College of

Born leaders: Oboh sisters excel as advocates for minority students in medical school

July 1, 2020

Sisters Osose and Onome Oboh, both fourth-year College of Human Medicine students, had expected to spend much of this year traveling the country to interview for residency programs and attend conferences as newly elected leaders of the Student National Medical Association.

COVID-19 changed all that. One thing it did not change is their commitment to encouraging and mentoring minority students interested in medical school.

As busy as the fourth year is, both took on leadership in the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), the nation’s oldest and largest student-run organization founded to support minority medical students.

“I’ve been mentoring students to get into medical school even before I got in,” Onome said.

“I’d be doing it anyway,” Osose added. “Why not take on this task when I have the skill set to do it?”

Osose was elected national president of the SNMA during its virtual convention and was sworn in remotely at home while her sister held the Bible. Onome was elected national speaker of the SNMA’s House of Delegates.

“Having to start my administration virtually and maintaining it virtually has been challenging,” Osose said. “Overall, this has been a very tough time.”

Despite the barrier of COVID, she has many goals, including raising awareness about the SNMA across the nation for students from underserved backgrounds and for college counselors looking to provide direction to students of color. “I want folks to know that they can send those students our way, and we’ll take care of them,” Osose said. She also encourages medical students to take time to care for their own physical and mental health.

Born and raised in Southern California, both sisters have faced and overcome their own barriers.

“I think the theme I noticed throughout my life was the unseen barriers of getting to medical school and the fact of not seeing people who look like me as doctors,” Osose said.

While some barriers are obvious, others are more subtle.

“We call it imposter syndrome,” Onome said, “the feeling that you’re not worthy of whatever you’re trying to attain, even though you’ve already attained it.”

At Michigan State University they found a welcoming and supportive home among several faculty members. Both chose the Flint campus.

“My journey to becoming national president of the SNMA would not have happened if I didn’t have the support of the college,” Osose said.

She has served as her class’s representative to the Association of American Medical Colleges, on the board for the Student National Medical Association MSU chapter, director for Physicians for Social Awareness, and on the Council for Diversity Education and the Dean’s Student Advisory Council. She also is the student trustee to the National Medical Association and is a national member of the American Medical Association and the American Medical Women’s Association.

Onome helped create pipeline programs for premedical students and medical students, established a health fair committee in Flint, and is working to create an annual “Do No Harm” 5k run to raise awareness of issues that affect Flint and other urban communities.

Both trace their commitment to their maternal and paternal grandfathers in Nigeria, who had dreamed of becoming physicians, but, due to financial, racial and other less-tangible barriers, became nurses.

“Nigerian culture is wired to care for our village,” Onome said. “In the same way, we have identified populations within the pre-medical to physician pipeline and are doing our best to support them. That is very fulfilling to our souls.”