Resident Spotlight: Dr. Rochelle Thompson Kolawole

Dr. Rochelle Thompson Kolawole, PGY-3 categorical resident in internal medicine, was born in Liberia but grew up in six different countries around Africa. She is a mom to a little boy and wife to Dr. John (Olu) Kolawole, a second-year cardiology fellow at UMMC. After graduation, Dr. Thompson Kolawole will begin a combined fellowship in Infectious Diseases/Critical Care. Here, she shares about her love of her family, all things travel, and UMMC.

Why did you choose UMMC for residency?

My husband was a resident here. I knew he was getting excellent training in a supportive environment and so it was really a no-brainer for me. I wanted that too! No regrets…I made the right choice.

Tell us about a memorable experience from training.

One of the most sobering and memorable experiences I had was during one of my medical intensive care unit months. I was called to ‘pronounce’ a young woman whose family had just withdrawn care after an eventful stretch in the MICU and twenty-something years battling a chronic rheumatologic disease with its complications. As I walked through the sliding doors of her quiet dimly lit room, her mother in an authoritative tone almost of approval, turned to the patient’s sobbing brother and aunt at her bedside and said: “This is her doctor who has been taking care of her.” I had been a part of her care team for only one or two weeks and while I spoke with the patient’s mother almost everyday with daily updates, somehow I was taken aback by being introduced as “her doctor.” Either way, I would have gone into the room and followed the usual protocol, but those words were as though I had been invited into the inner sanctum or upper room of a sacred place. That moment serves as a reminder to me that every time I am entrusted with the care of a patient, it is an invitation to be a part of something sacred and as such, I must afford my patients and their loved ones the dignity that is deservant of it.

What is one piece of advice you would give to interns?

Stay humble even as your knowledge and confidence grow. Humility has a way of making skill, experience and hard work look really good.

What could you give a presentation on with absolutely no preparation?

Lumbar punctures. It’s probably one of my favorite procedures.

How has COVID-19 changed the way you practice medicine?

Oh you mean besides my growing collection of African print fabric facemasks and hand salves?!? *chuckle* On another note, this pandemic has really emphasized the need for me and I think other physicians to be more engaged in public policy, especially as it pertains to the social determinants of health. We’ve seen firsthand how large disparities, not just in healthcare but in our society overall, negatively impact some populations more than others during this pandemic. Seeing this has encouraged me to want to learn more about how to effect change in order to better my patient’s health. A Masters program maybe? To be determined…..

What are some small things that make your day better?

My toddler’s voice shouting out “Hi-Yaaa” in the next room when I’m cooking dinner. He’s a huge old school Kung Fu movies fan. Also when both my husband and I get to be at home with our son; I cherish those moments.

Where could we find you when you are not at the hospital?

Driving or flying to another state or country…before COVID that is. We love traveling and can’t wait for when it’s safe enough to get back to that. Or strolling through a garden shop on the lookout for my next plant. I love planting and nurturing flowers.

What profession would you have chosen if you weren’t a physician?

I would probably be in the music industry as a producer and songwriter. Music and medicine have been my loves for as long as I can remember. At 16 years old I went back and forth between the two until I finally tossed out my Berklee College of Music application. Somehow I figured I could always come back to it but medicine I knew I would have to pursue more vigorously.

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