Inspire: Ibironke Adelaja, MD, Breast Cancer Surgeon, Teacher and Community Advocate

UCSF Fresno’s success and growth are a direct result of the dedication and inspiration of our faculty, staff, residents, fellows, students, alumni, partners, donors and friends. In each issue of Focus, we introduce you to the people who contribute to the greatness of UCSF Fresno.

Ibironke Adelaja, MD

Ibironke Adelaja, MD, an assistant clinical professor of Surgery at UCSF Fresno, is a breast surgeon who cares for women and men with benign and malignant breast disease. Becoming a surgeon had been a dream of hers since she was a little girl.

Her father grew up in Nigeria and on his side of the family, there are several medical doctors. Someone in the family being a physician wasn’t foreign to her, but growing up in Houston, she did not see doctors of color.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, about 5.7% of physicians in the United States identify as Black or African American.

Dr. Adelaja is proud to be in that percentage. Her interest in medicine blossomed during summer science programs she participated in at a medical center in Houston where the focus of the programs was math and science.

“My interest in medicine, science and trying to figure out how things work, including the body, stemmed from those summer programs growing up,” Dr. Adelaja said. “I loved science. I loved trying to figure out why this (the body) works this way.”

Her first interaction with a Black physician happened while she attended the University of Texas at Austin. He was working in the emergency room and encouraged her to pursue medicine as a career.

She received her bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Texas at Austin and her medical degree at Texas A& M University School of Medicine. She completed a General Surgery Residency Program at UCSF Fresno and a Breast Surgical Oncology Fellowship at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is board certified by the American Board of Surgery. In 2011, she received the Surgery Excellence Award for Teaching medical students at UCSF Fresno. In 2014, she received the Gallo Research Award for Scientific Excellence from Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

After residency, Dr. Adelaja began working at the breast clinic in Fresno, where she saw a large number of Hispanic and Black patients with breast cancer. “I kept seeing women that looked like me, with advanced stage disease and it really bothered me because I saw women that weren't getting mammograms.”

As a physician, she also saw women who did not get yearly checkups to catch breast cancer at early stages. Too many of the cancers were at advanced stages, she said. “It really made me want to do more in terms of disparities. It made me want to be an advocate for those patients. Still today, when I walk in the room and there is a black woman that sees that I am her breast surgeon, it is amazing to see her face light up. I have had patients just straight-out cry and hug me before we've even began to talk about their breast cancer because they'll say they didn't know that there was a black woman breast surgeon in Fresno,” Dr. Adelaja said. “It is rejuvenating to see that and it also tells me representation really does matter. People know this is someone that looks like them who may have shared some of the same experiences they have shared and patients want to see that.”

Dr. Adelaja is a strong advocate of community involvement. She participates in volunteer activities such as performing sports physicals, preparing meals for out-of-town families of critically ill patients, informing her local community of health-related events, and national health awareness campaigns.

“Dr. Adelaja is the first fellowship trained breast surgeon in Fresno. She takes extraordinary care of her patients and has elevated the quality of care for breast cancer in the Valley, “said Jim Davis, MD, Steven N. Parks, MD, Endowed Chair of Surgery at UCSF Fresno. “She continues to teach residents and medical students in addition to a very busy practice and is a major contributor to our department.”

Part of Newsletter: Focus on UCSF Fresno Spring 2024