Since the spread of the coronavirus began in early 2020, many in the health care professionals have expressed sentiments of burnout, fatigue and increased anxiety about their physical or mental health. Dr. Moyosore Onifade is not among that group.
An internal medicine physician with BJC Health and a primary care physician at the St. Louis Primary Care Center in north St. Louis County, Onifade has a different, more upbeat take on her profession during the pandemic.
“It’s made me more determined about my career. For many of us in the health care community, it’s made us think differently about taking care of our patients.”
Onifade compares herself, colleagues and peers with other first responders.
“A fireman knows that sometimes he’s going to run into a burning house. Policemen know they may be in the line of fire. Health care workers know that they may be taking care of people who’ve been in the line of fire. We take care of them and, like a policeman or fireman, rarely do we worry about our own safety.”
Onifade uses the word “community” often. Whether she’s talking about health care workers, patients or locations, she speaks in terms of people sharing spaces or having common characteristics. She said the “health care community,” for instance, are heroes.
“We stood up to COVID. We know the danger, but we recognize what we do … and that is to serve, try to heal and do no harm. Despite the challenges, people did what needed to be done.”
Onifade said she’s “extremely proud” of how health care workers unified to confront a pandemic that no one initially knew much about.
“The sharing of knowledge, the determination to learn and do whatever was necessary to protect the interest of our community, that has been a tremendous experience for me.”
Onifade is also one of the founders and chief innovation officer of MyPHTS (Practical Health Technology Solutions) Care Management. She explained it as a software-based system that gathers health details in addition to social and economic information like the lack of transportation or insurance or belief systems that may hamper medical treatment.
“That tool has been quite effective,” Onifade said. “With it, before they (patients) come into the room, I’ve already gathered those salient points, that knowledge and data. I know those things that are a priority to (the patient).
COVID-19 has spurred other transformations in health care, Onifade added, like how doctors now approach patients with the larger population in mind.
“You can’t just focus on the individual in front of you. Now, you have to almost do detective work. If someone has a fever or cough, I want to know ‘where do you live, who do you live with, do they have chronic conditions? What kind of precautions are being taken at your workplace to assure your safety? How is this affecting your mental health or the mental health of those around you?’
“You have to broaden the circle of questions and be ready to help people in the many different ways that COVID has impacted them.”
Onifade was born in Nigeria but moved at age 7 to Orangeburg, South Carolina.
“That’s where I grew up and where the foundation for my worldview was formed. It’s a place that is very similar to North County, with working class people and a predominately African American population,” Onifade explained.
Onifade said being raised around “teachers and academics” has influenced how she interacts with her patients.
“I tend to be a pretty direct person. Much of the way I practice medicine is trying to educate my patients about their conditions in a way that’s relatable and actionable. In that sense, whether it’s high blood pressure or COVID, my patients know I’m going to tell it like it is in ways that will allow them to take specific action.”
Onifade is acutely aware that many of her patients have concerns about the coronavirus vaccination. Again, in response, she relies on relatable facts.
“One of the fears expressed by people is ‘they came about this (vaccines) so quickly.’ So, the first thing I tell them is that the coronavirus is well known and well-studied throughout the medical community for years. The fortunate thing about having that past knowledge is it enabled us to respond quickly.”
It’s important, Onifade stressed, that people not be afraid of the vaccinations:
“The chance of it protecting you from COVID is above 95 percent. The vaccine stimulates your immune system to recognize a protein on the surface of the COVID (cell) so your body recognizes the invasion early and can quickly destroy it. You can’t get COVID from the vaccine.”
For Onifade, there’s more to the typical “doctor/patient” relationship.
“I’ve always treated my patients like a parent, sibling or friend,” she said. “So, it’s been really great seeing how people really do rally around one another during challenging times like this.”
Another perk, she added is the response from the “patient community.”
“I’ve been struck with how caring our patients have been. I find more and more in this time period, that many of my patients are asking ‘how are you holding up?’
“For me, that’s been a tremendous joy.”
Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow.