Reliable, Thoughtful, Adaptable, Intuitive, Kind

These are the words that Modupeola O. Akinola, MBBS, Associate Professor of Pediatrics – Neonatology, uses to describe herself. When not directly caring for her tiny patients, Akinola focuses heavily on her role as Assistant Dean of Admissions and Vice-Chair of the Committee on Admissions where she works with a team to matriculate applicants that mirror the same values as Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Akinola In Their Own Words photo

Akinola was born and raised in Nigeria, where she received her undergraduate and medical degrees, and serves as an associate editor of MedEdPORTAL – a journal part of the Association of American Medical Colleges – and is co-director of the journal’s Faculty Mentor Program, where she is a national mentor to medical educators. 

Akinola has a unique perspective and ability to relate to the families who have a loved one in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) because she’s been in their shoes. In her final year of pediatric residency, Akinola’s baby was delivered prematurely and spent six weeks in the NICU. During this time, Akinola experienced what it felt like to be the mother of a baby in the NICU, which became pivotal in her decision to pursue a fellowship and career in neonatology. Get to know her in her own words.

What inspires or motivates you? 

My major inspiration comes from the words of the Apostle Paul who said, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” When I am faced with challenges, the truth in these words keeps me grounded and gives me faith to overcome. I’m also motivated by the tenacity for survival in my patients and the team spirit demonstrated by other health care workers. These qualities fuel my desire to continuously provide excellent clinical care to the tiniest and sickest newborns admitted to the Dale & Karen Sisel NICU at Brenner Children’s Hospital, part of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

The sense of curiosity and the eagerness to learn – demonstrated by medical and physician assistant students, pediatric residents and neonatology fellows – are also inspirational to me. They push me to acquire a deeper understanding of any subject matter I teach. As I watch their transformation from novice to advanced learners whilst walking alongside them in their “journey to become,” I am motivated to continue teaching.

Tell us about your background. What’s your experience and how did you get into the field?

I was born and raised in Nigeria, which is where I received my undergraduate degree in Microbiology at the University of Lagos in Lagos State, Nigeria, and my medical degree at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan in Oyo State, Nigeria. I completed my pediatric residency and neonatal-perinatal medicine trainings in New York and Baltimore. 

My decision to sub-specialize in Neonatology was shaped by two defining moments. In my intern year, during my pediatric residency training, my first rotation was in the NICU where I had limited knowledge and skills in Neonatology and was not familiar with the teaching styles of my supervisors. At the end of the rotation, my performance was evaluated as sub-optimal. I reflected on my activities in the NICU and the feedback I received; I concluded that I was going to achieve mastery in the NICU ‘language/culture’ so that I could teach future learners who may be like my intern self. Then in my third year of residency, my last child was born prematurely, and for six weeks I experienced what it felt like to be the mother of a premature baby. This reaffirmed my desire to enter Neonatology and my informal education was complete – my physician and parent experiences became pivotal in my decision to pursue a career in Neonatology

What do you do at work on a daily basis?

My daily activities depend on whether I am on clinical service or not. When I’m on clinical service, I round with the healthcare team and provide updates to parents because I believe they are also valuable members of my team. I attend scheduled daily meetings and provide teaching to learners rotating through the NICU.

When not on clinical service, I spend my time on education-related activities involving curriculum design and revision and teaching pre-clinical students about history taking and physical examination of patients. I am also an advisor to these students and a mentor to Neonatology fellows on quality improvement projects. At other times, I work in the admissions office to recruit, interview and matriculate well-qualified applicants into our medical school.

What made you want to get into education?

I chose to concentrate on educational scholarship because of feedback that I received from pediatric residents very early in my academic career. Though I had no formal training in medical education, my teaching philosophy was birthed from my own experience as a pediatric resident. I wanted to make teaching interactive, fun and stress-free for learners; therefore, I attended a professional development course at Harvard Macy Institute (HMI) where I focused on curriculum design using principles of cognitive load theory.

I have experienced growth in educational scholarship since my time at HMI and currently co-direct the Faculty Mentor Program of the MedEdPORTAL, part of the Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, where I serve as a national mentor to medical educators.

What makes opportunities at Wake Forest University School of Medicine unique?

The collaborative community created by faculty and staff at the School of Medicine provides a supportive and welcoming environment that incorporates student voices in the transformation of medical education. Also, there is a genuine drive to provide an inclusive learning space that supports the growth of minority learners through the intentional recruitment of minority faculty and learners.

What skills should someone pursuing a career in health care have?

Problem solving skills and the ability to think outside the box are required skills for anyone pursuing a career in health care. Also, being collaborative and not competitive is important because outcomes are better when patients receive care from inter-professional health care teams. There is also a need for cultural humility because health care consumers are diverse in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status.

What advice do you have for future students and researchers?

Future students should recognize that intelligence alone will not get anyone through medical school. A healthy dose of internal motivation, curiosity and enthusiasm for learning about medicine is required for success. Though medical knowledge is important, demonstrating to the patients that the student is not just focused on the clinical diagnosis but cares about them as people is equally important. Just like Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care about what you know until they know how much you care.”

How can students and researchers find mentors?

There are multiple institutional opportunities for students to find mentors. For instance, in the MD program, preclinical students are assigned mentors in some longitudinal courses like Clinical Skills, Introduction to Clinical Reasoning and Integrative Thinking, and Medicine and Patients in Society. These mentors can serve as connectors to other faculty members whose research may be of interest to students. Students should also feel empowered to reach out to research faculty to express their research interests.

In the clinical years, students have assigned career advisors who provide specialty-specific advising and guidance on residency choice. Young researchers can find mentors through networking in the institution and at national conferences.

What are some of your hobbies or interests outside of work?

I assist my husband in pastoring two churches and enjoy sharing the gospel with people. I also enjoy serving the underprivileged in my community through projects like annual food drives and gift giving to children, especially during the Christmas period. I love hiking and vacation time with my family.