Dr. Tolu Oyewumi says there are two sides to her personality: one that she cultivated for a long time, and another that is just finding its voice.
The first is the analytical, scientific side that led her to an M.D. and MPH (Master of Public Health), and the other is the creative and entrepreneurial side that led her to contribute to a recent book called “Hold My Crown: Women of Grit Share Stories of Resilience.”
“My story is about learning to love myself. Learning to give myself the love that wasn’t given to me as a child and helping other people to heal through my story,” Oyewumi says.
Oyewumi grew up in Nigeria, in what she calls a dysfunctional family system enduring significant abuse. Under intense pressure from her father, she derived all her worth from her academic performance and pursuing the next accomplishment only to find out that she never ‘felt’ enough. After earning her M.D. and practicing medicine in Nigeria, she sought to study public health in the U.S.
“I care about preventing disease, and I wanted to impact people on a population level,” she says. “Treating people at the individual level, there’s only so much you can do.”
Oyewumi came to the U.S. and earned her MPH with a concentration in epidemiology at the University of Colorado at Denver’s Colorado School of Public Health. She was selected as her class’s commencement speaker and also established the first campus group for international students as its founder and president.
“Deep in my heart I did not even value that, because I was always on to the next mountain to climb. Nothing I did made me feel that I was worthy or valuable,” she says. “I got to the point in life where I realized this is insanity. I am worthy just because I exist. It has nothing to do with my degrees or accomplishments.”
Since then, Oyewumi has worked at the intersection of medical practice, clinical trials, health innovation and technology. During COVID, she directed infection control at a multi-center nursing home facility and ran a COVID-related clinical trial with a tertiary institution. She has worked on projects with hospitals, startups, and government agencies such as the Colorado Department of Public Health and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
At DU’s University College, she helps educate the next generation of healthcare leaders. As an adjunct faculty member, Oyewumi teaches digital health, regulatory affairs, and global healthcare management. She takes pride in offering plenty of support to her students.
“I didn’t know a single soul when I came to the U.S.,” she says. “Remembering how things were for me helps me to be the kind of instructor I wish I had.”
Through her growth as a professional, the support of her husband, and her new embrace of her creative side, Oyewumi has found the balance she found elusive for so long.
“My story is about defining a new life for yourself and letting that situation make you wiser, stronger and more successful. We were born worthy.”