By Alexandra Becker
On April 10, 2021, Dr. Chinyere Okpaleke, a family medicine hospitalist for Memorial Hermann Medical Group, posted a photo on her social media accounts to celebrate National Siblings Day. The picture showed the smiling faces of five sisters and one brother—each wearing a white coat to symbolize their respective careers in the medical field. Another sibling, Dr. Lillian Okpaleke, was absent from the photo.
Okpaleke is proud of her family and enjoyed sharing the photo—but she never would have guessed what an impact it would have. Now, with more than 200,000 likes on LinkedIn alone, the post has officially gone viral.
“Initially, I was caught off guard that the post received this much attention, but I think what resonated with people was not only did they see this group of siblings in white coats, but they also saw Black siblings in white coats,” Okpaleke said. “It’s rare to see a family full of medical professionals, and I think we represent where medicine is going. There’s diversity now, and it’s a breath of fresh air to witness that.”
Okpaleke’s parents, both of whom emigrated from Nigeria to the U.S., are also in the medical field: Andrew Okpaleke, M.D., is a retired physician of internal medicine who practiced for 30 years, and her mother, Celina Okpaleke, P.A., has been practicing for over 20. Okpaleke credits her parents for inspiring her family to pursue meaningful and rewarding careers—all of which just happened to end up in medicine.
“I personally was encouraged by my parents and also my older siblings, but I think we all were led in that direction because we all shared the same compassion and the same desire to help and serve others,” Okpaleke said. “We are all in different specialties, like nurse practitioner or pathology assistant, and we all found our niche based on the type of personalities we have.”
Despite the unanticipated attention, Okpaleke said she is pleased that her post has served as an inspiration for so many.
“One of the reasons I posted that picture was not just to celebrate my family but to also use the white coats as a symbol of achievement and of accomplishing your goals,” Okpaleke said. “When young girls or boys see this image, maybe they can see themselves and see this reality for their own future. They might say, ‘Look at this family, their parents came over with nothing and they put in their hard work and dedication—anything is possible.’”
That perseverance is something Okpaleke knows well, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic brought unforeseen challenges to her role as a physician. Upon reflection, she said that while this past year has made her a better doctor, it has offered important personal lessons, too.
“One of the things that has stuck with me during all of this is the importance of family, and that life is short,” Okpaleke said. “Unfortunately, so many lives have been lost due to COVID-19, and families were not ready. Nobody expected this to happen.”
She said now, more than ever, people should take time to be with their family.
“You have to cherish those moments, because they could be taken from you so quickly,” Okpaleke said. “I’ve just learned to appreciate life a lot more during this pandemic.”
Now, every day is sibling day for Okpaleke, who—together with her five sisters and one brother—continue to dream big. They hope to inspire others to do the same.