The Diversity Visiting Student Scholarship: What it Means to Recipient, Adetayo Oladele-Ajose

Adetayo Oladele-AjoseThe Diversity Visiting Student Scholarship, a new initiative started in 2022 by UIHC's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commitee, is awarded to extraordinary students from under-represented backgrounds. Adetayo Oladele-Ajose was a recipient of this scholarship when she did a rotation at the University of Iowa and now, she’s an incoming ophthalmology resident. She shares her journey to ophthalmology and how the scholarship impacted her. 

Could you please tell us a little about you and your background?  

I was born in the South Bronx and my family is originally from Nigeria. We moved to rural Iowa when I was young—my father was trained as an internist but was grandfathered into an emergency medicine physician and my mother is a physical therapist turned healthcare administrator. 

They recognized the need for healthcare in rural Iowa and moved there to help meet the need. It was an interesting experience growing up in Iowa. I graduated at the age of 15 from high school through the Bucksbaum Early Entrance Program. I matriculated to the University of Iowa for college where I was a track athlete for several years before moving into the advocacy space. I also did research in the Michael Anderson lab the latter half of college. After college, I worked for two years at Cerner as a consultant and later as a technical support analyst. During this time, I applied and soon entered medical school. I am currently a medical student at the Jacobs School of Medicine in Buffalo, New York, where I continue to work on advocacy and DEI projects as well as research in retina.

How did you become interested in ophthalmology?  

I initially became interested in ophthalmology because of an uncle with low vision from some untreated congenital ophthalmic condition. He had limited access to care while growing up in rural Nigeria. As a child, I would tell my uncle "I'm going to bring your eyesight back." This was my first introduction to ophthalmology, but I became passionate about joining this specialty when my sister was diagnosed with Stargardt disease (Stargardt disease is an inherited form of macular degeneration causing central vision loss). My interest blossomed in learning more about the disease process, both its pathophysiology as well as ways to prevent and treat vision loss. In college, I worked on studying genetic modifiers involved in CEP290 (the gene that makes the proteins for an eye’s light receptors) related to Lebers congenital amaurosis (a family of congenital retinal dystrophies that results in severe vision loss at an early age). Currently, my research focuses on developing a biostatistical approach to finding areas of accessibility in Rhodopsin mRNA for post-transcriptional knockdown in retinopathies associated with overproduction of metabolic debris, like what is seen in Stargardt disease.  

Could you tell us about your experience rotating at Iowa? 

My time at Iowa was unparalleled. I can confidently say that this was my favorite rotation in all of medical school. I spent the month rotating with neuro-ophthalmology and with Dr. Kemp on pediatric ophthalmology. Everyone was so accommodating and kind. For example, in the middle of rotation, my grandmother passed away suddenly. I was in a difficult situation where I wanted to perform well and make a good impression, while balancing the need to take a step back and process the grief. Dr. Kemp insisted that I take all the time I needed to process as well as go down to Texas to be with family for the funeral. The folks in neuro-ophthalmology I was rotating with also wrote me a letter of condolence that I still have to this day. I felt so cared for as a human in that moment and it sticks with me to this day.  Additionally, I had the opportunity to give a grand rounds presentation during my rotation. I remember all the residents sat in the front row and asked insightful questions that made for a great discussion. On some rotations, you can be treated as less than just because you don't have the full knowledge set yet. At Iowa, I was treated like a junior colleague and encouraged to learn and ask questions. Overall Iowa was the place where I learned the most and became confident in my exam skills. After the rotation, I had to rank Iowa as number one in my residency search! 

How did scholarship support you? 

It covered traveling to Iowa, application expenses, having the extra expense of paying two rents, the cost of driving cross country—all these things start to accumulate. In general, applying for rotations can start to feel like it’s less about merit and more about having the resources to actually do the away. It was reassuring and gave me peace of mind to have the scholarship to know that I didn't have to worry about these costs while at Iowa.  

What did you take back from your experience that has been helpful to you?  

Everyone was really helpful. Grand rounds occurred daily, which reinforced to me how important it is to be constantly learning, whether that be reviewing important points or learning something new. This is something that is unique to Iowa and is done in a way that doesn't feel overwhelming. In addition, Dr. Kemp and many others offered to review my application. They gave me helpful feedback on my personal statement and helped me to tell my story in a way that was true to my voice.  

What is the next step in your journey?  

My next step is moving to Iowa! I had four months off, during which I did interviews, traveled around, and took online medical Spanish classes. Now I'm back on rotations and am making sure that I have a robust medical knowledge base to do well in residency. I also have some interesting things that are coming up—I will be presenting at ARVO and am also working on a project through a social justice fellowship. My project is based on how feelings of imposter syndrome may actually partially or wholly contribute to a hostile workplace environment telling you you’re not good enough. I’d like to develop a “hostile workplace scale” and see if validated interventions can successfully make a difference in the incidence and prevalence of imposter syndrome.  

What does impact mean to you and how do you hope to make your impact?  

Sometimes people think that having a seat at the table or hiring a diverse group of faces is enough to make an impact without thinking about the environment that you may be pulling people into. It's one thing to hire diverse people, and it's another thing to cede power to historically marginalized voices. It's important to not only be mindful of, but also disrupt existing power dynamics to make spaces safe for all voices to speak up and provide actual and impactful decision-making power. 

Another aspect of impact is having tangible resources and sponsorship. Examples of this are the Diversity Visiting Student scholarship, the Minority Ophthalmology Mentoring (MOM), and Rabb-Vennable. For example, through Rabb Vennable, I was able to attend the National Medical Association (NMA) meeting, where I made great connections to leaders in our community, and through MOM, I was given access to innumerable online resources and mentors who have provided priceless guidance and insight. 

My goal is to have others from under-represented populations see that there are people who look and speak like them not only sitting at the table, but also leading and making pivotal decisions. 

If you’d like to learn more about DEI at Iowa visit this link: 

Sunday, November 6, 2022