Ola Orekunrin, now 30 years from Ilawe-Ekiti in Ekiti State of Nigeria, was born, raised and trained in the UK, where she graduated as one of the youngest medical doctors in England . She is also a trainee helicopter pilot.
While she was studying to become a doctor in the UK, her younger sister fell seriously ill while traveling in Nigeria. The 12-year-old girl, who’d gone to the West African country on holiday with relatives, needed urgent care, but the nearest hospital couldn’t deal with her condition.
Orekunrin and her family immediately began looking for an air ambulance service to rapidly transport the girl, a sickle cell anemia sufferer, to a more suitable healthcare facility. They searched all across West Africa but were stunned to find out there were none in the whole region.
“The nearest one at the time was in South Africa,” remembers Orekunrin. “They had a 12-hour activation time so by the time they were ready to activate, my sister was dead”.
“It was really a devastating time for me and I started thinking about whether I should be in England talking about healthcare in Africa, or I should be in Africa dealing with healthcare and trying to do something about it.”
Orekunrin did the latter. Motivated by the tragic death of her sister, the young doctor decided to leave behind a high-flying job in the UK to take to the Nigerian skies and address the vital issue of urgent healthcare in Africa’s most populous country.
Determined to make a difference in medical practice and health care delivery system in Nigeria, Orekunrin decided to set up Lagos-based Flying Doctors Nigeria, the first air ambulance service in West Africa, transporting victims of medical emergencies, including industrial workers from the country’s booming oil and gas sector. It basically provides critical care transportation solutions to both the private and public sector by selling yearly air ambulance cover plans to states, companies and individuals.
Since then, she has successfully steered the company upwards in achieving its corporate goals and ensuring sustained growth.“Against all odds, I passed my A-Levels with flying colors, started my degree at the University of York at 15. I supported myself all through, working. I wrote my final medical examinations at 21, thus emerging the youngest medical doctor in England,” said Ola Orekunrin.