“Starting to create accountability partners, those people who you can be vulnerable with and being able to utilize them regularly and strategically to say, ‘Hey, you said you were going to do this. Did it happen?’” Omalara Uwemedimo, MD, MPH
In today’s episode, Coach Gabriella Dennery MD talks with with pediatrician and entrepreneur Dr. Omalara Uwemedimo. Dr. Omolara Thomas Uwemedimo is CEO and founder of Melanin & Medicine and works as an empowerment coach and career transition strategist to provide Black women physicians & other health professionals with support through community, courses, and coaching. She has worked as a board-certified pediatrician for over 15 years and an academic faculty for over a decade, mentoring women in medicine, who have been marginalized and minoritized. As a career transition strategist, she provides women with culturally-informed strategies and systems to reduce burnout, achieve personal and professional fulfillment, rediscover their purpose, and ultimately, achieve their vision for life, without struggle or sacrifice. Dr. Uwemedimo discusses her entrepreneurial journey and how she has found success and fulfillment while also guiding other women to do the same.
Her career has been defined by a passion for social justice, being an advocate, a professor, and a researcher committed to health equity for both patients and providers. She has worked as a global physician across sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. From this work, she founded Strong Children Wellness, an innovative family practice that addresses both unmet health and social needs for families in New York City.
You can find Dr. Uwemedimo on her website melaninandmedicine.co/resources, on Facebook at melaninmedicineco, on Twitter at dromolara, on LinkedIn at omolaramd, on Instagram at melaninmedicineco, on YouTube at Melanin, Medicine & Motherhood with Dr. Omolara or you can email her at [email protected]
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Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran
Please enjoy the full transcript below
Dr. Omalara: Starting to create accountability partners, those people who you can be vulnerable with and being able to utilize them regularly or strategically to say, “Hey, you said you’re going to do this. Did it happen?”
Gabriella: Hi, welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. My name is Gabriella Dennery, MD, and I’m here welcoming a wonderful guest today that we’re going to talk about some really good stuff about entrepreneurship, about pivoting, and about finding and rediscovering one’s purpose. I want to introduce to you now Dr. Omalara Thomas Uwemedimo. Omalara, welcome to the podcast.
Dr. Omalara: Thank you so much, Gabriella. I’m super excited to be here.
Gabriella: Thank you for being here. I’m going to just start right away by asking what made you decide to become a physician?
Dr. Omalara: Yes, so, a few things, I think it is a little bit complicated. So, I am a New Yorker. I’m the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, and anyone who knows that there’s only three jobs that children are allowed to have. [laughs] One of them being a physician. But my mom was a visiting nurse, and actually, instead of going to after school, she would bring me along on her trips and on her visits, and I was basically her right-hand person. So, helping with dressings and just really enjoyed the connection she had with patients.
But also recognized that I was someone who wanted to be able to call the shots and be able to recognize that from very early. So, fell in love with not so much the medical part of being a doctor, but the relationship part of just seeing how connected. I love children and so being a pediatrician kind of, became a lifelong goal. At the early age of five, especially, because I had a black woman pediatrician, and I had to see her often because I had sinus issues. So, that really as a conglomerate kind of just really cemented my passion for it.
Gabriella: So, that was a source of inspiration with your own doctor as well as your mother who was a source of inspiration. I guess, I call it the Haitian high five.
Gabriella: You’ve got five choices or professions, and you have the Nigerian three-
Gabriella: -which I think works very, very well. And at the same time, you sign that form to get into med school, and you put in your application, and you went through your journey, and made it your own. So, how did that start switching for you between just being a pediatrician to being an entrepreneur?
Dr. Omalara: Yeah, so, I think, I pretty much ended up doing global health as my pediatrics calling, particularly because of all of the exposure I had on visits to Nigeria, and ended up really just being very focused on clinical care. However, when I actually ended up after living in Sub-Saharan Africa in Malawi, and realizing that clinical care was just kind of the tip of the iceberg, and really, a lot of the control around health outcomes really stood around the public health arena, I started to delve a little bit more into getting my MPH, and coming back to the United States, and being able to learn more about how do we improve healthcare delivery.
Finally ended up in academia, doing research and training, and also teaching at the MPH school and doing all the things, still seeing patients, and ended up burnt out. [laughs] I think many of your listeners could probably hear that coming. It was really hard because I felt like I needed to step away from clinical, because I want it to be at my best if I’m taking care of patients, but what I realized was I had normalized kind of the overworking, the struggle, the self-sacrifice. Just so, I was supposed to step back, but I basically filled it in, with lots more work and ended up hospitalized in May of 2019 with an autoimmune disorder and was found to have multiple sclerosis.
Gabriella: Wow. You mentioned that when we talked last week and I think that having that experiences of physician to be able to say, “Hey, you know what, this is not working for me, I have to step back.” But you didn’t just step back and took a few days off, u stepped back. You had a chance and an opportunity I think even with MS to really look at what was important to you. I say that from personal experience as well. I’ve really burnt out to the point where I had to step back and really look at what is important to me, and how do I dig into that. You made some pretty powerful choices with regards to your next steps and your next moves. I’m wondering if you would like to talk a little bit more about Melanin & Medicine.
Dr. Omalara: Yeah. So, basically, I think one of the interesting things was that I probably was getting hints to sit down and slow down, and I almost felt like God was like, “Okay, since you’re not listening, I’m going to sit you down.”
Gabriella: That’s right.
Dr. Omalara: So, my presentation for MS, which looks different was that, my right side, basically, I had a left cerebellar lesion. So, my right side was basically just not working pretty much. So, I couldn’t walk. I think one of the things around this was the idea that my work was taken from me, distributed amongst five people, and I had this weird moment. I started med school when I was 18. So, I had this weird moment when I was doing nothing like I had nothing. It was like the first time that I had to sit alone with my thoughts and start being instead of just doing. In that there’s a huge amount of self-discovery that I had never done that I had to do, and during along that I realized that I was living my life for validation and for other people’s priorities, and not really thinking about what brings me joy. [laughs]
Gabriella: Whoa. Now that is just straight up honest. [laughs] It’s like, “This is what’s going on, let me deal with the truth,” because really being able to get to next steps starts with that place, that place of why am I here? At the same time, you still made it your own. Is that still that part of you that still says, “I’m still a doctor, but maybe in a different way?” I don’t know, does that make sense to you?
Dr. Omalara: Completely. I think my goal is that, you can’t tear us away from the idea that we want to help people thrive. Like that at the core of it, and the expansion of us as doctors is to think about, “Can you evolve? Can your mission look different each step of the way?” Especially, if your life does and I think what I uncovered was the fact that I started to do reflection on what I love doing, one of the things that always made me so delighted was when– I don’t know why, but women would come to me specifically, black women in either residents, students, faculty, and would ask me about what I would think about like a strategy for specific things, both personal and professional. I always would put down everything to sit with those that I love doing it. And they kept happening. I realized that was a moment where I felt like that was a gift or something that Gay Hendricks calls the zone of genius. It’s just something that comes natural to you that people always are marveling at, and you’re like, “I don’t know. I don’t have any rhyme or reason why that is so powerful.”
So, in that space, I started to think about what changes that I need to make. When I went to my institution, I talked about how I would really need to accommodate my life and be able to have more bandwidth, more flex hours, and it wasn’t a possibility. So, I pled, like I was going to everyone because I was so scared of doing something different. Even though, the urge was, “You have to create something, Omalara. You have to do something different.” And I started to think about the fact that, could my purpose be this thing that I love doing, but I never really had the bandwidth to really explore. So, I actually started to explore it. I started a podcast, I started a Facebook group just to talk with other women about this idea of how black women in general are weathering, how stress and the racism that we endure, and we still put up a good front and become the strong black woman, how that is eating at us inside.
That Facebook group grew, then the podcast grew, and then people started asking me, how they could work with me to thrive more and feel more fulfilled. I initially, of course, Gabriola was like, “I’m a pediatrician. I’m not sure what you be.”
Dr. Omalara: Until it just kept happening, and then, the light bulb went off that. Maybe, I could teach something, maybe I could share some lessons that I’ve been learning on my journey, and that was the beginning of Melanin & Medicine.
Gabriella: Wow, there’s so many facets of this that are interesting burnout and black women physicians, finding, rediscovering one’s purpose. Sometimes, the vision is not “Okay, well. What do I want to do 10 years from now?” Some people are able to answer that question. But for others, it’s like, “Well, it’s more of a series of bumping into things,” and people who are as you said, gravitated to you because somehow there was an energy that they wanted, and needed, and were going to you for advice or for questions that they may have personally and professionally, and then through that discovering where your natural gifts and talents lied, and how you could bring that forward. So, it can go both ways as I talked to clients and that rediscovering as well. It’s like, we may not know what the future holds, but maybe what’s here now, and what is natural to you is your guide, and I appreciate that part of the story. I think that’s beautiful. But you have also gone through several evolutions?
Dr. Omalara: That’s a nice way of putting it.
Gabriella: Melanin & Medicine and your mission has grown.
Dr. Omalara: Yeah.
Gabriella: And has morphed and in a very short period of time, I mean, we’re in 2021. You started in 2019?
Dr. Omalara: Yeah, and so, I guess, my shingle up November 2019, and I had three clients. We worked in a group starting January 2020. So, yeah, [laughs] that was quite– I’m not very long now and I think, Melanin & Medicine really just thinking about a space where black women physicians always have to have answers. Always have to be the ones who are answering questions, but never can ask questions, and never can have a space where you can feel vulnerable. Even with your family and other black women, just because of the fact that you’re in this space that people often think is privileged, which it is privileged, but people also think that everything’s perfect.
Gabriella: And you’re under a microscope.
Dr. Omalara: And you’re under microscope. [laughs]
Gabriella: In a way that other physicians may not be.
Dr. Omalara: Correct. I think that ultimately, what this was for us to be able to say, I think I was very vocal, which is why people gravitate about how I was unfulfilled. How I had this deep burning to do something different, how everyone was saying that, “If you leave, it’s going to be a waste or something of that sort.” So, when people were hearing those messages, they were starting to say, “Wow, I feel stuck, I feel trapped, I feel overwhelmed, I feel unfulfilled.” It was like, this is a space where we can talk about that for real. So, I started initially with just doing trainings in a framework, which really mapped out around self-discovery, building self-preservation skills, gaining support, and using a vision to start to carve out your strategy and what you want to cultivate now.
During that time, the women who I worked with started to tell other women. Then, they didn’t want to leave. So, we created a community after the lessons are over, and it really now became this space where people started to– I call pivot into your purpose. Started to say, “I don’t have to stay here and feel like this is my only option, especially, since I have gifts that I thought only could be performed as a physician,” but they can be performed in any such way. Some people, it meant becoming artists; some people, it meant resigning and leaving their jobs; some people, it meant adding something; and some people, it meant just putting more boundaries in their lives so that they can feel more fulfilled.
What I’ve realized is our evolution from work life integration has really moved towards having so many women uncover their purpose, and say, “Okay, I need to create a space where I’m going to fit and moving into entrepreneurship.” Moving into that is not easy. I, at the same time was going through my illness. I was actually just starting up a practice with two other black women pediatricians who left academia as well. So, I was basically balancing two businesses and really was focused, but also using this framework really learned how to build those in a way that didn’t burn me out, and stress me out, and still kept fulfillment ease and lifestyle at the core. That I think has been the reason why both of these businesses have scaled both financially in terms of multi six figure, but also an impact and in the freedom that I think a lot of us are looking for and rarely get in medicine.
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Gabriella: So, at this point, what’s interesting is, you’re in I’m making another jump. [laughs]
Dr. Omalara: Yeah, I have a problem. [laughs]
Gabriella: Tell me about your problem. [laughs]
Dr. Omalara: I’ve always had that issue where it’s like, “This is not enough. What else can we do?” But also what I feel that has happened more since I’ve been able to create more space, I will tell you the way I think my businesses have grown as well as because I’m creating more space to not do things, to have just like flex space. I think it allows for me to start to think and also listen, which I never did before. Listen to the stillness, that place of knowing and intuition, and the call was, you have to create something that now can guide women, not only into the beginning of entrepreneurship, but also guide them into what you know, the tweaks and the ongoing support that it takes to make sure that they create spaces that actually grow and can bring others in and can last.
Gabriella: Tell me more about that word support, which is one of my favorite words and something that as black women, it’s not necessarily something that’s at the top of the list, either personally or professionally, and how do you make that central to your message, and to your incubators, to your programs?
Dr. Omalara: Yeah, we have three hallmark modules that we have in our framework, which are create your crew, claim your courage, and active accountability. Those are under our support, and really, trading your crew is being more strategic. There’s a great book by Charlie Gilkey called Start Finishing, and he talks about a success pack. He talks about the fact that, no success pack is complete without guides, who’ve done it before, peers who are normalizing your journey, supports who are helping hold you up and making sure everything happens.
My husband making sure the kids aren’t down here bothering me. [laughs] And your beneficiaries, and making sure that you are in touch with the people that you’re doing your work for. Having that success pack, but then also claiming your courage to delegate, and to successfully use them and allow for those people to show up for you, because they’re waiting to do that, and it shows a level of trust and connection, when you decide, “Hey, this piece of what I’m doing. I need to give it to you. I trust you.” It also, of course allows for you to have the bandwidth to not just be good, but be great at whatever it is.
The last piece is accountability, and starting to create accountability partners, most people who you can be vulnerable with and being able to utilize them regularly or strategically to say, “Hey, you said you’re going to do this, did it happen?” And keep you moving and progressing.
Gabriella: Right, exactly. So, accountability, courage, and support having that crew, personal crew, professional crew, entrepreneurship crew, mentors, sponsors, people who can guide the way, people who are at your level, people who have been there and who can move you forward, or help you move forward. Of course, speaking of vision and doing a vision are two very different things.
Dr. Omalara: Oh, yes. It is. Okay. [laughs] Yeah. [crosstalk] Oh, my God.
Gabriella: Action is required. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s new territory. It’s so having that support is absolutely key.
Dr. Omalara: Yeah, I was just going to say, we just had an office hours yesterday, our business strategy inside of Melanin & Medicine that we do on Tuesdays. and it was really about all of those women talking to each other and talking about this confidence piece. You sit there and you’re like, “Do you know what you’ve done? There’s only 2% of us, right?” It’s kind of those things, those limiting beliefs that come like, “I can’t do this.” That unconscious incompetence now has become conscious incompetence. Now, I know what I don’t know and this is really scary. But being able to see other people moving it, normalizes it, and it says, “Okay, I guess, if she’s swimming. I guess, I can go in. It’s [crosstalk] okay.”
Gabriella: [laughs] I’m not the only one here and we’ll get to shore.
Dr. Omalara: Exactly.
Gabriella: All of this work, because I’m also hoping that younger physicians coming up, especially black women physicians who are coming up are hearing your words, and really understanding that there are people who’ve been through it, they know it, and there are ways to get that support, and get that crew together, and keep getting encouragement. Encouragement is not necessarily inside of medicine. It can be but oftentimes, it’s outside. Has that been the case in lot of your clients?
Dr. Omalara: I think it’s been both. I think that one of the things that has been particularly important, has been having that community inside of medicine, who understands kind of– So, you’re not feeling isolated. But yes, I think that one of the main tenets of this has been identifying what your voice is. Remember that I was somebody before I became a doctor and not allowing being a doctor to consume us, and then erase everything. It’s almost like a wildfire that now decides to erase everything that ever existed. Unless we truly are proactive and ruthless, and protective about the other pieces of some of my women, it’s been art, some of my women, it’s been music, some of my women, it’s just literally been finally finding time to exercise and saying, “No, I’m not going to do that.”
Understanding the backlash that happens in a society that’s very socialized to see black women as the mule of the earth and see us as people who don’t say no, will always show up. So, that’s been hard. I think though, once you do it, it gets a lot easier and easier and then addictive.
Gabriella: I like the addictive– [crosstalk]
Dr. Omalara: My default is no, and that’s like [laughs] I’ll give it back to you.
Gabriella: Exactly. Wow, those are powerful words and I thank you for sharing those, because I think a lot of us can relate to that, that saying no can be difficult simply because “Well, what is somebody going to think of me. How is this going to affect my track forward? Then, what?” You’re right. We’re only 2%. What is the impact here? At the same time, if I forget about this 2% and just say point blank, I’m a human being, and I have the right to live my life, and I’m going to live my life, then that becomes a completely different point of view. So, Omalara, my last question for you is, I’ve noticed from your website, you’re talking about now, as I said, the next jump is the mastermind group. Why a mastermind group?
Dr. Omalara: Yeah, so, we’ve always had a mastermind group. However, it was a mastermind. Initially, I love community’s masterminds, but we also, of course, drop in masterclasses, and additional coaching, and co-working just to make it more robust. I think, the idea was, our mastermind was really about getting you to focus on who you want to be and putting yourself first in order for you to be able to really pour into the people with your best self. I think now, the thought is, I am no longer going to tolerate the status quo. I want to tolerate building, I want to tolerate creating, but not really knowing where to start.
I think the most important thing, we in medicine see a lot of our work is loner work. Work that just like, we do, and I’ll get the diagnosis, I’ll do this. What I found with my journey through entrepreneurship was that community was essential and also community was the thing that leveled me up. I think that’s what accelerated my progress by being with other people who were not complaining over here and like, “Oh, this is hard.” But who were like, “Look, we’re going, are you coming? [laughs]
Gabriella: Are you coming? Oh, that’s like, “Come on, we’ll have you but you got to get on this ride.”
Dr. Omalara: Yeah, and so basically, what we did was we’re starting an incubator just to help people through that bridge, of found the purpose and want to now solidify the infrastructure, but a longer 12-month mastermind which is going to start after Thanksgiving is really going to be more about having our expert master coaches. A lot of women who have developed relationships with marketing sales, and just having all of them in one place. Because I think that was the difficulty as an entrepreneur having to be like, “Okay, I need some mindset support, let me find this person, I need some sales support,” and being able to have it in one space and have them be black women who are connected to the mission of Melanin & Medicine, and that aren’t just dropping people, but actually will be there and get to know you and build that relationship. So, we have our little like inner circle that I believe already has actually done wonders. Actually, one of the women who is in our group who just joined our incubator, she already got her first client and [laughs] it’s been a week. [laughs] and it literally was doing the onboarding, and then I think just getting the confidence to look at opportunities that were in front of her and saying, “Let me act and stop sitting here.” So, that’s the kind of progress that I hope the women who come into our community, who we get blessed to serve will continue to have.
Gabriella: Excellent, there’s a lot more. I have no doubt. So, I’m just excited for you. I’m excited for what is to come and I’m excited for the community that you hold in that space that you hold for them, and moving them forward and bringing in the resources necessary to create that support, and for more importantly, for black women physicians will really understand that, they have it in their own hands to move in the direction that they want to move in. So, Omalara, [laughs] I can sit here all day. I just thank you so much for being a guest on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast, because you really do talk about the whole physician and not just the title, and I appreciate that.
Dr. Omalara: Thank you for creating a space for us to talk about these issues. It’s so important. So, I’m appreciative and honored to be here. Thank you.
Amanda: This is Amanda Taran. I’m the producer of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Please don’t forget to like, and subscribe, and thank you for listening.
Coach Gabriella Dennery MD
Life Coach Gabriella Dennery, MD OMD is passionate about helping busy physicians rediscover the joy of their calling. She draws on her training as a physician, a musician, and an ordained non-denominational minister in addition to health & wellness and life coaching to offer professionals from all walks of life the benefit of her broad experience and deep insights.
You can find Gabriella as one of the co-creators of STAT: Quick Wins To Get Your Life Back.
The daughter of a psychiatrist mother and a neurosurgeon father, both from Haiti, Gabriella and her five siblings were expected to choose from five noble callings: Medicine, Dentistry, Engineering, Law, or Agronomy (caring for the delicate soil of Haiti).
Gabriella, an innately gifted healer and teacher, chose Medicine and graduated with honors from Howard University College of Medicine, “The Mecca.” Following her residency in internal medicine at Duke University Medical Center, Gabriella moved to New York City to serve as an attending physician and clinical instructor in Harlem and later as medical director and attending physician at SUNY Downstate Bedford-Stuyvesant satellite clinic in Brooklyn.
Her greatest joy as a primary care physician was supporting her patients, shepherding them to Aha moments, and nurturing positive shifts in perspective that measurably improved their health and wellbeing–a strength that makes Gabriella so effective as a coach.
After more than ten years of practicing internal medicine, Gabriella chose to explore the integration of medicine, music, and ministry to promote better health of her fellow physicians by becoming a physician coach. She successfully coaches physicians to prevent and/or navigate through physician burnout, reach career and personal goals, clarify and take actionable steps to achieve their own personal vision, and is well known for helping doctors at all stages of their careers, from students to residents/fellows to practicing physicians. She maintains her work-life balance by playing percussion and violin, composing music, and enjoying a very fun and fulfilling marriage.