Student Profile: Brianna Olamiju Dreams Big, Helps Peers Do the Same

Brianna Olamiju dreamed of becoming a doctor for so long, she can’t remember when the idea first struck her. The first in her family to pursue medicine, and also the first to attend an Ivy League school, Olamiju has set her sights on serving the underserved and educating people about health through mentorship and outreach.

“Both of my parents were immigrants to this country; my mom is from Guyana and my dad is from Nigeria,” she said. “I’m really grateful for the support they’ve given me since I was younger, but they didn’t really have the educational opportunities that I have, being born in the United States.”

A 20-year-old senior in Columbia College majoring in Ethnicity and Race Studies with a focus in Public Health, and a second-generation immigrant, Olamiju believes the intersection between understanding culture and mastering the sciences holds the key to excelling in the medical field. While this approach may seem unique, Olamiju said there has been a recent call for doctors who are well-rounded, and able to better connect with people.

“It’s not just about knowing the sciences,” she said. “I really believe that it’s about being holistic, empathetic, and being able to understand the patient population you’re working with.”

Olamiju chose her academic track largely because of the wide range of subject material the classes had to offer. Taking courses like Biochemistry and Physiology alongside courses like Immigrants of New York and Health and Inequality has broadened her experience, and has solidified her passion for medicine and health policy.

“The track I’ve chosen is perfect for me, because I enjoy the sciences very much, but these other classes have helped shape the way I think about people,” she said. “I think that when I do become a physician, it will only help me to have that background.”

While her foremost goal is to become a practicing physician, Olamiju is also interested in teaching others, especially young people, about health. During her time with Peer Health Exchange, Olamiju and her college peers taught health curriculum to high school students in public schools throughout New York City. And as President of the Charles Drew Pre-Medical Society for the past two years, she has worked toward pre-med retention at Columbia.

“Our mission at Charles Drew is to guide and support pre-med students within the rigorous academic path,” she said. “I first heard about the group when I was a first-year student here, and I got great energy from the club. Everyone seemed really enthusiastic and extremely willing to help, and I appreciate that because I feel like in pre-med there’s this stereotype that we’re all very competitive with each other.”

Olamiju wants to break that stereotype by being as supportive as possible toward her pre-med peers. She is proud to be a mentor for a handful of students, both formally and informally, and is happy to talk to her mentees about everything from her experience on the pre-med track to how their days are going.

“Mentorship has been key for me in my life; both having mentors and serving as a mentor to other people, particularly the latter,” Olamiju said. “Physicians work together all the time — you have to collaborate, you have to speak with each other — so why not start that now?”

Charles Drew, the Pre-Medical Society’s namesake, was an African-American physician who graduated from Columbia’s School of Physicians and Surgeons.  Historically the Charles Drew Pre-Medical Society has primarily supported students of color, but Olamiju said the group is open to all students. The Society brings in guests ranging from Deans of medical schools to medical students who want to speak on their experiences, but above all, it is a support system the members try to build for each other.

“The classes are hard, and they’re hard for a reason, but there are so many students who can be great physicians who get turned around because the classes are so daunting,” Olamiju said. “If students are able to get the information they need about applying to medical school, about how to become a doctor, it helps people stay on the right track and keep their eye on the prize.”

Along with her service to the Charles Drew Pre-Medical Society, Olamiju is also a student interviewer for the Multicultural Recruitment Committee on campus, and last summer, she took part in Weill Cornell Medical College’s Travelers Summer Research Fellowship, a program designed specifically for pre-med students who are interested in serving the underserved. Last May, Olamiju won the King's Crown Leadership Excellence Award for Health and Wellness, and this year was selected as a Columbia College Senior Marshal for her demonstrated achievement in academics and extracurricular activities.

As her time at Columbia comes to a close, she reflects on what it meant for her to attend her dream school.

“I’ve wanted to come here for as long as I could remember,” she said. “I felt it would be a great place for me to nurture my diverse academic interests.”

Olamiju grew up in Highland Mills, New York — about an hour upstate — and in high school, she participated in Columbia’s Summer Program for High School Students. Ever since she saw the campus, she knew she wanted to become a part of the Columbia community. Now, as a graduating senior, she said she is grateful for the opportunities Columbia has afforded her for growth — both educational and personal.

“I’ve grown so much in just my senior year,” she said. “I feel even more confident in what I want to do, confident that being a physician is the path for me.”

By Jamie Nash

Friday, May 15, 2015


Available Date(s): 
Friday, May 15, 2015 to Monday, June 15, 2015