Meet Dr. Bosula Oluwole

Dr. Oluwole is a recent JML Fellowship recipient.

Watch Dr. Oluwole’s video, Dedicated to Finding a Cure for Sickle Cell Disease, here.

The next generation of researchers are continuously inspiring and fueling NHF’s renewed focus on research. Dr. Olubusola (Bosula) Oluwole is one of the first-ever recipients of the new Jeanne Marie Lusher (JML) Diversity Fellowship.

The National Hemophilia Foundation’s (NHF) newest research fellowship program is named in honor of Dr. Jeanne Marie Lusher, a distinguished clinician and researcher whose career focused on inhibitor development in factor VIII patients.

As a JML recipient, Dr. Oluwole will receive financial support over three years that will aid her clinical research. JML identifies clinicians from under-represented communities and genders who are early in their careers and supports their career interest in inherited blood and/or bleeding disorders.

Dr. Oluwole – a third-year hem/onc Fellow at the University of Washington – was chosen for her potential to make a significant, positive impact on the future of patient care. Her passion and excitement about the advances being made in curative therapies for inherited blood disorders are evident in her research on sickle cell disease (SCD).

On receiving a JML fellowship, Dr. Oluwole said, “The Jean Marie Lusher Diversity Research Fellowship award will provide me with the support to achieve my goal of a prolific career in clinical and translational research in historically marginalized SCD patients.” Read more from her interview (below) or watch Dr. Oluwole’s full video presentation.

What inspired you to become a physician?

My initial interest was actually in sickle cell disease and trying to figure. How to work with patients with sickle cell disease. And eventually, it just was a natural progression toward medicine.

I initially considered research, and I always thought, well, I have to find a care. I think my personal statement for college was about how I wanted to find it here for sickle cell disease. And then I did about a year of bench research and realized it wasn’t for me, but it was very interesting clinical research.

What interested you in studying sickle cell disease?

I’m especially interested in neurocognitive outcomes in patients with sickle cell disease. We know that neurovascular complications are common, so strokes or what we call silent infarcts. And these lead to cognitive impairment. However, we still see cognitive impairment outside of strokes. My research really is trying to understand what the pathophysiology is for that. And trying to truly understand my patients develop cognitive impairment that went outside of strokes.

How did you hear about the JML Fellowship and the National Hemophilia Foundation?

I have to say thanks to my co-fellow, her name is Debbie Jang. Her and I think we had a conversation a week prior just talking about research and funding opportunities. Initially, I think she sent me an email that said, “Hey, I was looking on the [NHF] website. And I found this, but I don’t think I’m eligible for anything but this will be perfect for you. And so, she ended up sending me the information. I went on the website, and I thought “this is wonderful!”

Initially I thought the National Hemophilia Foundation is probably like bleeding disorders. And then I saw that it was expanded to blood disorders in general, which I just have to say thank you for that and including sickle cell as part of that because it’s really an underfunded and under researched disease.

So, she sent me the information and I was able to find out and find out a little bit more and then sent it to my division chair, and he met me to make sure that I would be able to apply for it.

How does being a JML recipient influence your research and career?

As I mentioned before, I’m a third-year hematology fellow and I think the first year I really was trying to figure out and find funding sources for my research. It was really delayed because I couldn’t start the project. This one does a major relief of that burden of trying to find funding and actually being able to start the project and continue the project.

It really is important is that it sets a foundation for me. It’s something that I can now get my research and hopefully build on this for future career development grants and really, it’s a foundation for what I’m hoping will be a prolific career in hematology.

What experience do you feel have been unique to you as a physician or medical student because of your skin color?

I think I probably could say I have both for better or worse. In my training, I’ve definitely experienced some micro micro-aggression that really deals with my skin color. So, I’ve had those instances and I’ve had in my med school, I had my core group of friends that I was able to talk to about such experiences.

But as I sort of progressed in my career, there were less of people that looked at me. I mean fellowship and also faculty. And that’s why I’m really also a proponent of really trying to increase recruitment and retention of more minorities in the field of medicine. Starting from medical school all the way to the faculty, I think it’s especially important too, especially for mentorship in those who may feel isolated or not having that person or that outlet to talk to them whenever experience such prejudices or such a racial or discrimination, or whatever it may be, things were better.

Me wanting to be a sickle cell provider, I think it’s incredibly important. And when patients see someone who looks like them, I’ve been told many times from patients who are just very excited to have a Black doctor, because one, they actually haven’t seen one and are just even very proud of me. I’ve heard many people tell me how proud they are of me, of being a doctor. Some people feel comfortable having a Black doctor. So, I think for better it’s being able to be that physician that has patients, especially my sickle cell patients it’s good. It affects predominantly Black people so having someone will look like them, I think it’s just as important as a lot of the prejudice of being a drug seeker or having drug seeking behavior, I think.

I think another thing is, and this one is sort of one of those double whammy where sometimes I think there is this prejudice or this belief that Black people are strong. So, people underestimate the amount of pain that someone might be in. I remember we had a health disparities course that we were taking, and we were split into two groups. And were given a case each, talking about someone who came in with pain. They gave you a little bit of a history with the patient. I know you’ve got to discuss it with the group and eventually come up with a plan of, would you give narcotics or not?

So, one group argued for no narcotics, and the other group argued for narcotics saying, you know, he had gotten some treatment. I think it’s time for that. They could try a short course of narcotics. Now at the end of the course, what we found out really was that it was the exact same case, but two different races: one was a Black person, one was a white person. How much of the implicit biases we have that can affect patient care? The person who was a Black patient was the one where people felt that they could still prescribe something else rather than narcotics. Even though I think at the time we had maxed out on all the sorts of non-narcotic pain medication that could have been used.

And then for the other patient, people felt very comfortable easily prescribing pain medication. I remember that course, we had a few cases like that way. It really shows sort of that implicit biases that we all have, and one has to do with personal skin color. A lot of sickle cell patients face those prejudices every single time.

What are the systemic changes you want to see in the U.S. medical system?

It’s really tackling these issues earlier. I think now we, you know, our institution is recognizing and incorporated a workshop about really micro aggression in the workplace, and implicit biases. And they do sort of I think a day or a couple of days of that.

And that’s great, but I think now you’re trying to address the behavior of someone who’s in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and trying to change behavior at that age is a lot harder than really showing off biases or, earlier on where paid people can recognize and, and try to correct them.

In our everyday practice, we are going to likely come across some sort of situation where that’s going to take where your biases, it could be just even my bias coming into play that I’m not aware of. So, you know, showing students that it does happen with the different cases that we see. Even if it’s, unfortunately my bias, I’m trying to make it a teaching moment for either the residents or the med students that I work with.

I think that’s something that I would definitely continue to incorporate in my teaching. I just really think it’s important that we have those kind of courses, like the one that I had for my health disparity course, if we can have something like that where we could just incorporate in part of the training.

It’s something that I’m, I’m certainly interested in because I think that course really opened my eyes to a lot of things that I wasn’t even aware of. I think just being aware can really make a difference.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

It’s interesting because I grew up in Nigeria. So, we don’t have that history month in Nigeria. It wasn’t until I moved here to the us that I learned about Black History Month. Initially in high school, I think for me, I was just like, “oh, well, we get a holiday around that time, and you learn about these historical figures.”

But it wasn’t until I started going up that I really came to appreciate it a little bit more. It’s been really just a really interesting finding out more about African American history. And then, I usually do from regular history books, or even when I grew up in just growing up in Nigeria, because we don’t learn as much about African-American history.

This type of history should be incorporated into just the regular history that’s been taught and not just having a separate month. I think it’s great that we have a month to highlight it, but I think we should find a way to incorporate it as part of just history in general.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m just incredibly happy to be a recipient of the Jean Marie Lesher award named after someone who also has contributed so much to medicine. I’m so incredibly honored and very thankful to be a recipient. I’m thankful that we get also more funding for sickle cell disease. That’s really, very underfunded and under researched. So, I just want to say thank you.