Dr. Dionne Okafor- Anesthesiologist

dionnepic2What made you choose medicine and why Anesthesiology specifically?

Medicine has been a dream of mine since childhood. Since about age 9, every time we went around the classroom I would state that I am going to become a doctor. I had tunnel vision from that moment and aimed to get the best grades so I could get into a great college and then great medical school and great residency…yeah I was a nerd and I followed my plan to the T. I had fun though in the process but I was super focused on my mission. Once I got into medical school I had a huge sigh of relief however, I wasn’t quite sure what exactly I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to work with my hands and therefore wanted to pursue a procedural specialty but didn’t know which one. I actually had my eye on GI for a bit and got a mentor. However, my uncle, who is an anesthesiologist, took me to work with him when I was a second year medical student. That day changed everything for me. I loved the diversity in what he did. I loved that he did procedures such as epidurals, nerve blocks, intubations etc but also was the gatekeeper on whether patients can have their surgery or not. I love that he took care of every system of the body to help the patient survive their procedures. Additionally, the lifestyle of anesthesia was appealing. I work hard while I’m there but I bring nothing home, once I’m done I’m done. It is very flexible and I knew early on I wanted something that allowed me to be a doctor but also be a wife and mother. It’s also very easy to scale down to part time or scale up and pick up extra work, I love it!

As a black woman in medicine, what have been your biggest challenges?

Biggest challenge for me is that I am young,  I’m a woman, and I am a black woman. Everyday I get the shocked look when I tell patients I’m their doctor, I can see their anxiety. There have been several times that I had to spew out my education resume and even still they may call me everything but a doctor. I’ve been called a Nurse, IV tech, food services, transport…everything. Not to disrespect those fields at all, all are noble but it’s sad that the image of doctor in many patients heads (black and white patients) are of an old white male. So I find that I have to work a little harder to gain the confidence of my patients which is already tasking for an anesthesiologists because we usually meet the patient for the first time right before their big surgery. Luckily, it’s an obstacle I’ve been able to combat and despite it, I feel fulfilled and I feel like my patients value the care I provide them. 

What 3 lessons would you impart to the up and coming young black female dionnepic3physician that you wish you had known earlier in your training and your first couple of years as an attending?

  • Be confident, you are smarter than you think
  • Run your own race, what works for one person may not work for you. Figure out what works for you and do that.
  • Write down your goals and place it where you can see them and meditate on it. You’re more likely to achieve them that way.

What is a typical day like for you?

The typical day for me, starts with me  seeing my patients at  6:15-6:30am for their preoperative evaluations to ensure readiness for surgery. I call appropriate consultants, for instance, cardiologists, for more information on a patients risk assessment for surgery.  I create the anesthetic plan and make sure it’s implemented. I do postoperative, ultrasound guided, nerve blocks and perform preoperative neuraxial blocks as primary anesthetics for appropriate cases. Occasionally I get called for labor epidurals and urgent C-sections or emergency intubations/line placement assistance in the ED and ICU. Towards the end of the day, I do chart reviews for upcoming cases, I decide whether a patient is good to go or if they need to be optimized further with extra tests to assess their ability to make it through the surgery.

I love this picture, words of affirmation and God!!

What is your biggest accomplishment?

I think passing my oral boards and becoming board certified months after giving birth to my first child. It was so stressful balancing studying and caring for a newborn. However, I prayed to God and told him I could only study for this once, one and done! it was overwhelming, but He saw me through it. Phew…done!

What is your greatest or proudest moment?

The greatest moment by far was the birth of my baby boy. He’s totally transformed me and given me a new purpose in life. I knew when i got into medical school, that I needed a career that was conducive to family. For me, being a wife and mom and actually being available was important to me. It played a huge role in my career choice.

What is the best advice you have received?

In undergrad, one of my mentors sat me down and told me to construct a 4 year plan. Essentially, a plan of how I would complete my premed courses and courses for mydionnepic4 major to finish in 4 years, take my MCAT and apply to medical school. It was the best thing ever, I followed the road map and I think it was key to me finishing on time and
going straight to medical school after college.

How do you find balance?

Finding balance requires a conscious effort. It’s easy to get sucked into your career trying to climb that ladder at all costs. However, it won’t be worth it if you are the only person left when you reach the top. So I make the effort to make time for my family, to have girls trips, to just relax in my Pjs all day all by myself. That’s how I stay sane.
Follow on Instagram @dr_adaora

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