I was born in Ibadan, Nigeria. A town considered suburban in comparison to Lagos, the Big City. It is something of a cliché for many but in my case it is completely true that I decided I would become a doctor around the age of 5.
My beloved uncle was my first example of the patience, steadfastness, intellectual curiosity and dedication that I was going to need to make my desire reality.
At the age of 15, I came to the United Kingdom for my A-Levels and university education which ultimately led to my starting medical school at University College London in 2005.
It was here that my vision for being impactful in the healthcare space began to form. Being surrounded by the past and present legacies of world-changers honed my already keen instinct to contribute my quota. To whom much is given, much is required.
Originally, I thought I wanted to be an oncologist. The tri-fold career of Clinician, Researcher and Educator beckoned and I went some way to pursue this. It was on this journey that I met my mentor extraordinaire, Professor Funmi Olopade a hematology oncologist, Associate Dean for Global Health and Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor in Medicine and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago.
She provided me with a flood of inspiration and showed me a pathway to achieve my goals. However, in addition to being an oncologist she is also an expert in global health and when I went to study under her at tutelage at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Global Health for my elective, the seeds of a new and different vision were already planted.
I returned to the UK still working on my initial plan and began a training program in Internal Medicine which was the next stage on the path to becoming an oncologist. After completing my post-graduate qualification and attaining Membership of the Royal College of Physicians, I was in my final months of completing this program when I had my epiphany.
One morning, my relative called me from Ibadan and told me in passing she had noticed she had developed some chest pains and she was about to take a nap to sleep it off. Alarm bells immediately went off a 54 year old lady should NOT be sleeping off chest pains. With a lot of convincing, I managed to get her to the local hospital for an ECG and blood tests but these tests were verbally reported to me as normal but my professional curiosity and attention to detail made me insist they scan the results to me. They were NOT normal within a few hours we had arranged for my relative to be transferred to a hospital in Lagos where she underwent a CT scan that showed that the cause of her pains were blood clots in the lung, she was admitted overnight and started on treatment.
I knew that an assessment by a specialist Family Doctor would have identified a recent long-haul flight to America in the history and a swollen calf on examination. This would have led them to immediately investigate for a blood clot as a cause of her symptoms. Had this service existed in Ibadan, she could have gone there to be seen, had her blood tests and ECG and a Doppler Ultrasound of her swollen leg to confirm diagnosis and treatment would have been started. She would not have needed to go to Lagos and her patient experience would have been less costly, more efficient and more convenient.
Following this, through what I can only describe as a deconstructive and reconstructive process, I came to the realisation that my originally envisioned tri-fold career in oncology was completely the wrong path for me. Accepting this was hard as I had invested significantly into this pathway and built the relationships that would help me get there. However, it became blindingly obvious to me that if I wanted to make an impact and drive a healthcare revolution on the African Continent, being an oncologist was not going to be my path.
Then came the re-think. As I was completing my training program in internal medicine, I decided to apply for a training program in Family Medicine which I am currently completing.
Why Family Medicine? At the very core of the African psyche is the family. Nuclear, Extended, Adopted; we Africans are all about Family.
To transform healthcare delivery on the continent we need to put African Families at the heart of our approach. We need to think about effectively promoting health and empowering every member of our African Families to take charge of their own health. From the newborn baby who needs her 6-week check and vaccinations to prevent infections to her mother who needs her cervical smear to prevent cancer to her grandmother who needs her blood pressure treated to prevent strokes.
My relative only really needed to see a Family Medicine expert and she could have been properly managed in the comfort of her own community.
Yes we desperately need better infrastructure with world-class, technology-driven hospitals and very clever specialists like oncologists. But for the transformation… for the healthcare revolution we all desire to see in Africa… it has to start with the Family.