Kukoyi 275x275Nearly 20 years after graduating from the School of Medicine, Kukoyi is back in Birmingham as the new chief of staff for the Birmingham VA Medical Center. When Oladipo Kukoyi, M.D., M.S., traveled to Birmingham in 1995 to attend the School of Medicine, he continued the education that nearly eluded him at the University of Lagos College of Medicine in his native Nigeria.

In his first year of medical school at the University of Lagos, the professors crammed a year of knowledge and classwork into three months because of the political uncertainty in the country at that time. “I wondered how I would be a doctor since my education kept getting interrupted,” recalls Kukoyi.

Nearly 20 years after graduating from the School of Medicine, Kukoyi is back in Birmingham as the new chief of staff for the Birmingham VA Medical Center (BVAMC)—the same place where he trained during medical school.

“The BVAMC is one of the highest-performing VA facilities and one of the highest-performing hospitals in the country,” says Kukoyi, who oversees nearly 1,000 employees who treat more than 70,000 veterans. “As a psychiatrist and primary care physician, I can’t think of any better place to practice health care in America than the VA system because everything I could want is encapsulated in our system.”

Kukoyi’s experience at the VA is vast. He has been a full-time employee since 2008, with positions that range from chief of mental health for about 18 months at the Wm. Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina, to chief of staff for the past two years at the Charlie Norwood VA Hospital in Augusta, Georgia.

“Our mission is noble,” Kukoyi says. “I’m sure I can make more money working elsewhere, but I don’t have to search for meaning in what I do at the VA. Sometimes we as physicians underestimate the value of a noble goal, and the VA provides that.”

Kukoyi LROne of Kukoyi’s goals for the BVAMC is to add doctors and health care providers in dermatology, interventional pain services, and some of the surgical services; another is reviving the family medicine residency program in Birmingham.Charles Green, M.D., FACP, the deputy chief of staff at the Augusta VA hospital, says his former colleague’s administrative knowledge of the VA medical system, interpersonal skills, ability to anticipate trends, and compassion toward veterans make Kukoyi an ideal chief of staff. “He is as genuine and committed as any veteran physician would be,” says Green.

Anupam Agarwal, M.D., executive vice dean in the School of Medicine and director of the Division of Nephrology, echoes Green’s sentiments. Agarwal, who was on the selection committee that chose Kukoyi, says Kukoyi stood out from other candidates because of his passion and energy. “He clearly demonstrated leadership,” says Agarwal. “He had a can-do philosophy and was very enthusiastic about his goals.”

One of Kukoyi’s goals for the BVAMC is to add doctors and health care providers in dermatology, interventional pain services, and some of the surgical services. Another project Kukoyi is working toward is reviving the family medicine residency program in Birmingham. Being a family physician, Kukoyi is interested in getting this program running, and he has had preliminary meetings with Craig Hoesley, M.D., senior associate dean of medical education at the School of Medicine, to discuss reviving the program.

Hoesley says he is committed to restoring the family medicine residency program, but adds talks are in their infancy and there are many hurdles to clear before the program returns. “The family medicine training program in Birmingham has been gone for about 20 years, but there is a collaborative group of individuals looking at the feasibility of bringing that back,” he says.

Kukoyi is also looking forward to possibly teaching some School of Medicine classes in the future and impacting students the way his mentors did. These include Selwyn Vickers, M.D., FACS, senior vice president for medicine and dean of the School of Medicine, who was Kukoyi’s attending during his surgery rotation, and George Hand Jr., Ph.D., professor emeritus at UAB, who advocated for Kukoyi’s admission to the School of Medicine.

Kukoyi says he is excited to return to the place where he and three of his four siblings earned their degrees. “One of the best times of my life was being roommates with two of my younger brothers while I was in medical school and they were pursuing their undergraduate degrees,” reminisces Kukoyi. “I’m happy to be back at my second home.”

By Ryan Broussard