Time after time, education has proved to be a gateway to invaluable opportunities, not only for its direct participants and their families, but for the world as a whole. It is said that the value of education cannot be accurately quantified. As such, rewards such as honour, prestige and recognition have been perceived to be adequate measures of the value of education. More often than not, Nigeria has been a recipient of these rewards by virtue of her citizens who, home and abroad, are thriving in their careers. These careers span the fields of Law, Medicine, Engineering, Sports and the Arts.
In recent years, a number of Nigerians have projected the country into the limelight of the medical profession. These outstanding individuals have worked hard to distinguish themselves and have earned the respect of their contemporaries in countries such as the United States of America, Canada, Australia, Europe and indeed, all over the world. Here is a brief look at the feats of some of these high-achieving professionals in the diaspora.
1. Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye
Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye is a renowned fetal and pediatric Nigeria born surgeon based in Texas. In 2016, he successfully operated on a baby-in-utero. The mother, at the 23rd week of pregnancy had gone for a routine ultra-sound and it was discovered that her baby had a rare birth defect known as sacrococcygeal teratoma, a large tumor located on the fetus’ tailbone. Dr. Olutoye led a team of 21 doctors to remove the tumor. The five-hour surgery involved removing the baby from the uterus for 20 minutes so as to remove the tumor and then placing the baby back into the womb for the remainder of the gestation period, after which she was safely delivered.
For this groundbreaking feat, Dr. Olutoye was appointed Surgeon-in-Chief at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the U.S. He now leads one of the largest children’s hospital surgery departments in the world.
Dr. Olutoye received his medical degree from the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. In 1996, he went on to earn his PhD in anatomy from Virginia Commonwealth University. He completed his residency in general surgery at the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals, Virginia Commonwealth University, and his fellowships in pediatric and fetal surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He is certified in Surgery and Pediatric Surgery by the American Board of Surgery. He is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the West African College of Surgeons. Dr. Olutoye is a member of the American Surgical Association, the American Pediatric Surgical Association and past president of the International Fetal Medicine and Surgery Society.
In 2019, Dr. Olutoye was appointed professor and the E. Thomas Boles chair of pediatric surgery at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.
2. Professor Iyalla Elvis Peterside
Dr. Peterside is an attending neonatologist in the Division of Neonatology at Children’s Hospital and director of the intensive care unit at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He has worked in four continents including Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. His expertise includes care of the neonatal patient, infection control with emphasis on catheter-related bloodstream infections, the use of ECMO to treat critically ill patients in respiratory and cardiac failure.
He received his primary medical education in Nigeria at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria in 1985. He did his internship at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, Nigeria and Booth Hall Children’s Hospital, Manchester, England. He did his residency at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, Nigeria, Booth Hall Children Hospital, Manchester, England, the Brooklyn Hospital Center, New York and Cornell Medical Center, New York. In addition to these prestigious qualifications, Professor Peterside is Board Certified by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and London. He is also the president of the Philadelphia Perinatal Society.
In March 2021, the Nigerian-born medical doctor was recognized as one of America’s best physicians of the year 2020 by the U.S. National Consumer Advisory Board.
3. Dr. Njideka Udochi
Dr. Njideka Udochi is yet another shining example of the innate spirit of excellence that thrives in Nigerians. Shortly after the appointment of her sister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, the Nigerian-born physician became the very first black female to emerge Family Physician of the Year in Maryland, United States. This award was bestowed on her by the Maryland Academy of Family Physicians (MDAFP) in 2021. Becky Wimmer, the Academy’s Executive Director revealed that Dr. Njideka Udochi was selected from six candidates because she “continues to provide her patients and communities with passion and care” and also remarked that “all her contributions made her stand out.” The award is the MDAFP recognition of Dr. Udochi’s exemplary character and her embodiment of the values and traditions of a model family physician. It is a position of great honor and prestige and is no small feat indeed.
For Dr. Njideka Udochi, a graduate of medicine from the University of Nigeria with over 33 years of experience, excellence in her chosen career field and a long-standing character of integrity go hand in hand and this is evidenced by the stellar ratings from her patients who commend her as the best family doctor they have ever had. In her practice, she is known by her patients as a doctor who establishes a connection with each individual and strives to treat all her patients as if they are her family. After earning her Master’s in Public Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School, Dr. Njideka Udochi proceeded to undergo her residency at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in 1988. The following year, she completed her fellowship in the same university. She is board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine (Family Medicine). For five years following this, she worked as a medical director for Baltimore’s Healthcare for the Homeless and a former HIV clinic known as the Health Education Resource Organization (HERO). Over the period of seven years, Dr. Udochi has worked with about 152,857 patients from Maryland and Washington, D.C. as well as patients from 114 countries around the world. She is currently resident in Columbia, Maryland in the United States.
4. Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu
Another exceptional medical practitioner flying the Nigerian flag high in the USA is Professor Onyema Ogbuagu. He is an Associate Professor of Medicine in the clinician-educator track and Director of the HIV Clinical Trials Program of the Yale AIDS Program, Section of Infectious Diseases of the Yale School of Medicine. He was recently recognized as one of the researchers instrumental in the creation of the Pfizer vaccine for the infamous Covid-19 virus. As a Yale Infectious Diseases specialist, he ran Pfizer’s vaccine trial at the school, and he subsequently served to reassure black people in America and worldwide that they have nothing to worry about concerning the vaccine.
Between 2003-2010, Dr. Ogbuagu received his education at the University of Calabar College of Medical Sciences and completed his residency at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He had his fellowship at the Yale School of Medicine in 2012. In response to the COVID pandemic, he is the Yale principal investigator on multiple investigational therapeutic and preventative clinical trials for COVID-19 including remdesivir (now FDA approved), Pfizer and GSK COVID-19 vaccines. Professor Ogbuagu has over 18 years of experience in the medical field.
Other Nigerian medics who have gained recognition in the diaspora are Dr. Bennet Omalu, Dr. Isioma Okobah among others.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-American physician, was the first to discover and publish findings on the chronic traumatic encephalopathy in American football players while working in Pittsburgh. So profound was his discovery that his article was expanded into a book titled Concussion. It was later adapted into a film of the same name, in which Dr. Omalu was portrayed by famous Hollywood actor, Will Smith.
Dr. Mrs. Isioma Okobah, in 2017, bagged the highest medical award in the US as the 2017 Prestigious Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians Award. The award is for practising physicians in the US who have distinguished themselves among colleagues and in their community by their contribution towards the development of family medicine.
With the aforementioned, it is clear that there is no shortage of brilliance and capacity for greatness amongst Nigerians. These outstanding individuals and many more Nigerian professionals are but a few among the many professionals who spin a different narrative of Nigeria and Nigerians in diaspora. Their exploits speak louder than any written words.
Victoria Harrison is a researcher and an enthusiast of everything good about Nigeria. She is currently studying law at the University of Lagos.