Spiritual tour guide

Introducing the next generation of doctors to Tufts

His mom and dad moved to the United States from Nigeria the year before he was born to give their two sons a shot at a better life. Twenty-some years later, Hakeem Oluwaseun Adeniyi Jr., A03, M09, is confidently leading campus tours at the medical school (most Tuesdays from October through mid-April) and presenting a bright, empathic introduction to the place for others who seek a foothold in medicine. In the space of a generation, he has become something like the polished insider his parents must have had in mind.


“Hakeem” carries a double meaning—either “wise man” or “Muslim doctor”—in Arabic, but Adeniyi says he didn’t know this until the year before he applied to medical school. He was a child development major as a Tufts undergrad, and for two years after graduation, worked in special education with kids at a Providence, R.I., high school as well as teaching algebra, science and history classes on demand. Adeniyi plainly loved life in the classroom, saying of adolescents, “They’re going to shape the world for years to come.”

Maybe some genetic wrinkle helped push him toward medicine. Adeniyi’s mother was an accountant. But his dad poured himself into his job as a nurse’s assistant at Rhode Island Hospital, reveling in the chance to help people every day. The patients adored his father, with some sending him roses out of gratitude for his caring touch.

Hope nonetheless
“My father taught me that you can have an impact regardless of your role,” says Adeniyi. Through medicine, he wants to have a comparable spiritual impact. Adeniyi grew up attending a Nigerian Pentecostal church in Providence. “That’s very important to who I am,” he says of his Christian faith, “and I hope I’m able to share my story with my patients in a non-religious way. My message would be that there is something more than yourself, so people can have hope—a realistic hope, but hope nonetheless.”

Adeniyi belongs to the Christian Medical/Dental Association at Tufts, a small group of students who meet weekly to share aspects of their faith and its challenges. Helping to adjust the reductive image of his faith commonly held by non-believers is part of Adeniyi’s enduring goal. “There’s a lot of complexity,” he suggests. “We’re a lot of different people—there’s a lot of love in our faith. But especially when it comes to politics, that sometimes gets forgotten.”

Adeniyi is one of about 10 tour guides who, either singly or in pairs, escort roughly 850 prospective applicants around the School of Medicine’s Boston campus each year, with between one and eight applicants in tow. As a rule, the tour will proceed first through the Sackler Center, with stops at the small group rooms, lecture halls, library and administrative offices, before swinging next door to Tufts-New England Medical Center to show off the clinical side of the school.

The two questions that come up most often concern the percentage of married students and what complaints the tour guide hears most often from fellow students.

In answer to the first query, Adeniyi says there are more married students than he had first imagined and that the summer between first and second years has a way of adding still more newlyweds. Adeniyi answers the second question with equal candor, telling the applicants that the most common complaints he has heard have to do with limited library hours and the steep cost of attending the school.

Pursuit of diversity
Ever the activist, Adeniyi is working to rectify a failing that strikes close to home: the relative lack of racial and ethnic diversity. “There aren’t a lot of students of color on campus,” he says. As a member of the Diversity Initiatives Committee, he has met with medical school Dean Michael Rosenblatt to address elements of the issue. He has also been a member of the university’s Graduate and Professional Student Admissions Recruitment Committee, intent on determining what Tufts can do to recruit students of color more effectively.

The good news far outweighs the bad. As Adeniyi tells the applicants, “Tufts really cares about the person. Once you are here, they really want to see you succeed.” On his first visit to the medical school, Adeniyi met relatively relaxed, happy students—and he was sold. He enrolled, and although he admits he feared being subsumed by “stress, anguish and heartache,” he has found time enough to study, to enjoy life and to pray.

Bruce Morgan is the editor of Tufts Medicine, the alumni magazine of the medical and Sackler schools. This story first appeared in the summer 2006 issue of the magazine. The author can be reached at bruce.morgan@tufts.edu.