Healthcare infrastructure in the country is still very poor and access to fast medical services has been a major challenge, so workers in high-risk environment continue to suffer injuries and physical disabilities.
Enter Dr. Olamide Brown Orekunrin, a medical doctor, a trainee pilot, founder of Flying Doctors Nigeria (FDN), a medical emergency service that specialises in air ambulances, medevac, medico-logistics services, remote site medical solution services, medical infrastructural development, and medical training services.
FDN was founded in 2009, and currently has the largest network of ground and air ambulances (both fixed and rotary wing aircraft) in West Africa. It is strategically located in major Nigerian cities like Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and others.
Early years and Educational Institutions
Olamide was born some 32 years ago at a seaside town called Lowestoft in the east of rural England, a completely white community. She went to a primary school run by Catholic nuns and was raised by foster parents.
Olamide acknowledges the immeasurable contribution of her late foster mother, Doreen Clarice Chalkley, describing her as a great woman who lived an exemplary life and left a wonderful legacy for her loving family & friends.
The young Olamide passed her A-Levels with flying colours and started her degree at the University of York at 15. She supported herself all through by working. At a very young age of 21, she graduated from the university as a medical doctor.
For her postgraduate studies, Olamide specialised in pre-hospital and trauma care. In 2008, she received a MEXT Japanese Government Scholarship which enabled her to carry out research in the field of regenerative medicine in Tokyo, Japan.
She is a member of the American Academy of Aesthetic Surgeons and the British Medical Association.
Why Flying Doctors?
From her undergraduate days, Olamide had always been interested in creating new means of healthcare delivery, devising the fastest ways of getting patients to the best healthcare facilities for their ailments.
She was further motivated when her sister became very ill while holidaying in Nigeria with relatives. The local hospital was unable to manage her health condition, and as a result, Olamide and her family started to search for an air ambulance to safely transport her sister to a suitable medical facility in the country. The shocking reality for Olamide’s family was that there was none to be found, even though the search took them across West Africa. The only available one was in South Africa, and by the time the logistics had been arranged, her sister had passed on.
Determined to improve on the level of healthcare infrastructure in the country, she set up Flying Doctors Nigeria, adjudged as West Africa’s first and only full air ambulance service. Since its establishment, she has successfully steered the company upwards in achieving its corporate goals and ensured sustained growth.
The company has so far airlifted hundreds of patients, using a fleet of planes and helicopters to rapidly move injured workers and critically ill people from remote areas to hospitals. Ranging from patients with road traffic trauma, to bomb blast injuries, to gunshot wounds, Olamide and her team are helping to save lives by moving these patients quickly and safely, while providing a high level of medical care en route.
Olamide has also published two medical textbooks, which are ‘EMQ’s in Pediatrics‘ and ‘Pre-Hospital Care for Africa‘ she has also written articles in the British Medical Journal, New York Times and The Huffington Post.
She is an international speaker who has received multiple awards and nominations. These include the Mouldbreaker’s Award, the THIS Day Award, The Future Award as the entrepreneur of the year, New Generation Leader for Africa, Ladybrille Personality of the month, Nigerian Aviation personality of the year award, and Vanguard WOW Awards. She is also a TED fellow, an Aspen Fellow and has been honoured by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a Young Global Leader.
Recently, Olamide was awarded the “Extraordinary Business Achievement Award” at the Silverbird Group’s annual award, becoming the youngest person ever to win the prestigious award and the only woman in the last decade.
Getting funding for a capital-intensive business
In a recent interview with an online media platform, Olamide said that she began to save about 60% of her salary as a medical doctor in England, and for several years, she denied herself a lot of pleasures.
In her words:
“People say they don’t earn enough to save, everybody earns enough to save but you’ve just got to deny yourself of certain things. So while everybody was wearing new clothes to work, I wore only surgical scrubs for a year. I did not buy any new clothes. While everybody was going to the hair salon, I refused to join them.”
Her asceticism paid off when in 2007 she quit her high-flying job at NHS in London and came to Nigeria with her lump savings to set up the air ambulance company.
Recounting the difficulty getting additional funds to what she had saved,
“Sometimes I would spend hours waiting in an office only to be told to come back the next day and then be turned down. One time, on my way to Ondo State, I was robbed of all I had and was told by my companion, who was travelling with me, not to speak or else my accent would give me away and be the basis for my kidnap. “
Despite all these challenges she was able to raise substantial amounts of money from investors, especially after they saw the impressive results of her hard work.
Plans in the next five years
Olamide says that her goal is to continue improving access to treatment, while focusing on the pre-hospital and in-hospital management of injuries across the continent. She says that whilst much attention and funding is directed toward infectious diseases, Africa is also facing a big problem when it comes to treating physical injuries and wounds. Her dream is to see the brand establish presence in other African countries.