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Kemi Oguntala (Pediatrician): Impacts Lives of Teen Athletes In Many Ways

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In recognition of April as National Youth Sports Safety Month, MomsTeam has asked 30 experts to write a blog answering two questions: first, how or why did they get into their field, and second, how have they made a difference in the life of a youth athlete in the past year.

Today, we hear from Kemi Oguntala, MD, a pediatric and adolescent medicine physician at a teen clinic in South San Francisco, California.


By Kemi Oguntala, MD

How did I get into my field?

I'm a pediatrician with extra training in adolescent medicine.  I run a busy teen clinic in the Bay Area, where I'm called Dr. O, the Teen Doc.

I was attracted to the field of adolescent medicine because the teen years are some of the most dynamic years of growth, not just mentally, but physically too! Teens start to go through puberty, a process that changes their body composition, adding muscle and redistributing body fat, and making them faster and stronger. Teens are also developing a sense of identity that can prompt them to engage in risky behavior and act in ways that, to adults, may seem rebellious, but are often typical for teenagers. Kemi Oguntala

I know I have thirty seconds to make an impression on a teen who walks into my clinic, but not because I expect them to do what I say, but so I'll hopefully inspire them to do it their way, but smarter. The teen brain still has a lot of growing to do, and it won't be even close to finished until they're about twenty-six years old and this means there's still time to get them  to think of the future, even though they want to take the risk.

How have I made a difference in the life of an athlete?

My career choice has allowed me to impact the lives of athletes in many ways.  I have served as an advocate for my teen patients, like one who was experiencing post-concussion syndrome when his basketball coach let him go return to play after suffering a concussion. I was able to reassure him and his parents that his symptoms would eventually clear and help him gradually return to his sport and the classroom. 

Because I realize puberty jump starts things like the menstrual cycle, which can be a game changer for teens in their sport, suggestions like continuous cycling with birth control pills can change a female athlete's performance by reducing or even eliminating their inability to play because of heavy periods, irregular periods, premenstrual syndrome, depression and even debilitating cramps. The freedom to play without this limitation empowers so many athletes I meet in my clinic.

My experience in treating adolescent female athletes has also helped me distinguish between those who are thin and/or experiencing either delayed periods or have ceased menstruating simply because they are very competitive and training hard from those with a more serious diagnosis of disordered eating, such as anorexia or bulimia (e.g. female athlete triad).  The combination of medical and psychological management can make this diagnosis very challenging. I have encountered athletes that have become stronger mentally, and physically by not only having me pay attention to the detail of their medical condition, but the mental impact this has on their developing sense of self. This awareness has empowered my athletic eating disorder patients to develop better coping skills while becoming better athletes.

Being a teen doc has allowed me to impact the lives of the athletes I see medically, socially and mentally and this is such an amazing experience that it never gets old!

Kemi Oguntala, M.D., received her medical training at Drexel University in Philadelphia, her pediatric training at Saint Christopher's Hospital for Children also in Philadelphia, and her adolescent medicine training at Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California. Following fellowship, Dr. Oguntala practiced at Oakland Children's Hospital & Research Center at Oakland, where she co-directed specialty clinics in asthma and overweight as well as general teen clinics at both hospital and school-based clinics.  Dr. O  currently heads a teen clinic in South San Francisco, where she sees teens with such issues as being over- or under-weight, substance abuse of substances, sexual orientation and gender identification issues, family planning and reproductive health concerns, depression, and who have been the victims of sexual, physical or verbal violence. She is currently doing research in the retention of long term methods of birth control in teens.  She is the author of the e-book "Are You Serious? It's Just Sex!" You can check out her communication tips and musings on teen-parent relationships at her blog TheTeenDoc.com and connect with her @theteendoc on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.