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Ayodipupo Oguntade
Credit: Courage Photography, University College Hospital, Ibadan

DPhil student Ayodipupo Oguntade has been selected by the West African College of Physicians as their best 2020 Fellowship Candidate in Internal Medicine for the cardiology sub-speciality. Unusually, Ayo passed the rigorous examination on the first attempt, joining the highest rank of consultant clinicians for West Africa at the age of just 33.

From the beginning of his medical career, Ayo was drawn to study cardiovascular diseases due to their devastating global impact. ‘Cardiovascular diseases are the greatest cause of adult morbidity and mortality worldwide. Even in my home country of Nigeria, illnesses such as heart failure and hypertension are definitely rising.’  

Ayo completed his early medical training in Nigeria, with a MBChB in Medicine and Surgery from the Obafemi Awolowo University, followed by a master's in Clinical Epidemiology from the University of Ibadan. He then moved to the UK to do a master's in Cardiovascular Science at University College London (UCL). It was here that he first got to grips with ‘big data’ and discovered the true power of investigating diseases at the population level. ‘I realised that we can learn so much more from large, population studies compared with individuals in hospitals. After all, whatever we see in hospitals starts from communities and factors affecting the general population.’ Despite having to rapidly learn computational methods - ‘I was used to doing statistics by hand back home!’, Ayo excelled and was named the ‘Most Outstanding Student of the Year’ graduating the top of his class at the Institute of Cardiovascular Science, UCL.

Ayodipupo said he was motivated to then apply to do a DPhil at Oxford Population Health, because of its excellent research record and the world-renowned studies it is involved with. ‘As a medical trainee, I used to read publications from studies such as the Million Women Study and the Mexico City Prospective Study, and I was fascinated.’ Under the supervision of Professor Sarah Lewington, Ayo is researching how body composition, particularly the distribution of body fat, affects heart failure risk in UK Biobank participants.

Just before leaving to take up his DPhil in November 2020, Ayo underwent the exam for the rank of Fellowship for the West African College of Physicians, which would allow him to work as a consultant. The gruelling process involves an exam of 200 multiple choice questions; two hour-long vivas (one in general medicine, one in cardiology sub-speciality); and a research project. ‘It was extremely challenging as I had to revisit areas of general medicine that I had not studied for years. In the same week, I was preparing to leave for the UK, so I felt under a lot of pressure.’ Nevertheless, Ayo passed the exam first time, while candidates typically require more than one sitting.

The examiners were particularly impressed by Ayodipupo’s research project, which involved setting up a cohort study to investigate risk factors for heart failure in African patients with hypertension. This identified clear differences to Western populations in which factors predicted mortality in this group.

‘Winning the best 2020 Fellowship Candidate award is a very humbling experience, and a real impetus for me to continue my journey in cardiovascular research’ Ayo said. His current ambition is to set up population-level cohort studies in sub-Saharan Africa for cardiovascular health. ‘Africans are widely under-represented in clinical trials and population cohorts, despite the fact that they tend to experience worse outcomes from cardiovascular diseases, and many risk factors are more common in this group.’

Ayodipupo’s supervisors, Professor Sarah Lewington and Associate Professor Ben Lacey, said: ‘This is a fantastic achievement by Ayo and we are very proud that he chose to study with us on an NDPH scholarship. It is a real pleasure supervising such a bright, enthusiastic and talented student, and we are looking forward to collaborating with him for many years to come and supporting him to achieve his ambition to establish large-scale studies of cardiovascular health in Sub-Saharan Africa.’