Feb 27, 2024

Supporting Untapped Potential and Brilliance: The Dr. Chika Oriuwa Award for the Advancement of Black Health

Chika Oriuwa
Christie Vuong
While a medical student, Chika Oriuwa (MD '20), served as an ambassador with Temerty Medicine’s Black Student Application Program and was named valedictorian for the MD Class of 2020 — the first Black woman to become Temerty Medicine’s sole valedictorian.
By Emma Jones

Chika Oriuwa (MD ’20) is passionate about supporting people. A psychiatry trainee with the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine and a mother of two young children, Oriuwa continues to seek out new ways to support both the patients she cares for and the medical community to which she belongs.

Her latest demonstration of support is a philanthropic gift to establish the Dr. Chika Oriuwa Award for the Advancement of Black Health at Temerty Medicine. Each year, in perpetuity, the award will recognize a graduating MD student who has demonstrated their dedication to advancing health in the Black community.

“When a medical student has invested into the Black community, which historically has maybe not been valued the same as other areas of medicine, I want them to know that they are seen and appreciated,” says Oriuwa.

Oriuwa has spent her life examining what it means to truly support community members in vulnerable positions. Medicine has always been her main goal, but Oriuwa also developed a love for poetry as a child. While the two subjects may not seem to have much in common at first glance, she explains that exploring this artform has allowed her to provide her patients with better care.

“Poetry requires this unflinching examination of the human experience, and I find that medicine really draws on that same aspect,” she says of her journey to becoming a professional spoken word poet, which included a year competing at national poetry competitions.

“It’s about being able to be enmeshed in what often is the most trying and difficult experiences of someone’s life and being able to remain steadfast in that space.”

This tenacity has also underpinned Oriuwa’s commitment to championing change at U of T. While enrolled in the MD Program, during which time she was the only Black medical student in her class, Oriuwa served as an ambassador with Temerty Medicine’s Black Student Application Program (BSAP). The BSAP works to break down barriers that may impede Black African, Black Caribbean, Black North American and multi-racial students from applying to medical school.

“BSAP’s creation was a hard-fought victory of the Black leadership and allies within the faculty at U of T,” Oriuwa says.

She was also named valedictorian for the MD Class of 2020 — the first Black woman to become the Faculty’s sole valedictorian. In 2021, she was recognized by the Barbie Role Model Program for her advocacy against systemic racism in health care by having a doll created in her image.

Oriuwa notes how just as she was graduating from the MD Program and reflecting on her own path through medical school, Temerty Medicine was preparing to welcome a first-year class with the largest cohort of Black medical students in Canadian history (MD Class of ’24). Twenty-four of the 256 incoming   medical students self-identified as Black.

“Having that counterpoint of being the only Black medical student in my class — the difficulties, the challenges and the incredible experiences that I had from being in that position — to then seeing a class that will have a completely different experience, reminded me of the importance of the work that I've done, that the Black leaders before me have done, that the Black community continues to do,” says Oriuwa. “It's why it’s so important for us to continue to do this work of supporting this wealth of previously untapped potential and brilliance within the community.”

Establishing her namesake award this year – just as that historic class prepares to cross the stage at Convocation Hall and officially become MDs – feels particularly apt to Oriuwa.

“It’s a celebration of the Class of 2024’s graduation, the work that has been done, and nod to the work this next generation of physicians will do as they find new ways to support the community,” she says.

Yet, while she celebrates, she also recognizes that her work supporting others is far from over.

“There's so much more to be done, but it’s also important to take a moment to pause and celebrate and just be so incredibly thankful and grateful for the impact these doctors are going to have on the broader medical community and all of society.”