Toronto is super cold in December. So, when Chika Stacy Oriuwa entered the University of Toronto as the only black student in a cohort of 259, she wondered if she’ll ever make it. Looking back, she has done well for herself. Today, she’s achieved it all.
Chika is among the 50 most influential Canadians.
When Chika’s parents, Stephen and Catherine Oriuwa, emigrated from Nigeria to Canada in the 1980s, they hoped that they would give their children a better life. Chika went to St Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario.
From there, Chika began a Master of Science at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine.
In 2016, Chika started what mattered to her; making sure that there is diversity in medicine. So, the following year, she became the face of a newly formed Black student application program. In 2020, she graduated as the only valedictorian in the school’s 179-year history.
Today, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants stands tall. At the prestigious University of Toronto, she is now the most sort after psychiatry resident.
“Psychiatry has some of the most marginalized patient demographics in medicine,” she says. “When I did my clinical rotations, I knew I needed to do something where mental health was the centre.” She has been impactful.
Barbie Role Models program
Her impact got the attention of Barbie Role Models program. And she was selected as one of its Barbie Role Models program. Mattel launched the acclaimed program, which selects and recognises inspiring women like Chika.
They give their own look-alike doll. Mattel amplifies the fact that women – even those from immigrant families like Chika – can become anything they want.
One receiving the doll, she was overcome with emotions. “Being a Barbie role model for me really encapsulates the ability to continue to ignite the imagination of young children everywhere, and really being able to carry on that legacy that Barbie has of inspiring young children.”
She would add that the recognition was “standing as a testament to the fact that Black women belong in medicine—this is what a doctor looks like as well,” and hopes that the doll can act as a source of inspiration for young kids everywhere.
Chika wears many hats. She is a public speaker and a celebrated spoken-word poet. You can watch her poem, Woman, Black.
She is unapologetic about her art. “There is a dark side to advocacy, to putting your name and face and work out into the public eye,” says Oriuwa. “I deal with that on a fairly consistent basis.”
At Brampton high school in Ontation Canada, a woman told her ‘I want to be a doctor because you did it, and you’re just like us”. “To be able to inspire them is so incredible for me.”
In December 2021, Chika welcomed her first child, a son. “With my son, I can tell him that I drew strength from my pregnancy to do these things. It’s a special experience that I’ve already shared with him in that way.” She says.
Chika has gotten to where she is because of pure passion. Even as early as 2015, when asked about why equity, diversity, and inclusion matters so much to her, her articulation is jawdropping: listen to her:
“One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is to seek and lean on your mentors throughout the advocacy journey.
I have been fortunate enough to have incredible mentors from different stages in my life. From the BHSc program, I have Stash Nastos, who has been an invaluable resource and friend to me since my second year in the program, nearly 10 years ago.”
Chika does not shy away from thanking those that have helped her become the celebrated doctor she is today.
“These doctors took me under their wings my first day of medical school and guided me throughout my advocacy journey. They shouldered me through every difficult decision and provided wise counsel when I was making career and advocacy decisions.”
She’s a proud black woman.
“One other lesson is the power of vulnerability. Throughout my advocacy journey, I have shared my narrative of navigating predominantly white medical spaces as a black woman. I have bore my soul in front of the world and opened myself up to criticism from strangers. This at times has been challenging, and even risky to my career, however I knew that there was power in my truth and that I could lend my voice to the betterment of medicine.”
All black women around the world can emulate her.