Humanitarian work, committment to nursing, earn UCLA Health's Dr. Toyin Lawal prestigious award

'Nothing is so rewarding and so fulfilling as the nursing profession,' she says.

As a young girl, Toyin Lawal always carried a bandage with her to school in case a classmate got hurt. So, when she grew up to become a nurse, nobody in her family was surprised. Helping others has been her passion for as long as she can remember, she says.

“I love to inspire the hearts of others by just giving in a simple way,” says Dr. Lawal, director of ambulatory care nursing.

It was that same spirit of giving back that led Dr. Lawal, DNP, RN-CCCTM, to undertake humanitarian work with local, national and international organizations, and to share her nursing and leadership skills on medical missions to underdeveloped countries.

Closer to home, she serves her community with compassion, caring for vulnerable populations, people with special abilities, people experiencing housing insecurities, and women and children affected by domestic violence.

For those efforts, and others, Dr. Lawal has earned the 2021 Barco’s Nightingales Foundation Award for Nursing Excellence. The annual award honors nurses who have contributed to their profession and are committed to humanitarian work as volunteers, donating their time and professional skills to those in need.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be recognized for this award,” Dr. Lawal says. “This award is for all the nurses, who are heroes for the things they have done during the pandemic.”

Dr. Lawal came to UCLA Health as a travel nurse on a three-month assignment. That was 21 years ago. For the last eight years, she has provided clinical oversight to community ambulatory practices and has led UCLA Health’s COVID-19 clinical initiatives including testing, monoclonal antibody therapy infusions and vaccination clinics.

Prior to that, Dr. Lawal worked in the cardiothoracic ICU for adults, pediatrics and neonatal, and as nurse administrator and nurse manager in the OB-GYN clinic.

“Nothing is so rewarding and so fulfilling as the nursing profession,” Dr. Lawal says. “I love dealing with the many aspects of patient care and I enjoy the variety of routines. And I love helping patients and their families.”

UCLA Health, she says, has given her the opportunity to go above and beyond in her career as a nurse.

Dr. Lawal credits her mother — her role model, who tended to the sick and suffering people in her community — for instilling a passion for service. “I see the satisfaction my mother derived in helping others and it inspired me to want to have a career as a nurse.”

But for Dr. Lawal, nursing is more than a career, it’s a calling, she says. And it sparked her interest in humanitarian work.

Since 2005, she has participated in medical missions with the International Children’s Heart Foundation, which provides medical care for children with congenital heart disease. “When you see these children go through surgery for correction of congenital abnormalities, and you see them healthy, it’s just too amazing,” Lawal says.

She also is involved with Medical CARE, which provides education, support and resources to pediatric groups worldwide. She is the convener of Widows’ Retreat, a grassroots empowerment program, and president of TWP’s 1,000 Women in Religion for Global Peace initiatives.

Dr. Lawal’s Legacy Voice Widows project, which she has grown to 3,000 members, is part of her mission with the United Nations Economic Social Council, a global peace movement.

Humanitarian work has been challenging throughout the pandemic, Dr. Lawal says. Medical missions have been shut down and meetings have shifted to digital formats. Still, she’s been involved in providing humanitarian support through COVID-19 palliative donations and volunteering at local shelters and food banks.

Dr. Lawal lights up when she talks about volunteering. “It’s one of the most powerful ways to make a difference,” she says. “But it takes more than one person. We have to do it together.”

Jennifer Karmarkar is the author of this article.