Friends Refuse to Let Tamara O'Neal Be Hashtagged and Forgotten
BY AMEERA HAAMID, MD, & GARTH WALKER, MD, MPH
We had the good fortune of becoming friends with Tamara O'Neal, MD, (also known as T.O. by those who were close to her) in 2010. We met while starting medical school at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
Tamara already had a close-knit group of friends she had met as an undergrad, and we were new to the group, but we were immediately accepted and integrated without question. We were 10 young black physicians (besides us, Chisalu Nchekubwe, MD, MBA; Talia Minor, MD; Elizabeth Bonsu, MD; Victor Nwanko, MD; Breana Taylor, MD; Alexandria Holliday, MD; and Christopher Hicks, MD) tied together by the objective of being exceptional in a field that lacked so many of us.
Dr. Tamara O'Neal. (Photo by Breana Taylor, MD.)
Tamara was the glue that held us together. She propelled us while always being courageous, vibrant, and cheerful. As a group of young African American medical students, we relied heavily on each other to matriculate. The scarcity of minorities in medicine alone bonded us forever. We faced the typical obstacles and sacrifices of medical students, but we also encountered the greatest adversity of being continually undermined as physicians-in-training.
Feelings of inadequacy, incompetency, and insecurity were common, but Tamara's tenacity and resilience marched all of us through. She named our study group the OHQs, short for One Hitter Quitters. The name meant that we had vowed to take tests only once, pass them, and never take them again. It was the perfect illustration of her goal for us to be nothing short of excellent physicians. Over the next four years, the 10 of us studied together, ate together, laughed together, and grew together. We celebrated each other's accomplishments, supported each other, and most of all, relied on each other through times of tribulation. We became more than friends; we were an authentic family, a family of OHQs.
Tamara meant the world to all of us. She was bright, caring, and selfless, often volunteering for as many events as she could to uplift her community. She loved God and frequently thanked him for her blessings. She didn't work on Sundays so she could attend church and choir. She loved her '90s music and would often bust out a random old-school dance move when her jam came on, shouting, "You don't know anything about this right here!" She loved to laugh and was wildly funny. In another life, she would have been your favorite stand-up comedian. She made us laugh so hard that our sides hurt.
Tamara loved to put others in a good mood and always found the silver lining in dark situations. She threw herself a birthday party for three days straight and would throw you one too. She was sincere and genuine, always making time to bond with her friends and family. Even after we graduated and moved around the country, she was the one who kept us all in sync. She was the epitome of a friend.
The loss of Tamara O'Neal is a loss for all of medicine. She wanted to be an emergency physician as soon as she stepped through the doors of UIC. She loved the excitement, the adrenaline, and the spontaneity of her shifts. Her drive was unsurpassable.
But her real draw to the specialty was the opportunity to touch the lives of as many patients as possible, especially the underserved population. She made it her purpose to create a light for others on their darkest days. She made it her mission to provide mentorship to medical students and residents, especially those of color. She was a powerful resource and a positive example for medical students to emulate. She was a role model to all who knew her and a source of joy for her students and patients.
No one ever expected Tamara to be a victim of interpersonal violence or gun violence. She would not have wanted to be remembered by the way she died but remembered by the way that she lived. Tamara would have wanted to use her death to be outspoken on the issue that ended her life and to affect the lives of others.
We, her OHQs, and her immediate family have started two memorial funds in her honor. The Dr. Tamara E. O'Neal Memorial Fund will fund a scholarship at the UIC College of Medicine for a minority medical student to follow in Tamara's footsteps. (Contribute at http://bit.ly/ONealMemorialFund.) The Dr. Tamara O'Neal Memorial Research Fund hosted by FemInEM will cover the costs of her funeral with the remainder going toward an AFFIRM research fund. (Donate at http://bit.ly/ONealAFFIRMfund.) Tamara would want this used to fund research on interpersonal and gun violence especially affecting women of color. We hope it will provide us with highly specific warning signs and evidence-based prevention methods to keep this from happening to other women who may be too afraid to speak out.
We know that Tamara is smiling down from heaven at these efforts. We refuse to have her hashtagged and forgotten. She brought so much to this world through her personal life and profession, and we are so sad that she wasn't allowed to keep giving. Nonetheless, we will keep her legacy of love and charity alive.
We love you, T.O. Thank you for all that you have done for us and for the incredible memories. Thank you for loving us and allowing us to love you back. May your tragedy help others in need; we know you would have wanted it that way.