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Michelle Ogunwole Aims to Rectify Disparities in Black Maternal Health 


Serena Michelle Ogunwole, MD, PhD thinks the fact that Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white women is an injustice worthy of outrage. The internal medicine physician and faculty member at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity is devoting her career to channeling that anger into her research to find solutions.  

"A lot of people probably know by now that there are stark disparities in maternal health outcomes in the United States,” Ogunwole said, but the racial disparities faced by Black women also extend beyond the immediate dangers associated with pregnancy and childbirth.  

"This isn't just about mortality; It's about the long-term consequences that can profoundly alter a woman's life,” Ogunwole emphasized. 

Central to Ogunwole's work is her commitment to combining a clinical lens with a social justice perspective, positioning herself as a scholar-activist dedicated to dismantling systemic barriers.  

"I really believe deeply that I'm my sister's keeper," she said, emphasizing the importance of collective action and sisterhood in addressing maternal health disparities. 

A notable aspect of Ogunwole's research is her emphasis on community engagement and participatory approaches. She acknowledges the inherent power dynamics in academia and the need to ensure that research efforts are collaborative, respectful, and ultimately beneficial to the communities they aim to serve. 

"We must approach our work with humility, constantly checking ourselves to ensure that we're amplifying voices, not exploiting them,” she said. 

For Ogunwole, achieving health equity demands a multifaceted approach that addresses both individual health behaviors and systemic injustices. Her work spans from identifying high-risk populations through the lens of chronic disease prevention to advocating for policy changes that dismantle structural racism in healthcare and the food environment. Ogunwole highlighted the intersection of chronic disease prevention and social justice, particularly in the context of obesity as a driver of adverse pregnancy outcomes. Drawing attention to the structural racism embedded in the food environment, she underscored the critical need for interventions that address these root causes. 

"I really believe deeply that I'm my sister's keeper."
                                                                                                 - Serena Michelle Ogunwole, MD, PhD 

Currently, Ogunwole is leading innovative interventions aimed at improving postpartum health outcomes, including a project on home-delivered meals in collaboration with Moveable Feast and Instacart Health. By addressing structural inequities in food access, she aims to empower women to make healthier choices during a critical period of transition and to maintain these behaviors to reduce their risk of long-term health complications. 

For Ogunwole, the motivation and emotional connection to her research is almost as important as the practical aspects of her studies. She conveyed a deep sense of anger and outrage, emphasizing the importance of channeling such emotions into meaningful change.  

"When you find the things that make you mad, that's the place that more women should begin," she asserted, echoing the sentiments of Black feminist authors like  Brittany Cooper and Audre Lorde r. “I came to the work really angry,” she said, “and I didn't know how to channel that anger, and I think that that's what training has taught me as a researcher, as a scientist. I have learned how to really gain the skills to ask the questions that are important and that will lead to solutions.” 

Ogunwole also pointed to the need to approach research and study participants from a framework of love, hope, and joy. "I believe deeply in not leaving our sisters behind," she asserts. "Centering our joy and claiming abundance as our portion is how we can solve the most wicked problems, the ones that seem insurmountable. I believe that we can really see each other, save each other, and save ourselves.” 

"When you find the things that make you mad, that's the place that more women should begin."
                                                                                                 - Serena Michelle Ogunwole, MD, PhD 

Looking ahead, Ogunwole remains steadfast in her commitment to leveraging research as a catalyst for change. "There's a lot of work to be done,” Ogunwole said, “but I believe that, in time, we can rewrite the narrative and ensure that every woman not only experiences the sacredness of her birth but can also emerge from that experience whole and well." 

For more information about Dr. Ogunwole's research and advocacy, please visit her website.