Comfort & Compassion

by Heather Browne

Comfort Orebayo, KCU-Joplin second-year medical student, has had quite the journey to medical school – literally and metaphorically.Orebayo was born and raised in Nigeria, a country that struggles with access to health care as well as a severe shortage of health-care providers. “I had friends who had never been to the doctor, because either their family couldn’t afford it or they didn’t know anyone who was a doctor,” said Orebayo. “Fortunately, my family friend was a doctor, so we could just go over to her place to get health care. Her bedroom became a hospital for all of her neighbors; this was the quickest way for people who urgently needed health care.”

Emergency care access is a particular challenge for many people in the country. Orebayo says patients face long waits at hospitals and even longer delays if they don’t have an established relationship with a doctor. “Growing up, I learned very quickly that unless a person has a primary care physician with an emergency line, the chance of getting emergency care is very small,” said Orebayo. “For the lucky few who have access to physicians, the chances they will have access to acute care is limited.”

Tragic circumstances propelled Orebayo toward her pursuit of a medical education: She lost both her grandfather and cousin because of a lack of available emergency medical care.

These heartbreaking losses profoundly affected Orebayo, and she decided the best way to help make a difference for future patients in her home country was to become a physician herself. “… I want to be on the front lines, helping local physicians and health authorities in Nigeria to establish, upgrade, and update its emergency health care response,” she said.

She and her family moved to the United States so she could pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. However, during her sophomore year at her undergraduate university, she faced a potential obstacle along her path. During a biannual meeting with her faculty advisor, she was told she would never make it into medical school, and her advisor discouraged her from applying.

However, Orebayo didn’t lose hope. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, she took a gap year, working in an emergency department as a technician while reapplying to medical school. Much to her dismay, she was not accepted and instead took another detour in her continuing journey.
“When I didn’t get in the next year, I decided to pursue a master’s degree. I knew ultimately I wanted to become an osteopathic physician, so I chose to complete my master’s program at Midwestern University."

Orebayo says she was drawn to osteopathic medicine because of one of her role models, Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee. Ross-Lee was the first African-American woman to become a medical school dean. “I read a quote from her about how she wanted to be a change agent; she wasn’t waiting for change, she wanted to be the change. That inspired me to pursue osteopathic medicine and seek ways I can help.”

Thanks to her hard work and determination, Orebayo was accepted into the class of 2022 at KCU’s campus in Joplin, Missouri. Now in her second year of medical school, Orebayo also serves as a student leader, representing her fellow students on- and off-campus. She is the executive president of KCU-Joplin’s Student Government Association (SGA), and she also serves on the board of directors for two national organizations, the Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents and the American Osteopathic Foundation.

Comfort says a desire to make a contribution on campus and serve others spurred her to run for a class office position. “I realized ever since I moved from being in the majority of the population, and coming into the U.S. and becoming part of the minority, I saw that not a lot of African-Americans get a seat at the table, and that added to my motivation,” she said.

As SGA president, Orebayo has helped lead the way in sharing the students’ perspectives with KCU administrators, faculty, and staff, improving communication and transparency. “One of the reasons I love KCU so much is seeing how receptive administrators are to listening to us speak and doing more for us. I love being there to get that 30,000-foot view, to see how much students can drive change on campus,” she said.

“Comfort balances her personal perspective with those of her peers, and regularly seeks input from classmates across both campuses,” said Nicole Brown, EdD, assistant vice provost of student services. “She consistently represents her campus and cohort in a fair and equitable manner.”

One of the initiatives Orebayo says she is most proud of is the introduction of Compassion Rounds to KCU-Joplin. This program invites medical students to attend confidential meetings facilitated by campus counselors where they can discuss stressors related to their training and in their personal lives, as well as identify coping mechanisms.

“I wanted them to see that it wasn’t just them, it was the whole class feeling that way,” said Orebayo. “I wanted the students to feel that they’re not alone. I know how much of an impact learning that has made on me.”