Flying Doctors Nigeria – Interview with Dr Ola Orekunrin

Dr Orekunrin At Helicopter Small

At 24 years old, Dr Ola Orekunrin is the young FEMALE founder of Flying Doctors Nigeria, an air ambulance service based in Lagos Nigeria.  Her great story is an example of turning adversity into a solution….

Dr. Ola Orekunrin

Dr. Ola’s current career

I am twenty four years old and a doctor trained at the University of York, I did my post-graduate training in the West Midlands. I have a specialist interest in Pre-hospital and Trauma Care, but I also hold membership with the American Academy of Aesthetic Physicians.

I was awarded the prestigious MEXT government scholarship this year and am working in Tokyo doing stem cell research, where my team and I are making unprecedented breakthroughs in the field of regenerative medicine.

 Flying Doctors Nigeria

I manage the Flying Doctors Service currently and consult for various government agencies and private companies on both aesthetic medicine and emergency medicine.  I have an office in Nigeria with several members of staff and travel there regularly for meetings and negotiation regarding my Flying Doctors service.

Early years

I grew up for the most part in a little town called Lowestoft with my foster parents. So I actually have four wonderful parents.

Fostered to Caucasian parents

I lived with my Caucasian parents, my biological sister, my two Indian brothers, my two Caucasian brothers and our poodle Benjamin (named after Benjamin Britten one ofLowestoft’s most famous exports). There were a few other temporary foster siblings’ in the house over the years as well.

 Influence of foster mother

One of the most influential people in my life without a doubt was my foster mother Doreen, who taught me to aspire to develop myself. I was extremely inquisitive growing up and had many questions that she did not know the answers to, so she bought me an encyclopaedia, so I could look up the answers to all my questions. She gave me the tools to learn on my own and helped me learn the value of first identifying the problem and then finding the tools to create a solution.

Studies before parties

Throughout school I was a science geek and in many ways I still am. As a teenager, I never dated or went out to parties. I loved textbooks! I read so much in school that I actually became popular for my geekiness.

I studied so much that I ran out of textbooks to read. I now live with my best friend and it’s perfectly normal for him to come in from work and find me practicing my tiny sutures with a magnifying glass and a bloody pig’s foot.

My most valued mentors

Well I have an uncle who I also refer to as my father, Mr Dele Adesina, he reminds me of the value of hard-work, integrity and determination. He is one of the foremost lawyers in Nigeria and one of my most valued mentors.

From a medical perspective it would be Professor Yamanaka from Japan my medical research role model. When he and his team discovered how to re-programme normally functional cells back into stem cells he changed the face of stem cell research forever. He is an innovator and a visionary.


Ambition is the desire to be rich, successful or powerful. It’s a word that is subject to various interpretations.  I think personal happiness and fulfilment are important. True success is about a passion to create a better world, live a life that you can look back on and be truly proud of.

Sister’s death in Nigeria is catalyst

Well I became interested in becoming a doctor mainly because my younger sister suffered a lot with sickle cell anaemia as a child but it was her death at the age of 12 due to the absence of critical care facilities in Nigeria that made me think in a more lateral way.

Poor health services

It was a horrible way to find out that the nearest air ambulance service was in South Africa, over eight hours away. The mortality rates for head injuries in states outside Lagos and Abuja was 100% because there were hardly any neurosurgeons working outside those areas.

Why Flying Doctors in Nigeria?

The first time it was proposed was in 1960 by the British, then again in the 1980’s, but no one had taken this idea forward. My sister was one of the thousands of sisters, brothers, mothers and grand-parents that died every day because they couldn’t get to the hospital quick enough. Every time I saw reports about Nigeria on the TV or read about them in magazines, I felt that same sense of compunction, knowing that I had the skills and knowledge to make a difference. I couldn’t agree more with Oscar Wilde when he says; “It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style”.

UK and Nigeria compared

Compared to the UK, we have got a lot of catching up to do. Flying Doctors is just the beginning of a massive overhaul of our emergency care service inNigeria. As I researched further, I realised that I could apply many of the skills I learned in the UK to the Nigerian healthcare system.

Nigeria’s potential

After a while I was able to see the real Nigeria.  Nigeria is a breath-taking beautiful country with a wealth of natural resources. People are extremely open and go out of their way to help. The adult literacy rate as estimated by UNICEF is nearly 80%.Nigeriais spewing with highly educated, bright young graduates from both the sciences and the arts.Nigeriais also a country with incredibly rich culture particularly with regard to the arts. Its inhabitants are extremely diverse; the plethora of different backgrounds and traditions is paraded proudly in cosmopolitan centres such as Lagos State.

Challenging my comfort zone

My first trip back toNigeriasince I was a child was in 2009. It was my first time back since my sister died and I had as much of a culture shock as any other visitor would. My first impulse was to stay with my comfortable NHS job, with all its familiarity and calm.

I think that feeling is natural; we have to force ourselves out of our comfort zones to really challenge ourselves.

My plan for next five years

I hope that in five years time I will be married.  I love to travel, I’d like to adopt a few kids, but most of all in five years time I would like to look back, as a fully-fledged diagnostic savant and know I’d been instrumental in changing the face of healthcare in Nigeria for good.

Focus brings success

When I was younger I dedicated myself to my studies and I continue to challenge personal comfort zones.  I have never considered myself to be an entrepreneur but to make changes in your society requires commitment and integrity.

Dr. Ola Orekunrin can be contacted.


About the Author

Semper Azzez Harris

Semper Azzez HarrisSpecialism: Current Affairs and Creative Industries. I have been writing and editing since 2002. My area of expertise is the entertainment industry but I also write on business or social issues. Since joining Knowledge Fountain in 2007 my work has been widely published in titles across the world.View all posts by Semper Azzez Harris →

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