed volunteer and student leader previously served as co-director of U of T’s International Health Program (UTIHP) and currently represents Canadian medical students on the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Committee on Healthcare and Promotion.

U of T Medicine asked Odutayo about the scholarship, his work and his future goals.

What’s it like to win a Rhodes scholarship?
The entire experience has been surreal and has taken time to sink in. I am extremely humbled to have been chosen along with Connor Emdin and Joanne Cave of U of T. The process has been very meaningful, because it challenges you to reflect on your experiences and develop a clear sense of what motivates you and what contribution you hope to make.

What do you plan to do at Oxford?

I am interested in health care quality improvement in nephrology, particularly through increasing access to health information and research capacity building efforts aimed at renal disease and its precursors. At Oxford, I plan to expand on this interest by pursing a Master’s degree in public health and health policy. Using the research time within this degree path, I hope to return to work with a United Nations organization such as the WHO, a non-governmental organization (NGO) or another leading health care organization.

And your future plans?

My goal is to return to Canada to enroll in a general internal medicine residency program, with a likely sub-specialization in nephrology. Building on my knowledge of public health and health policy, I hope to expand my work to look at health care quality improvement in nephrology.

I also hope to stay involved with the Faculty of Medicine’s Summer Mentorship Program as a resident and mentor, assisting students who are underrepresented in the health sciences to pursue a career in health care.

I hope to obtain a position as an attending physician at a tertiary care centre. Ultimately, I hope to take on a leadership role within an academic institution or a national/international organization and make a meaningful contribution to health care delivery in nephrology.

What drew you to the University of Toronto?

As an undergraduate student, I was attracted to U of T’s Doctor of Medicine program because of the broad clinical exposure that could be obtained in this multicultural and diverse city. The ability to work in varied hospital settings was also appealing and I enjoyed my clinical placements at Sunnybrook, St. Michael’s and Toronto Western Hospitals.

Why is nephrology an area of interest for you?

Although nephrology is sub-specialized, it provides exposure to all aspects of medicine. From managing the precursors of kidney disease to treating patients with chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease, nephrology involves the entire spectrum of health care.

What was the most memorable part of your experience as a trainee at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre?

My most memorable experience was assessing new data from a human physiology study conducted by our research group and being selected as a top 10 trainee abstract at the 2010 Canadian Society of Nephrology (CSN) meeting.  After presenting at the conference, I was awarded first place - a testament to my mentors, Michelle Hladunewich (Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology and physician at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre) and David Cherney (Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology and physician at University Health Network).

Tell us about some of your many activities and projects.

Leading U of T’s International Health Program (UTIHP) alongside Andy Tran (former U of T student) from 2010-2011 to increase student activism in global health was very rewarding.  With a 100-student team, we introduced new initiatives, including the Global Health Education website that allows students to discuss health care disparities. We also revitalized the Refugee Health program, where students can conduct health care seminars for Canadian refugees.

Why is this kind of volunteer work important?

The world is becoming much more interconnected and learning about challenges in other areas broadens our perspective and informs our decision-making. There is also a basic social responsibility to work to the betterment of our society, and involvement in global health initiatives is one avenue to fulfilling that duty.

Tell us about the friends and mentors who have influenced you.

Among my mentors, Michelle Hladunewich stands out. It is because of her support that I have been able to pursue diverse learning opportunities such as working with the WHO and develop a broad network of professional relationships. I am also fortunate to have been mentored by David Cherney, Ron Wald (Assistant Professor, Division of Nephrology, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto and physician at St. Michael's Hospital) and Diana Alli (retired head of U of T Medicine’s Office of Health Professions Student Affairs). 

I am humbled to be a member of the 1T3 class and to have worked with students on global health initiatives. I have learned so much from our joint efforts.

Last but not least, my mother has made numerous sacrifices in support of my education and I would not have any of these opportunities without her.

December 04, 2012