Meeting You Where You Are
Mar 24, 2023 Cassie Tomlin, photos by Bill Pollard
Through meditation or medication, a physician practices a whole-person approach.
Occasionally, if she senses they’re struggling, Omolade Ogun, MD, asks her patients to sit in silence with her—just for a minute.
"We’re all busy, saying yes to everything and reacting spontaneously," says Dr. Ogun, a family medicine physician in Cedars-Sinai’s Marina del Rey primary care office. "Sometimes you need to take a moment to sit back and focus on you."
I see my job as having the resources to help people optimize their own health. It’s about meeting people where they are and figuring it out together."
Dr. Omalade Ogun
She knows those moments can be few and far between, so after weight is taken and heart rate measured, doctor and patient take time to slow down and focus on their breath. If the brief moment works to calm or refocus someone, Dr. Ogun sends them off with instructions to try out the technique in a quiet spot at home.
Meditation isn’t a cure-all, but it can complement more traditional strategies to combat anxiety, sleeplessness and stress—and can even benefit patients seeking to lose weight or manage diabetes and other medical conditions.
Dr. Ogun is confident in the potential power of mindfulness because she recently developed her own practice. It helps her tap into something she’s always known but never defined: Simply pausing to pay attention helps her reprioritize her goals and responsibilities with positive, cascading effects on her life.
But whether she’s recommending meditation or medication, the whole-person approach is the only way to really evaluate and achieve health, Dr. Ogun says.
She can’t prescribe an antidote to loneliness, but she can brainstorm volunteer opportunities that foster a sense of connection. She won’t force a patient to take blood pressure pills, but she will get to know their interests and suggest a new workout routine that could help move the needle.
"I see my job as having the resources to help people optimize their own health," Dr. Ogun says. "It’s about meeting people where they are and figuring it out together."
It’s a well-informed philosophy. In 2002, after completing medical school in Nigeria, Dr. Ogun came to Los Angeles for residency at the University of Southern California. Later, she worked at a clinic on Los Angeles’ Skid Row and then treated patients in correctional facilities.
Those patients taught her that the best way to gain their confidence and understand their deepest concerns is to ask questions and really listen to the answers. When she’s open to learning more about someone’s financial anxiety or their lingering suspicion after a past bad experience with a doctor, patients open themselves to her suggestions.
"I’m often the first contact a person has with the healthcare system, and everyone comes in with different feelings: enthusiasm, anxiety, indifference and sometimes resentment," Dr. Ogun says.
By really paying attention to her patients, she can make small, practical suggestions to keep them on a positive health trajectory. For those who are anxious about tests or procedures, she encourages them to distract themselves by listening to their favorite songs on headphones. When patients struggle to remember to take their medications, she suggests they pair the habit with a routine they’ve already established in their life.
"Partnering with the patient is the bedrock of my practice," she says. "I try to create an environment that helps them make their health a priority."
To keep herself well, Dr. Ogun takes walks on the beach with her husband near their home in the South Bay. They love to travel with the whole family including their eldest son, a student at California State University, Fullerton; their daughter, who studies at UC Berkeley; and their youngest son, who’s a sophomore in high school.
And she takes every opportunity to give all that she can, in the moment.
"On my drive home every day, I know, for the sake of my peace, that I did my best for all my patients," she says. "When we’re the best versions of ourselves, we can contribute in our own little way to helping other people live their best lives."
If sitting and breathing doesn’t help you get out of your head, try these other grounding strategies that work for Dr. Ogun.
DO SOMETHING CHALLENGING
Dr. Ogun rides roller coasters to help her find calm. "When I’m free falling, the things that stress me out don’t really matter," she says. "When I get off the ride, I feel lighter."
BE FULLY PRESENT
She holds close the memory of her grandfather, who was perhaps the first person to teach her to be mindful as he often recited this poem:
Work while you work,
play while you play.
To be helpful and happy,
this is the way.
Dr. Ogun focuses on all she’s grateful for: her family, her friends and especially her mother, who never makes excuses and always leads with her heart.