Exclusive Interview: The Flying Doctor Dr. Ola Orekunrin, Ladybrille Woman of the Month Dec. 2012

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Ladybrille Woman of the Month Dr Ola Orekunrin 550xOur Ladybrille Woman of the Month feature continues to be our most coveted features on Ladybrille. It is also a feature where we try to celebrate some of the most brilliant and outstanding women in diverse industries from diverse backgrounds, but with a heavy emphasis on fashion and entertainment. This 2012, we close out the Woman of the Month feature, in this season of giving, with the inspiring feature on Dr. Ola Orekunrin, twenty six (26) year old founder of Flying Doctors Nigeria Ltd, West Africa’s first Air Ambulance Service.

Dr. Ola an exemplary product of England’s Foster care system, was raised in a working class home by foster care parents where she quickly learned the value of hard and smart work. Dr. Ola later applied these skills learnt in her childhood to put herself through school with jobs in retail, modeling and administration. Undeterred by the challenges (financial included) that seemingly blocked her path, Dr. Ola graduated medical school at age twenty one (21), becoming the youngest doctor to graduate in the entire country. With such impressive credentials and brilliance, you would think she would settle for working at England’s prestigious acute care facilities/hospitals. She had a different agenda.

Influenced by the feature film Hotel Rwanda and the death of her twelve (12) year old sister, Dr. Ola, for 9 months, saved half of her salary, networked and read all she could on what it took to run a successful medical business. In 2009, armed with knowledge, the finance and handson experience, she added to Nigeria’s “brain gain” by booking her ticket to a country she had never even visited to execute her plan.

We should mention that, in her short twenty-six years on earth, the very ambitious doctor has authored numeorus articles in leading medical journals, sat on various influential boards at the British Medical Association, produced ground-breaking research in the field of regenerative medicine through her work with induced pluripotent stem cells; and in 2008 was awarded the prestigious MEXT Japanese Government Scholarship.

Enjoy our feature with Dr. Ola and be inspired to be as brilliant as you possibly can, especially as we prepare to welcome 2013!

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Dr. Ola, it has been a while since we last spoke to
you. I believe you were featured on our sister site LadybrilleNigeria in 2010. How are you?
Dr. Ola:
Very well thanks

LADYBRILLEmag.com: You are closing out our 2012 as Ladybrille Woman of the Month feature for the year. How does that feel?
Dr. Ola:
Amazing, (I’m) feeling very blessed.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Let’s talk about you being a doctor.) At what point did you decide or know you want to become a doctor?
Dr. Ola:
I can’t remember exactly when, but I was quite young.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: You went to medical school, became a doctor and returned to Nigeria to provide Air Ambulance Service. What was the personal journey that made you return and decide such a service was needed?
Dr. Ola:
I really woke up to the fact that so many Nigerians die because they are not getting to the appropriate hospitals quick enough when my youngest sister died in Nigeria.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (We heard you at the TED x Victoria Island conference share that experience. Our sympathies.) You have a very strong British influence which presumably means you were used to the way of life and a certain comfortable life style in the West. What kind of adjustments did you have to make when you returned to Nigeria?
Dr. Ola
: Hardly any. I love moving to different places and in a lot of ways life is more comfortable in Africa.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: I will get back to your Air Ambulance Services soon.
But for me, and I think many who will read your interview, there is a natural curiosity about the healthcare infrastructure in Nigeria. Could you share some light on how the healthcare system in Nigeria works? I (believe) the Akwa Ibom government offers free healthcare to children, is that the same across the country?

Dr. Ola: Not every state offers free healthcare but I think they are all moving towards that. The healthcare system is a mix of private and public hospitals who treat a
mix of fee paying patients and patients who have private or national insurance.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: We hear on this side of the world about how the rich and famous and the not-haves who are able to raise money, fly to India, the US or Italy for medical procedures. Can you speak a little bit on that?

Dr. Ola: It happens. But I believe Nigerian healthcare is improving rapidly and soon it will not be necessary to go abroad for higher standards of care.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Especially when it comes to Africa, we have heard of a “brain drain” primarily in the area of the sciences. Now, there seems to a reversal with a “brain gain.” For young doctors of African heritage in the diaspora reading this, is there a place in Africa for them and where exactly is the most need for their services?
Dr. Ola:
I think doctors bring some expertise from the diaspora, but I doubt the real change is going to come from doctors moving back on their own as doctors here in Nigeria are just as knowledgeable.

We need funding for equipment, additional training and governance both in the private and public sectors. I think we need to see more female directors of hospitals and more females in the ministry. The sort of women that look out for the interests of other women. The way men always support each other.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Interesting.) Let me go back to your Air Ambulance Services. I want to approach it from two perspectives: 1) what your daily operations are as a healthcare business owner? and 2) the kind of impact your business has made in the lives of patients you see.

Dr. Ola: The daily operations are routine. Looking at avaition specific issues, equipment, drugs orders and any evacuations we have to do for the day. (Our business has had) a huge impact on our lives. Literally hundreds of lives have been saved because patients have gotten to the correct medical facilities in the appropriate timeframe.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (How amazing!) Tell us what kinds of challenges a company like yours faces in meeting overhead expenses and staying alive so you can provide these much needed services?
Dr. Ola:
We face a host of challenges, some aviation specific, (others) patient specific. But, we always find a way to covert them into opportunities.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Did you have an idea what you were getting yourself into when you decided to take the plunge and provide these kinds of services?
Dr. Ola:
In a word, “no.”

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Paint the picture for us. How does your team respond to an emergency call for your services. Walk us through what that looks like?
Dr. Ola:
We get a phone call and obtain patient details, co-ordinate for helicopters if necessary and then dispatch the appropriate aircraft. Every patient is accompanied by two or more doctors.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: There is no doubt that what you do has a major impact on the lives of many. I am sure you have some amazing stories. Share with us one story of how your services impacted a life and revalidated your love for medicine and the life saving services you provide?
Dr. Ola:
Every patient is important but the young victims of trauma like gunshot wounds, bomb blast wounds and road traffic accidents are the most touching. Seeing a young person walk again because of your service or someone that received a timely operation which they wouldn’t have been able to have without our timely intervention is very touching.

LADYB RILLEmag.com: (Amazing!) Let me begin wrapping up this interview. What next for you and the Flying Doctors of Nigeria?
Dr. Ola:
continue to save lives and do my best to improve the lives of as many people as we can across Nigeria.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Great. Let me transition to the close of our interview by hitting you with a few philosophical questions. (Laughs) What are the daily principles you live by?
Dr. Ola:
Love is one of my key principles. Loving God, loving life,loving work, spreading Gods love.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: How do you want to be remembered?
Dr. Ola:
When I die?

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Laughs. Not necessarily but I suppose.)
Dr. Ola:
As a woman, a physician, a wife, a mother who dedicated her life to improving standards of healthcare across Africa.

LADYBRILLEmag.com:Thank you for doing what you do and congratulations on being our LADYBRILLE WOMAN OF THE MONTH for December 2012!
Dr. Ola:
Thanks so much. God bless.

Interview by Uduak Oduok

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