Dr. Oneeka Williams has earned the highest honors as one of the world’s top urologists. Her greatest work, however, could be as Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo, a children’s author who illustrates positivity and productivity in developing our youth.
THROUGHOUT our lives, we all get metric tons of positivity advice, from friends, parents, life coaches and public speakers. Entrepreneurs especially seek out such advice, because success of the kind they seek often requires a mountain of positive mindset.
And even though we might occasionally receive advice from unlikely sources, you probably wouldn’t think a “urology story” would be a source of inspiration.
Dr. Oneeka Williams can prove you wrong.
She shared with this writer an abundantly entertaining urology story, about a patient whom she helped get through a…let’s just say “trying”…situation.
Out of BostonMan Magazine’s respect for this patient’s privacy, and that he’s undoubtedly been through enough, I’ll just quote a few phrases from what she shared with me: “Male chastity belt”, “metal contoured cast”, “Krazy glue”, and “12 hours”.
That should give you enough of an idea. If nothing else, the story is good for a cheering up, and maybe a moment of, well, at least I’m having a better day than that guy.
“You’re really feeling badly in your compassion,” she reflects on the experience, “but inside, you’re trying your best not to just bust out laughing. Like, this is just crazy.”
Dr. Williams can turn even that nutty scene into a teachable moment. The experience encompassed quite a bit of what she teaches outside of the operating room…that there is always an answer, that problems are solved by a team, and that our purpose is rooted in how we can help others.
“The process of reassuring to him that, listen, there’s a solution, right? Habit of positivity number one, believing that even though this seems really dire, like this is not gonna work, we are going to find a solution. It may not happen right away, but that we can work together to solve the problem.”
The book is called Not Today, Negativity!: 5 Habits of Positivity to Cope, Hope and Be Well in Tough Times. Along with engaging urology stories, she shares her own experiences of overcoming plenty of potential sources of negativity…infertility, racism, sexism, toxic work environments, and other problems so many of us face.
BY day, Dr. Williams is a urologist at Emerson Health Urology. She is a graduate of Harvard Medical School, and has a degree in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University.
She chose a career in urology partly because, oddly enough, urologists simply seemed like happy people.
“One of the reasons that was appealing to me was that I just found the urologists that I interacted with to be the happiest people, really fun, not super stressed out. And that was the prevailing thought of many of my fellow residents who ended up going into urology. They were just saying, ‘Urologists were just the nicest people.’
“The other thing that attracted me to urology was that you get to do across the range of so many things. You can operate on some people, you medically manage some people. You have these long relationships with patients who follow up with you for their entire lifetime. You’re doing bladders and kidneys and prostates. You’re dealing with infections, you’re dealing with this range of age ranges, you’re dealing with pediatrics. You’re essentially doing everything in the kitchen sink.”
The day before her interview with BostonMan, for example, Dr. Williams had no fewer than seven operations to perform in the hospital. Thankfully, there were no 12-hour male chastity belt cases to take her off of her scheduled tasks, but it still seems like an exhausting day.
If she were only a urologist who can speak to positivity, Dr. Williams has more than enough to work with. But after days that often include seven or more operations, she somehow finds the time and energy to author children’s books, based around a superhero with plenty to teach.
It’s easy to see parallels between Dr. Williams and Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo, the star of seven (soon to be eight) children’s books that she’s created. Both of them are females of color who face and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, both of them have a great love for science, and both are dedicated to the power of being positive.
In other words, Dr. Williams uses her own experience to teach young girls of color especially that nothing is impossible for them.
“When I was 13, and decided I wanted to do medicine, I was at an all-girls school. They didn’t offer physics to girls, because they had somehow decided that girls weren’t good at physics.”
Sometimes the solution to such limits is so obvious we can’t see it, but young Oneeka and her parents found an answer. Just send her to an all-boys school.
“I was the first girl in a class of about a hundred boys. I graduated with all boys, two girls, then another two girls joined the class. So it opened up options for others who wanted to similarly pursue physics and didn’t have the opportunity.”
It was, she says, her first exposure to her #1 habit of positivity, which appears often in Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo’s adventures: “There’s always a solution. You just have to work to find it.”
Dr. Williams also credits her parents in that situation, and emphatically shares that their encouragement was huge. Her parents, she remembers, never told her that “it was gonna be hard, I was going to be the only one, here is what you should expect the challenges are gonna be. They simply said, ‘This is your opportunity. You have a job to do. Go ahead and have at it.’”
She continues that “there is a mindset, something that is already embedded in girls’ minds by the time they get to age six, based on the messages that they see, based on the pictures of who is a scientist, of who is an astronaut, all of these things that get insinuated and get entrenched and embedded, the message that they’re not good at certain things, they can’t be brilliant.
“I got to repeatedly doing work and volunteering with girls, trying to mentor and trying to be that Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo, showing them how it can be done, so that they could see in the flesh that I’m no different from you. And if I did it, you can do it with the support and with the type of structures and messages that help you to develop that belief system.”
As she’s witnessed, it works.
AT the Banneker School in Cambridge, she shares, they have been using the Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo series as part of the science curriculum. When she spoke there, “these kids could not get enough of me. They would touch me. They kept asking, ‘You’re a doctor? You’re an author?’
“To see themselves represented in books, to have the person come to their school, to have a relationship with a character, has created a bridge. Kids who didn’t like science, the teachers have now said love science. Kids who do didn’t like to read, now they’re really engaged, because the stories are helping them to use their imagination.
“They sent me these letters afterwards that said, ‘From a future doctor, from a future lawyer, from a future scientist.’ Just that day, they were able to now put themselves in a perspective that they saw what was possible.”
Today Dr. Williams can’t really speak to what makes other urologists seem like such happy people, but she does have a metaphorical theory.
“When I think about positive and negative,” she explains, “it’s like the gastrointestinal tract…we have a system in our body that has been developed to separate and sort the things that will serve us. The things that will nurture, the things that our body needs, our body holds onto those things, breaks them down into more digestible pieces, breaks down the complex things into simpler things. And then the things that don’t serve us are eliminated as waste.
“If you do not eliminate your waste, on a regular basis, you can become very sick. So my model of positivity is not one of, I live this perfect rose-colored life, but I make conscious choices.
“At the end of the day, what am I going to extract from my experiences that will add to me and elevate me and will bring this sense of achievement, meaning, and happiness? And what are the things that are gonna take away from me that I need to process, but then I need to eliminate?
“I actually, believe it or not, really love being a urologist, despite the things that I will complain about. I do not like being on call, and I don’t think there are many doctors who actually like being on call. It’s very disruptive, it’s very unpredictable. I don’t like the electronic medical record system. The data shows it’s one of the biggest reasons for burnout amongst physicians.
“I don’t like the model that we have begun to embrace, where corporate entities have now assumed control of doctors. There is a push towards churning patients out like you’re a factory worker.”
Her approach, she believes, works much better for everyone. No doubt it’s one patients prefer.
“I take my time with my patients. I talk to my patients not only about really digging into their issues, but also the rest of their lives, the other things that make them tick. And no, I’m not gonna spend an hour kind of doing a counseling session with a patient, unless it’s absolutely necessary.
“But even in the time that I will allocate, I make connections with those patients. I expand my appreciation for who they are. I’m able to be much more effective in having patients respond more positively, be engaged with their treatment, and have an experience that elevates them and that elevates me.
“At the end of the day when I do my mathematical equation, I’m adding the positive things and I’m adding the negative things, and I’m making the sum of those, the sum is always going to be positive.
“I will make those choices around, okay, what were the challenges? They exist, it’s a part of life. This is what my habits of positivity are. It’s not burying your head in the sand. Even in a negative situation, there is something that you can learn, that there’s something that you take away.”
Not Today, Negativity! is Dr. Williams exploring new ground…a foray into how positivity, problem-solving habits and learning to discard what isn’t needed can impact adults too.
“As I traveled and spoke in venues,” she shares, “adults would keep coming up to me and say, ‘Do you have those five habits of positivity written down somewhere?’ A lot of adults have mental health issues, dealing with negative self-talk, limiting beliefs, etc.
“I made the connection that parents and adults are the kids’ first farmers. They plant those seeds. By the time kids go to school, they’ve already developed a world perspective that’s based on what they’ve heard and seen at home.
“I wrote the book in the middle of the pandemic. We were in the depths of despair, and I was doing positivity Facebook parties, and daily positivity pauses, an hour long Facebook Live just reflecting and talking…helping people to see things from a different perspective using these five habits.
“I decided to write the book because people need this. They need to understand how they develop this process, that will help them to basically live longer and live happier lives.”
In the book she shares one story of dealing with an insufferably toxic boss…who ultimately, becomes a positive and happier person through her help, even giving his life to Christ and attending church with her.
That story of faith, forgiveness, understanding, and redemption alone is worth the price of the book, even though it comes to a tragic end.
DR. WILLIAMS was born in Guyana and grew up a warm weather climate. On her website she has said she wonders why she stays through the harsh New England winters. But she does have an answer to that question.
“I have grown to love this area,” she shares. “From a medical academic perspective, from a cultural perspective, it is rich, it is invigorating. It is an environment where you’re constantly feeling like you’re learning.”
Boston is also a place, she adds, “where I can still have those places of connection to my Caribbean roots, that there are populations that reflect me, that I see myself in places, even churches. And it’s just very easily accessible, and a very livable and manageable city.
She immediately has an answer when asked what her proudest moment is. The story is in the new book. “Flying down to Barbados when my dad had a massive heart attack, and literally chartering a plane, being the doctor on the plane that med-flighted him out of Barbados to save his life.”
But of course, she’s also proud of being a force to change young people’s mindset.
“I am most proud of being a mom of an amazing 16-year-old boy, who exemplifies all of these positive habits that I’ve talked about.
“I’m proud of the fact that I’m pursuing my dreams, that I as a black woman surgeon, who started from someplace being told that I couldn’t, that I’m using my gifts to change people’s lives outside of the exam room. I’m proud that I have basically generated and created a world from scratch where it did not exist.
“Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo, the habits of positivity, her whole world. I created that with God’s grace.”