The latest addition to the Adult Mental Health Division faculty has carved a unique niche for herself as a reproductive psychiatrist. Assistant Professor and Associate Residency Program Director Tolu Odebunmi, MBBS, MPH, is part of M Health’s Women’s Wellbeing Program, and will work with patients throughout their reproductive years, both as a member of the Department and in consultation with the U’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women's Health. “When women are struggling with fertility issues, or they’re pregnant or just gave birth, it can be a vulnerable time,” said Odebunmi. “Sometimes it's a period when mental illness shows up for the first time.”

Untreated mental illness
And if these patients already have a mental illness and become pregnant, many feel they have to stop all their medications. “As a result, they struggle with untreated mental illness,” said Odebunmi. “I saw this during my intern year. A pregnant patient came on the unit and we had to call in a perinatal psychiatrist to consult. She helped us understand what kind of medications can be prescribed during pregnancy.”

Tolu Odebunmi

More mental health providers are needed in reproductive care, according to Odebunmi (pictured here). “There is additional stigma related to mental health issues during pregnancy and child-rearing,” she said. “We have to do better…to help reduce patients’ suffering. I also want to enable trainees to feel more comfortable treating pregnant or lactating individuals. I want them to feel confident about what to do, where to look, and what to check first.”

Patients and their stories
Psychiatry attracted Odebunmi because it focuses on patients and their stories. “We make our assessments and treatment plans based on where the patient is coming from, what their hopes and dreams are, and where they’re at right now,” she said.

Odebunmi holds a Master of Public Health from the U, completed an internship at the University of Ife Teaching Hospital in Nigeria, and earned her MBBS degree from the College of Medicine University of Ibadan, also in Nigeria. In addition, she will complete a National Curriculum in Reproductive Psychiatry fellowship in 2024, went through the U’s Resident Leadership Academy, and completed the Association for Academic Psychiatry Master Educator training program.

Well prepared
As an alumna of the U’s Psychiatry Residency program and having completed a year as Chief Resident, Odebunmi feels well prepared for her new role. “In my fourth year, I had the opportunity to complete perinatal electives and was able to work in the Women’s Wellbeing Clinic and in the Baby Center at Hennepin Healthcare,” she said. “My Chief year was a huge growth experience for me in terms of learning how things work in healthcare administration and medical education.”

As a faculty member, Odebunmi will work on developing residency training curriculum and didactics, and building a resident mentorship system. “I want to play a role in giving residents a sense of ownership for their training and helping them make the professional connections they need to achieve their goals,” she said.

When Odebunmi has some spare time, she loves watching TV and movies, reading, and listening to podcasts. She also likes to try new foods, travel, and dance.

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