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October 2016 Member of the Month

J. Nwando Olayiwola, MD, MPH, FAAFP

Dr. J. Nwando Olayiwola is a family physician, public health professional, Director of the Center for Excellence in Primary Care and Associate Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She received her BS from The Ohio State University, Summa Cum Laude and with Distinction and her MD from The Ohio State University/Cleveland Clinic Foundation (OSU). She completed her residency in family medicine at Columbia University, where she was a Chief Resident. She received her MPH in Health Policy from the Harvard School of Public Health as a Commonwealth Fund Fellow and Presidential Scholar. She recently published Minority Women Professionals (MWPs) are MVPs! Ten Essential Ingredients in the Secret Sauce of the MWPs and Medicine is Not a Job! The Secret Every Physician and Physician-Hopeful Should Know. Learn more at Inspire Health Solutions.


Why did you choose family medicine, and what’s your favorite aspect of it? 

Family medicine is a specialty that focuses on much more than the patient and his or her physical health. It focuses on patients’ mental, spiritual, emotional and socioeconomic health, too. It requires an interest in and a passion for the communities our patients come from and their daily realities.

Were you inspired by anyone to pursue family medicine?

I met a physician named Dr. Wilburn Weddington at Ohio State University when I was in college. He was one of the first African American physicians in Columbus, and he played a leading role in recruitment, admissions and advising, particularly of minority students at OSU. He was a quintessential family doctor—he performed appendectomies, delivered babies, visited patients at home and had a wonderful rapport with people. Seeing the breadth of his expertise was extremely inspiring.


What is the most interesting/memorable experience you have had when dealing with a patient?

During my first year of practice after fellowship, I was treating a patient with poorly controlled diabetes for whom I spent weeks titrating his insulin. One day, staff let me know that my patient was homeless, living out of his car, with no refrigerator for insulin. That was a big wake up call for me. I had never even thought to ask that kind of thing before when managing him medically. He had a whole host of circumstances that had led to this situation. I subsequently wrote a letter to help him get housing so he could better manage his health. This experience was meaningful for me because it reminded me to be thoughtful of a patient’s whole picture, and reinforced to me that my role in family medicine was to integrate all of the dimensions of health to truly help patients.

What one word or phrase characterizes your style of family medicine?

Being a patient’s best friend. For me to give good care to patients, I really need to take care of them as partners and friends, understand what their needs are, what bothers or concerns them and what drives them, before I can successfully treat them.


What is the best experience you have had during your career as a family physician?

It was during my training, in labor and delivery. She was the first patient I’d had as a continuity patient –I saw her through her pregnancy and delivered her infant, then visited her at home and took care of her and her newborn postpartum. Seeing the whole spectrum of care resonated with me. I became part of their family and developed a real intimacy with them, watching the baby grow up over the years before I left Columbia and New York. 

It is important for me to be a member of CAFP and AAFP because:

Having a home base in your specialty at the state level is very comforting. There are many issues that I find important in health care, so it is important to know someone is advocating for them even when I cannot, and also advocating for things I may not even realize can or do affect me as a family physician. 

What has been your best experience as a CAFP member? Why?

Dr. Jay Lee – it’s awesome to see him on social media, the level of his advocacy around students and residents, galvanizing and creating momentum. It’s exciting to follow his journey and watch the work he is doing to energize the base in family medicine. 

The most important resource I find CAFP offers me is:

Practice surveys and learning about different elements of practice, performance improvement, Patient Centered Medical Home resources. It is also good to know that members’ feedback can help CAFP and AAFP and that they will do something with it to improve the practice of family medicine.

How do you make a difference in family medicine and in your community?

I advocate for the values of primary care, domestically and internationally. Family physicians have an important voice in the conversation around the benefits and the potential of primary care across the world. Our efforts can help build a diverse and healthy workforce and improve the primary care delivery system, creating a culture of respect, with places to work that are free from bias and discrimination. 

Tell us about a project in which you are involved and why it is important to you:

I’ve been involved with Differences Matter, a diversity and inclusion initiative at UCSF School of Medicine, which aims to create a truly inclusive culture and community that will work to close gaps in inequities in health and health care. Differences Matter creates opportunities to demonstrate the values we hold important in medicine, rethink structures and practices we’ve built over time to make them better, and improve the experience of health care and training overall. ​

What are good qualities a family physician should have?

Honesty. The desire to learn at all times. Patience. Compassion for one’s patients and their stories and how social factors affect their overall health.

Do your remember your personal statement from medical school? If so, would you like to share an excerpt?

I said I hoped I would do work that would change the world –not just patients, but communities and nations. I think we are getting there. For example, the UCSF Center for Excellence is improving the delivery of primary care on a global level.  But, I still have a lot of work to do!

What one sentence of advice would you give to medical students interested in family medicine?

Family medicine is an extremely rewarding career that has its challenges, but the opportunities to diversify your career are endless.

How do you spend your free time? 

I like to spend time with my husband and our kids. We have a nine-year old son and a six-year old daughter. I love playing with them and inventing games with them. We were at the park last week and they made up a game in which we played basketball while we roller skated and had to sing a song at the same time. I just went with it. Seeing their creativity and curiosity is life-giving. I love being there and watching them grow. I am also an avid reader and read many novels by diverse and international women writers, often using fiction to uncover societal ills and challenges for women.

If you weren’t a doctor what would you be doing with your career?

I’d either be a United Nations diplomat or working for the Peace Corps, focusing on global system improvement, access to education, women’s rights, human rights and the empowerment of the disadvantaged.

What would your best friend say about you?

I am one of the most loyal friends you could ever have.

Tell us something fun/unusual about yourself:

At work I am professional and focused, but I’m naturally very goofy and I absolutely love to dance! 

Each month, CAFP highlights one outstanding California family physician member who lends their voice, time, talent and resources to strengthen the specialty of family medicine and his or her community. If you would like to share your story or know a family physician colleague who deserves to be recognized for his or her impact or leadership, contact CAFP at 415-345-8667 or