Redefining Patient Care

Redefining Patient Care

Redefining Patient Care


Maternal and Fetal Health Physician Victoria “Vicky” Adewale ’09 traces her approach to medicine back to her English classes at SSSAS with Dr. Roberta Klein and Mary Fawcett. 

“Reading ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe made a big impression on me,” she recalls. That book led to a strong interest in African literature and later, in college, to a second major in Africana Studies along with her pre-med biology major. Vicky credits that balance of humanities with science for making her a better doctor today. 

“Basic science is just one part of medicine,” she says. “My relationship with patients, interaction with colleagues, and overall patient-centered care starts from the humanities side of me. Understanding a patient’s living environment, family and ancestors, struggles, and even the history of medicine all are critical to providing great care. I can know all the right medicines and practices, but without understanding and appreciating each patient’s life story, I can’t be a good doctor.” 

Vicky’s own life story is much more than the medical degree she has earned. Along the way to her professional training, she has layered in other experiences and educational opportunities that have set the foundation for what is already proving to be a meaningful career for herself and her patients. 

The First Sparks

With both parents involved in healthcare—Vicky’s dad is a forensic psychiatrist and her mother worked as a nurse—it is no surprise that she was interested from a young age in becoming a doctor. “I grew up loving my pediatrician and thinking ‘I want to be just like her,’” she says. 

Vicky started at SSSAS in sixth grade and immediately felt comfortable. “It was a great place to learn and I had a lot of fun,” she says. History teachers Karen Ruberg and Steve Ebner’s classes are among many she remembers fondly, and Vicky credits the school for preparing her well for college and for life. Even making sandwiches at school for a D.C. food kitchen made a lasting impression, “helping me learn the importance of being well-rounded before I even got to college.”

Vicky played softball and soccer all four years in high school, was Homecoming Queen in her senior year, and won The Rebecca Courtenay Marshall Cochran Award for Science and The Saint Agnes Cup at Prize Day. 

Once she arrived at Brown University for college, Vicky more fully appreciated the value of her SSSAS experience. “I assumed that when I went to Brown I’d be surrounded by people who had also had great teachers, but I was blown away by how much more prepared I was than many of my classmates,” she says. “My writing skills were up to speed, I was used to articulating my ideas on paper, and my critical thinking skills were honed. It was an awesome feeling and gave me so much confidence to explore a wide variety of courses.” 

She selected biology as a pre-med concentration, but her interests in Africa and African-American literature quickly added up to a second major in Africana studies. “I thought at the time that I needed to focus on science because I was pre-med, but I probably should have majored in two humanities degrees instead.” 

A Pause in School…But Not Fully

As college graduation neared, Vicky’s mentors encouraged her to take some time rather than immediately starting medical school. As a research assistant for Brown’s Family Medicine Department at Memorial Hospital for two years, she studied the benefits of patient-centered practices to improve outcomes. “This let me work with people in the community and helped me realize that medicine is so much more than science and what we learn in the lab.”

At the same time, Brown offered an opportunity for Vicky to earn a master’s degree in biotechnology while working and to interweave her thesis work with her research, further cementing her emphasis on people-oriented approaches and learnings as she headed into medical school. 

As she settled into medical school at the University of Virginia, Vicky thought she would focus on family medicine. “I didn’t see myself in the operating room, or working the unpredictable hours with little sleep that obstetrics and gynecology (ob/gyn) required,” she remembers. Yet once her coursework was completed and she embarked on hospital rotations, she only needed one rotation in ob/gyn—which included a baby delivery, birth control counseling, lab work, and a cesarean section in one day—before discovering her destiny. This led to more rotations in the specialty, including oncology, infertility, and maternal fetal medicine, “and that was it! I love pregnancy and all that happens during it, and all the various aspects of medicine that are affected.”

This path was no surprise to Vicky’s mom, who says she knew from an early age that her daughter would be an ob/gyn. “She said I loved pregnant people and used to watch movies of women giving birth!”

From Med School to Residency, and an MBA Along the Way

Vicky moved on to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia for her residency in obstetrics and gynecology, from 2019 to 2023. The COVID-19 pandemic added a difficult level of stress, uncertainty, and fear, but because of her specialty she was not pulled into COVID-specific cases and was able to remain focused on ob/gyn. 

“The hours that residency demands—up to 100 per week at times—are strenuous,” Vicky says, “but delivering a baby at 3:00 a.m. puts a pep in your step! It’s really special. Whether delivering a baby or safe abortion care or relieving someone who is suffering from terrible periods, it’s rewarding at all hours.” 

She briefly considered sub-specializing in gynecology oncology, and even received the Outstanding Resident in Gynecologic Oncology Award in 2022 from the Society of Gynecologic Oncology. “I loved the major debulking surgeries—when we remove tumors found in ovarian cancer—but ultimately decided pregnancy is my passion.” 

Vicky and her husband, Luke Huelsenbeck, PhD met during their sophomore year at Brown University and married in 2019.

With all of the demands of residency, Vicky still found time and interest in adding one more thing to her schedule and her resume: she earned her master’s in business administration. Many of her classmates in medical school had enrolled in the joint MBA/MD program that UVA offered, but “at the time, I didn’t think that was for me,” she says. “I wanted to focus on care.” 

However, after a major hospital system closed during her first year as a resident, many of that hospital’s patients, residents, and staff transferred to her hospital, and Vicky felt the impact. “I also experienced insurance companies denying care and medicines that I would prescribe,” she says. “I quickly learned that my ideal world was not realistic and that money drove many decisions and factors in my delivering health care.” Vicky decided she needed to learn how to articulate benefits through cost-effective analyses, not just medicine. Her online MBA program offered critical insight. “Now I can address the finances and bottom line impacts while arguing my case for health equity, ethics, and the medical needs of my patients.”

Another Aspect of Service

During a particularly challenging surgery during her residency, Vicky worked alongside some attending physicians who served in the Army Reserves. They described the shortage in the Army of surgeons skilled in female anatomy and how that was affecting the growing population of females in service. “I wanted to help with that,” Vicky says, “and be able to share my expertise, especially in trauma, to give back to the women who serve and risk their lives for us.” She also welcomes the opportunity to also serve military families, to deliver babies, and provide good health care for all women involved in service. 

“Especially since COVID, and with what’s happening in Ukraine and throughout the world, there’s even more reason for me to join and a greater chance to mobilize,” she says. “I’m especially grateful to serve and represent my country while pursuing my interest in care for minority and disadvantaged populations.” Vicky joined the corps in 2021 while still in residency, and is still in training, but she looks forward to going anywhere the Corps sends her after her fellowship.

An In-depth Experience

After completing her residency, Vicky returned to Providence and Brown University in August 2023 for a fellowship in maternal fetal medicine at Brown’s Women and Infants Hospital. The fellowship provides an in-depth experience in both clinical medicine and research, dealing with referred patients from throughout the region who face a variety of in utero and newborn challenges. 

A fellowship schedule is not as demanding hours-wise as residency, but Vicky still has overnight call shifts and regular rotation changes that bring her to outpatient clinics, in-hospital care, ultrasound scanning, working with medical students and residents, and more. Her current interests are cardio-obstetrics (cardiac conditions in pregnancy), health equity and social justice, and postpartum care, known as the fourth trimester. 

She’s especially enjoyed working as part of a care team to treat patients holistically and see everything come together. “We’ve had very memorable patients who were very sick and required coordinated care. From being very concerned and unsure of the outcome and then to see a patient like that improve is terrifically rewarding.” Every day, she’s inspired by the caretakers and providers who work hard to support their patients, speaking up and advocating for them. 

In addition, Vicky appreciates the diversity-equity-inclusion emphasis at the program. “It’s truly ingrained into our everyday practice,” she explains. “From in-person interpreters to trainee education, everyone is thinking about it and making changes.” Other timely subjects of emphasis include maternal mortality rates, abortion care, perinatal mental health, transgender inclusive medicine, and medical student/residency recruitment efforts. 

And still, even the uncomplicated, healthy births still continue to awe Vicky. “I’m still amazed at each one!”

“V” for Victoria! Chief Resident Victoria Adewale in 2023 (in the back) with her intern, Victoria Diamond, and third year resident Victoria Kaiser

Intern Vicky Adewale in her first surgery with her chief resident, Dr. Ariel Levy (on the right), and Dr. Julie Gomez (in the back) in 2020.

Looking Ahead

Vicky will complete her fellowship in 2026. After that, she wants to work in comprehensive maternal fetal health, “doing a bit of everything” with residents and fellows, researching and mentoring while also treating patients. The Army Reserves also provides opportunities to learn about technical innovation, including robotics training. 

Of particular interest to Vicky is understanding the alarming increase in maternal fatality rates today. “Our specialty is high-risk pregnancy and we often think of fetal issues, but science is showing any pregnancy can be high-risk in any U.S. hospital, and the chances are even greater for black and brown women.” With so many determinants of health and mortality rates—including heart disease, access to food, safe housing and more—Vicky knows how important it is for patients to be safe and strong before they even come to the hospital. She wants to research and understand the reasons why so many women, especially women of color, face serious complications, and help ensure that everyone receives the proper care to prevent or treat them.

With so many challenges in medicine, Vicky remains hopeful. “I’m an optimist. I’ve met so many great mentors and inspiring attendees. I know my colleagues and peers feel the responsibility to work hard to address today’s critical issues.”