Tomilade Adepoju was selected by her peers to speak at AUC's 2016 Commencement Ceremony later this month.

Ever since Tomilade Adepoju can remember, she has been infatuated with light—the way it reflects, glows, and holds its viewers’ attention. It’s fitting that now, as she pursues a medical career, this AUC graduate and first generation Nigerian-American has chosen ophthalmology, the branch of medicine associated with vision.

A favorite passage of Adepoju’s:
The light of the body is in the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. (Matthew 6:22-23)

Starting in July, Adepoju will begin an impressive pre-residency ophthalmology fellowship at Case Western Reserve University. The program is led by internationally-renowned specialist Dr. Irina Pikuleva and supported by a training grant from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health. As the only fellow accepted into the program, she will have valuable access to cutting edge research projects in macular degeneration and pre-retinal health. She also joins an elite group of fellows—all of whom matched in ophthalmology following the program.

Christmas in the Hospital

To understand Adepoju’s path to medicine, you have to start with her childhood. Growing up, her father faced and overcame a relentless number of health issues: phase 4 kidney disease, quadruple bypass surgery, and prostate cancer. He once even suffered a heart attack while flying from his native country of Nigeria to Europe.
The constant health issues meant that Adepoju spent a lot of time in the hospital.
She befriended her father’s doctors and nurses and even celebrated an Easter and Christmas among them. And while her father was in a deteriorated state much of the time, Adepoju was never scared. She was simply happy to see him.
“That must have been what drew me to medicine in the first place,” she recalls.

Vision for the Future

With a passion for medicine ignited, Adepoju continued full speed ahead. During her senior year of high school, she interviewed ophthalmologists in her hometown of Newark, DE and by the time she enrolled at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, she had a vision for her future career. During her undergraduate training, Adepoju was even admitted to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Summer Medical and Dental Education Program—a six week medical school preparation program that allowed her to shadow in the ophthalmology department. 
Upon graduation, Adepoju was accepted into a 5-year medical school program at Drexel University.  Everything was going according to plan; until, it wasn’t.

Setback Leads to the Discovery of AUC

Adepoju was involved in a car accident in February 2012. While she was okay, her recovery created challenges with the timing of the Drexel University medical program and she was told that she’d have to start over.
Not wanting to be held back, Adepoju looked at other options.
“That’s when I discovered American University of the Caribbean,” Adepoju recalls. “The more I read, the more I identified with the school and students. I applied immediately and was accepted, which gave me piece of mind.”
Since her first day on the island of St. Maarten, Adepoju has been meticulously planning her path toward ophthalmology—one of the most competitive medical specialties. She did her homework and connected with AUC graduates who successfully matched into ophthalmology residencies in the past; attended various professional conferences, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO); and collected as many mentors as she could throughout her clinical rotations. Her proactive approach resulted in valuable insights and a network of highly influential advocates.
A standout mentor and advocate for Adepoju has been Natasha Herz, MD, Chairman of Ophthalmology at Washington Adventist Hospital in Washington, DC. In addition to allowing Adepoju to rotate with her during clinicals, Dr. Herz has provided constant guidance, even introducing Adepoju to various AAO board members. She played a significant role in directing Adepoju to pre-residency ophthalmology fellowships like the one that she was accepted into at Case Western Reserve University.

Advice for Students

As Adepoju prepares for her one-year fellowship, she reflects on what others can learn from her experience at AUC.
“It’s important to know that if you have a dream, go for it; get it no matter what,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to seek out opportunities that aren’t initially apparent.”
For Adepoju, that meant finding mentors at each of the six hospitals where she completed her clinical rotations.
“Each hospital became a networking opportunity,” she says. “I looked into their eye clinics and ophthalmology programs and found people that continue to help me to this day.”

Setting Her Sights on the Future

When asked where she sees herself in five years, Adepoju envisions finishing residency training at a top program in the United States. And in ten, she hopes to split time between private practice and academia.
Most importantly, she sees herself giving back in some capacity to Nigeria.
“AUC exposed me to volunteer opportunities internationally and locally,” she says. “I’d like to continue that—maybe setup a clinic and contribute to global eye care.”

Adepoju will speak in front of her peers and family at AUC’s 2016 Commencement Ceremony on May 28, 2016.

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Shannon Toher

Posted May 09, 2016 05:00 PM

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