An Interview With Impact Leader Zainab Mohammodu, MD

We’re shining the ProjectIMPACT Spotlight on Zainab Mohammodu, MD, an individual who is making a positive impact in healthcare by reducing racial bias in medicine. Dr. Douglas is interviewed by Kayla Clark, VisualDx Student Advisory Board member 2020-2022.

Zainab Mohammodu, MD
Tell US a little about yourself: Where you are from, where did you go to medical school, and where are you in your medical journey?

Dr. Mohammodu: I was born in Dallas, Texas but I am Nigerian. My parents came to America in the early 90s to find better opportunities and ultimately decided to settle here in Texas. I am the eldest of three children.

I went to Howard University for my undergraduate education, which is one of the best decisions I have made. I enjoyed attending a historically Black college and university (HBCU) because it allowed me to be immersed in an environment with like-minded individuals that looked like me and shared similar goals. It was an amazing breeding ground that allowed me to explore different facets of myself and authentically be me.

After graduating from Howard, I attended another HBCU, Meharry Medical College, for my master’s in health sciences and medical degree. Currently, I am a preliminary internal medicine intern at the University of Texas Dell Medical School in Austin. I will soon be transitioning into my advanced program as a dermatology resident at Washington University in St. Louis.

What are your responsibilities as a resident physician and what are your favorite aspects of residency?

Dr. Mohammodu: I think it is important to make a distinction between a resident physician and an intern physician. When a physician graduates from medical school and starts their first year in a residency program, they are considered an intern. During post-graduate years two (PGY-2) and later, physicians are considered residents.

I look at the intern title positively while some may consider it stigmatizing. Being fresh out of medical school, I only know what I learned from books and being considered an intern gives me the opportunity to learn and always ask for help from my seniors and attendings when I need it.

There is so much that we do not learn in medical school. For example, there are many off-label uses of medications or therapies to help patients. Learning how to apply what I learned to patients and exploring off-label uses of medications has been one of my favorite aspects of residency thus far. My other favorite part of residency is caring for a patient that was originally severely ill upon their admission to the hospital and watching their improvement and progression throughout their stay. Often these patients have so much gratitude towards the medical team when they are being discharged and these are the moments that I live for.

What are you currently working on that addresses healthcare equity? 

Dr. Mohammodu: One of the biggest projects that I launched in the past year addresses healthcare equity. One of my childhood best friends and I started our journeys in medicine very early. We both participated in summer research and pre-health programs to help us prepare for the MCAT. These programs ultimately did help us gain admission into medical school; however, we realized that there were not many programs designed to assist medical students with matching into competitive specialties, such as dermatology and plastic surgery—our desired specialties.

It was for this reason that we founded our organization, Black Women in Plastic Surgery and Dermatology (BWPSD). Our goals of the organization are to provide mentorship, research, scholarships, and networking opportunities. We realized that one of the biggest barriers to recruiting Black women in these specialties is lack of access—not only to mentors but also funding. Therefore, we raised about $15,000 and we gave most of this away as scholarships to incoming and current medical students.

I am very proud of the success that BWPSD has had thus far, but this success would be not possible without the help of our parent organization, the dermatology section of the National Medical Association (NMA). They offered their resources as faculty mentors, which has been an invaluable resource for us and they been there to support us in every way we needed throughout this founding process.

What or who inspired you to become a physician?

Dr. Mohammodu: My dad passed away when I was 17. He was one of the major forces in my life that influenced me to take my academics seriously starting at a very young age. He took his academics very seriously, as he was an engineer and immigrant from Nigeria. When he came to America, he worked very hard and was employed by Nokia. As a father, he instilled the importance of hard work in me and he always encouraged me to take full advantage of every opportunity that I had.

Once he realized that I had an affinity towards the sciences, he enrolled me in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) enrichment programs and made sure that I had exposure to science and math often and early. He wanted to ensure that even if I did not see people that looked like me in STEM fields, that I knew that I belonged in science if it was my desire to be there. This pushed me to explore the sciences more. When I told him I wanted to become a doctor, he helped me further explore this interest. He was transparent and told me that the road would be long and hard, but I was certain that medicine was for me. He asked if I wanted to explore engineering more as a career, but for me, I love people so much and I could not have imagined myself doing anything else.

What advice would you give to medical students or other residents interested in addressing healthcare disparities?

Dr. Mohammodu: The first thing I would advise medical students and residents to do is to identify their niche within healthcare disparities that they would like to focus on. For example, my niche is Black women interested in competitive specialties.

After identifying a niche, I highly recommend seeking out mentors and organizations that will help support them with their goal. This is essential, because this will help amplify their message and empower them to make the impact that they intend to make. The right connections can potentially bring financial support and can help grow their cause by assisting students and residents to reach people that they would be unable to otherwise reach independently.

Lastly, I would say if they have a big vision, then please do not be afraid to tell people how big your vision is. By doing this, they will attract the people that are attracted to the big vision and will siphon off the people that were not meant to be a part of the vision.

How do you pledge to make an impact to improve health equity?

Dr. Mohammodu: Overall, my pledge is to keep doing the work to decrease disparities in medicine. I must admit throughout my intern year, I have been hard on myself because I have not met all my goals due to my schedule in residency. However, I realized that even in my own small way that I am still doing the work.

In residency my work has mainly taken on the form of mentoring consistently. If I am unable to assist my mentees with their questions or concerns, then I redirect them to someone or a different resource that can. Although this is not how I envisioned my outreach would be in residency, I now realize that the work to improve health equity takes on different forms throughout our careers.

I also pledge to make an impact by not letting others deter me from doing the work that I feel that I am called to do within this sphere. After founding BWPSD, I did get feedback about excluding other groups from the organization. The goal of the organization is not to exclude others from getting resources that they need to be successful, but I recognize that Black women do need assistance in this area and I feel I am called to do this work. I would encourage others to continue to do the work within this sphere that they are called to do as well.

Collectively, we all can make an impact to reduce disparities in medicine in our own way.

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