With Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March, it is not far-fetched to shed light on an individual who has made her way into Canadian history — and belongs to both groups. Dr. Oluwatomilayo “Tito” Daodu is known as the first Black woman to become a pediatric surgeon in Canada.
Born in Nigeria, Daodu grew up in Canada, facing many personal struggles. Having been the child of first-generation immigrants, she spent most of her life navigating a new environment and interacting with a wider variety of people. Despite going through unfortunate circumstances in her childhood, such as migration problems, she managed to be appreciative of the ordeals her and her family went through.
Daodu’s parents were a solid foundation in her and her sister’s life. Prior to their move from Nigeria to Canada, her father was an engineer and her mother worked as a health-care aide. However, after arriving in Canada, her father became a taxi driver while her mother took on various small jobs while trying to put herself through school to become a teacher. Despite the financial status of both — and the lack of resources they could acquire — they strived to give their kids the most comfortable life they were able to afford, which Daodu expresses gratuity for.
Living in Canada, Daodu has experienced racial prejudice, as well as effects of being a minority in a predominantly white country. This played a huge part on what motivated Daodu to choose her profession. During her childhood, she witnessed a lot of unfair and biased situations regarding the medical treatment and outcomes of the kids in her neighbourhood, compared to that of others.
“And even within a country that had supposedly universal health care, I knew that … that access wasn’t the same for everybody,” she said. “That some people were afraid to go to the doctor. That some people didn’t feel comfortable or were distrustful of the system.”
From there, she thought of professional ways in which she could be at the front lines, making an impact on people’s health and promoting equality within the health system. She partook in non-profits aimed at children’s care and with that, she decided not only does she want to go into medicine, but she is focused on making a difference in the pediatrics sector. This also allowed her to develop an interest towards being a pediatric surgeon.
Albeit her fondness in taking that occupational path, Daodu did not have female role models or mentors that were able to share a similar point of view of being a Black pediatric surgeon in Canada, thus making the road to achieving her success much harder as she had no guidance.
“Like, in some ways I feel like, you know, I became a pediatric surgeon in 2020. That’s insane that I’m the first black woman [in Canada] to do that. But that’s actually ridiculous,” said Daodu. “And I realized there’s none in Canada, and that if I was to train here and work here that I would be the first one.
“I feel like if you’re the person that is breaking down barriers, you’re also the person that’s being the most watched,” she continued. “So yes, all of your successes will be celebrated, but all of your failures will be watched and scrutinized more than if you were not a, quote, trailblazer. And I was very conscious of that, and I think it was a burden, to be honest.”
Along with those pressures, the emotional impact of what she does on a daily basis can be a lot for the average human being — as the lives of countless of children are being placed into your hands, and it is definite that there’s a chance of negative outcome. Something like that can take a toll on one’s mental health. Daodu strives to connect with the family and child she is taking care of, and in times where things don’t go as planned, even when devastated, she makes sure to learn from it and try to improve on what she could do for the next patient.
Not only is Daodu a surgeon, but she is also a public health researcher who works in the space of equity, diversion, inclusion and accessibility. Working in these spaces gives her a platform to amplify the voices of certain groups who have not been acknowledged in the same way as others.
“Be uniquely yourself because that’s really the only thing that you could ever be. And you know, the system does have to work and change around us and become better because of us, and the uniqueness that each individual person brings should be an asset to the system,” she said.
“And so, rather than thinking about your Blackness or your womanhood or anything as a deficit, think about it as an ultimate strength. You know, it’s like that’s your superpower.”
Daodu’s resilience and strength in her field is commendable, and her love for what she does and who she does it for speaks for itself.