By Cindi Meche

Living Legend: A UNM Grad’s Dedication to Equity in Health Care Professions

There are complexities in working to promote equity in health care, and those complexities are part of daily life for Toyese Oyeyemi, Jr., DrPH(c), a 2016 Master of Public Health (MPH) graduate from The University of New Mexico. As a student, Oyeyemi, started a program at UNM dedicated to exposing African American and underserved students to careers in health care. Now he leads a team that sets health equity standards on a national level and evaluates college and university curricula and training for health care professionals across the country.

Working in Washington D.C., Oyeyemi is the executive director of the Social Mission Alliance (SMA), a national group focused on health equity and training health professionals to create a more equitable health care workforce. The work is challenging and Oyeyemi forges a delicate balance between determination and diplomacy working in Washington D.C. and across the United States.
Toyese Oyeyemi
We found that many Black and Native American students, they only knew about doctors and nurses. They didn’t know that they could have a great career in physical therapy or public health.
Toyese Oyeyemi, DrPH(c), UNM College of Population Health Living Legend

For his commitment to the challenge, Oyeyemi was awarded the Living Legend Award from the UNM Black Alumni Chapter. He explained that his time at UNM was pivotal to his career and set him on the path to his calling, advocating for health equity and social justice in practicing health care.

While at UNM, working on his MPH degree, Oyeyemi created a community-based program, the Professional Achievement for Transdisciplinary Health (PATH) Emerging Scholars program. Developed in response to community needs, PATH aimed at empowering underrepresented high school seniors and college freshmen to pursue careers in health professions. Oyeyemi demonstrated the power of listening to community voices, addressed the systemic barriers and translated their needs into a tangible solution. He began providing early exposure to different types of work available within the field of health care, sparking interest and opening doors. Through this program, he provided students with mentorship and tailored support to navigate the complex landscape of health care professions. The PATH program continues to reach students.

Oyeyemi’s journey demonstrates the power of community-based work in shaping the future of diversity in health care professions.

“In working with communities of color, what we were finding was that there was a sequence of opportunities they had not been exposed to for health professions due to financial cost and late exposure,” Oyeyemi said. “Particularly black and Native American students, they only knew about doctors and nurses. They didn’t know that they could have a great career in physical therapy or public health. They could be a PA or an NP.”

Oyeyemi acknowledged the vital role of community partnerships in his success. He recognized the pivotal role of mentors at UNM like Art Kaufman, MD, Francisco Soto-Mas, MD, PhD, MPH and Nina Wallerstein, DrPH in shaping his journey. Their guidance supported Oyeyemi’s passion for social justice and equity, driving him forward in his mission to create meaningful change. He emphasized the importance of seeking out mentors early in a person’s college experience, especially for students of color to receive any support needed to succeed.

Oyeyemi now leads initiatives nationwide that transforms health profession education towards a more equitable and inclusive model with the “Health Workforce Diversity Initiative,” which promotes greater racial and ethnic parity in the health care workforce through measurement and accountability. The program is dedicated to “addressing under-representation among health workers by analyzing data on the diversity of the health workforce and the educational pipeline across thirty health occupations, from front-line workers to physicians.” Oyeyemi’s work at the SMA is to collaborate with colleges and schools focused on health care professions to change the ecosystem of a school, helping to shape student admissions and cultural diversity, which affects how those students learn to practice health care at a formative point in their lives.

“For example, our social mission metrics initiative is a national survey that we administer to medical, dental, and nursing schools where we catalog their practices. The hope is that schools across the country can use that information to evaluate where they are now and ask, ‘How do we get better?’” Oyeyemi, said.

In a world increasingly polarized by social and political divides, Oyeyemi’s story serves as a reminder that true progress is born out of compassion, collaboration, and unwavering determination. Despite the challenges he faces working to promote diversity, equity and inclusivity initiatives, Oyeyemi remains steadfast in his commitment to dismantling systemic barriers and being an advocate for social change. As he continues his journey, Oyeyemi is an example of the transformative power of community-based work in shaping a healthier, more equitable future for all.
Categories: College of Population Health