As part of a science project while enrolled in Grade Four in Tortola, Ayodele Odutayo spent a week with a health care practitioner learning about the organs that make up the digestive system and how they help the body break down and absorb food.
“That was when I was really turned on to science,” said Odutayo. “It was fascinating to learn how the body works and the various complex series of organs and glands that help to process food.”
The fourth-year University of Toronto medical student is among a select group of 11 Canadian 2013 Rhodes Scholars. A total of 71 students have been selected to take part in the international postgraduate program at the University of Oxford in England.
Odutayo was among 13 Ontarians chosen for the final interview.
“It lasted for about 45 minutes with an eight-member panel,” he said. “They asked questions ranging from ethics and policies in health care to the management of diseases. It was the most rigorous interview I have had.”
Odutayo, whose interest is in nephrology research, will pursue a Master’s degree in public health and health policy. After completing his Rhodes Scholarship, he plans to return to Canada to enroll in a general internal medicine residency program with a sub-specialization in nephrology.
“I found nephrology to be appealing because it provides exposure to all aspects of medicine from managing the precursors of kidney disease to treating patients with chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease,” said Odutayo.
Odutayo’s list of achievements at the U of T has been impressive.
In his second year, he served as medical director of the university’s International Health Program which is one of the institution’s largest interdisciplinary student clubs. He was also a principal contributor on the U of T’s five-year strategic planning committee, providing a student perspective on how the Faculty of Medicine can be improved, and the undergraduate medical students’ representative to the Academic & Professionalism Appeals Committee.
An intern at the World Health Organization in Switzerland in 2010, Odutayo is a recipient of the James Paul Memorial Award for his commitment to promoting social justice and compassion.
Recently retired U of T administrator, Diana Alli, was one of Odutayo’s primary references for the Rhodes award. She said he’s destined for greatness as a trailblazing physician and humanitarian.
“Although there are many students who have made exemplary contributions at our medical school, Ayo stands out as one of our finest students based on his impressive achievements at many levels,” said Alli, a former Faculty of Medicine senior officer with responsibility for service learning, community partnerships and student life. “He is a young trailblazer who made a difference locally, nationally and globally.
“As a born leader, he has contributed beyond the call to the Faculty of Medicine’s crown jewel – the summer mentorship program – where he not only designed the problem-based curriculum for disadvantaged and underrepresented high school students from the Aboriginal and African-Canadian communities but trained students with no previous experience to lead difficulties they faced…His scholarly pursuits and excellence in leadership have made a tremendous difference to our medical school provincially, nationally and internationally.”
Two years ago, Odutayo undertook a qualitative study to assess the health information needs of health care providers in low-resource settings through the Health Information for All 2015 campaign and the Silverman Centre for International Health. In the summer of 2011, he completed an HIV/AIDS research project at the University of Western Cape in South Africa.
Odutayo left his birth country Nigeria at age seven when his mother, Margaret, who is an environmental scientist, was offered a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) positing with the Tortola Department of Conservation and Fisheries.
The family spent five years in the British Virgin Islands before migrating to Canada.
“I wanted to be a physician and my mom thought this country would offer the best opportunities to pursue my career goal,” said Odutayo. “With just one contact here, she made the move.”
In the process of striving to provide better opportunities for her son and daughter, Aramide, who is a third-year political science student at the University of Western Ontario, the single mother had to switch professional careers. She’s a nurse at Hospice Caledon.
“My mother is quite courageous and very selfless,” said Odutayo. “She has given up a lot for us and she’s definitely my role model.”
Odutayo graduated from Turner Fenton Secondary School in Brampton, where he was enrolled in the international baccalaureate program. He was also the student council’s president.
“He’s very generous, responsible and focused,” said Irene Latigo-Odida, a guidance counsellor at Turner Fenton Secondary School. “He’s an Obama boy.”
Outside the classroom, Odutayo has been a member of the Mississauga Academy of Steelband Music for the past 12 years and a former Salvation Army brass band player.
Two Caribbean students are among the 2013 Rhodes scholarship winners.
Jamaican Vincent Taylor is currently researching the scope of wireless sensor network security while Trinidadian Kiron Neale – who spent a semester at the University of Alberta as part of an exchange program – is employed with the Trinidad & Tobago Ministry of the Environment & Water Resources.
BY RON FANFAIR