‘As a woman, it is important to follow your dreams’
During this time, she also completed her MBA, with a special concentration in marketing from Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA. In 2007, she relocated to Lagos and established Wellpath Physiotherapy and Wellness Ltd; a one-stop rehabilitation facility providing physical therapy services, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and home medical supplies. Wellpath Physiotherapy has consistently been an industry leader in providing inpatient rehabilitation care in Lagos. A recipient of the Best Female Physiotherapist Award 2017 and NHEA awards in 2018 and 2019 for Best Physical therapy Practice, she currently serves on the board of Atlantic Hall School, as well the Lagos State Sports Commission. She was recently appointed to the Healthcare Federation of Nigeria Exco board and is the Vice Chairman of the Medical, Pharmacy, and Allied Profession’s Committee of the Lagos State Chamber of Commerce. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about the importance of physiotherapy in preventative and diagnostic healthcare, increasing access to physiotherapy, brain drain in the profession, and opportunities for women in the field.
For those who may not be aware of who a physiotherapist, tell us a bit about what this entails?
PHYSIOTHERAPISTS helps people affected by injury, illness, or disability through the use of movement and exercise, manual therapy, education, and advice. We encourage and facilitate recovery and enable people to stay in work and remain independent for as long as possible. We are able to treat a variety of patients ranging from neurologically impaired patients to patients with cardiovascular impairments. We work in various settings like schools, hospitals, and also in industry. The main goal of physiotherapy is to restore or maximise function when it has declined thereby affording the individual a greater quality of life.
You practiced in the U.K and U.S for many years, what informed your decision to come back and settle in Nigeria?
I was able to achieve a lot while I was abroad; schooled at the University of Birmingham in the UK and did my MBA at Rutgers University in the US, after which I worked for nine years in the US at different centers, culminating as Head of Rehabilitation at a 22-bed facility. It was very fulfilling, but I wanted to give back some of my experience and knowledge both in clinical and in administrative areas to the Nigerian physiotherapy practice.
Through my many visits back home, I was aware of the lack of awareness of the profession or the easy access to physiotherapy at the time. While there were and are many professionally qualified physiotherapists practicing in Nigeria, at the time, it was clear the cognizance of who we are and what we could do was quite limited. This inspired me to be part of the generation that contributed to the growth of the profession. I am determined to do this no matter how small that contribution might be like every little help. This led me to engage in a lot of promotional activities in my early years and we engaged in talks at various fora. This led us to be involved with the Access Bank Lagos State marathon, where we have sponsored a tent at the finish line for our marathon champions for four years now.
I am especially happy that I have been fortunate to have trained physiotherapists under my tutelage who have since gone on to set up their own practice. In my view, that is the best way to establish best practice and grow the ecosystem.
You established your rehab facility about 11 years ago, how has the journey been like for?
It has been an interesting journey with a lot of learning. When I first established the facility, the industry was not as established in the private sector, and as such our organisation has been a trailblaser in a number of areas. During the years, we had to deal with a lot of challenges. We encountered power issues, human capacity, and training issues as well as administrative issues.
The business of running a practice in an environment with all those challenges makes it difficult to run a practice as efficiently as one would hope. All of these have also impacted the fees that we charge. A key requirement in expanding and building multiple facilities is access to finance, which has been a challenge. This has impacted our growth and business journey, but thankfully, we have been able to overcome these challenges and successfully run three well- established clinics in Lagos.
Would you confidently say Nigerians see and know the importance of physiotherapists?
Sadly, not yet, as there remains a great need to grow awareness of who we are and what we do. It is important that a lot more is done within our communities to educate people on the importance of our roles in the healthcare space. Physiotherapists are able to work with clients with various conditions. For example, physiotherapists play a vital role in women’s health issues. We can provide both antenatal and postnatal care to pregnant women. Whether it is back or pelvic pain or incontinence issues that can arise from labour, the intervention from a physiotherapist can reduce the dependence on pain medication and quality of patient life.
By knowing more of the areas we treat as physiotherapists, the more the profession will be fully embraced as a vital role in the medical space. Physiotherapists play a significant role in preventative healthcare as well as diagnostic healthcare.
According to reports, there are less than 4000 physiotherapists serving the whole country, what does this portend for us?
What this means is that we need to invest heavily in public awareness of the benefits of the profession so we can attract more people to pursue a career in physiotherapy. We need to support the growth of small businesses to increase the number of facilities where physiotherapists can work. Physiotherapists are present not only in the most obvious of locations like hospitals and clinics but also in more specialist areas like schools, industry, and factories for occupational physiotherapy. We still need to increase access to physiotherapy across the country. There is a global shortage of physiotherapists as the global population ages. As Nigeria’s population ages, this will become more critical for us, and with increasing brain drain the issue needs to be addressed.
Industry stakeholders have lamented that this field (as well as other medical specialties) suffers acute brain
drain, how do we stem this?
This is very much a national problem. As you know, there are numerous infrastructural improvements required, including electricity, water, roads, and transportation options to enable the ease of doing business and the quality of work-life for medical professionals. The high cost of doing business also means the wages for physiotherapists could be improved upon.
In western countries, the starting wages are more comfortable for a graduate than it is here. The success of HMOs is also an important factor in improving the reimbursement codes for health services. Until these issues are fixed, the brain drain will continue and we must focus on training even more people.
Nigeria is witnessing an increase in stroke cases, which many times are poorly managed. Why is this so?
A lot of this is due to a lack of awareness of the options for stroke treatment. Very often, people still engage in unorthodox treatments for strokes, which exacerbates the problem. Strokes are best managed when access to medical care is immediate. Intensive rehabilitation in the early stages is critical to regaining maximum function over the long term.
What advice would you give to a young woman looking at physiotherapy as a career choice and what are the advantages?
Physiotherapy is an amazing career option irrespective of ones’ gender. As a young woman especially, it is a great option and offers certain advantages. It provides us with a great work-life balance and decent pay. It offers a lot of flexibility in how you practice at the various physiotherapy settings including hospitals to children’s schools. Therefore, you get to pick the most comfortable or convenient environment for you. In most countries, it is a highly demanded profession and provides good job satisfaction.
How can we get more women to embrace this field?
Physiotherapy is a great profession for a woman because it offers a great work-life balance and decent pay. It features a lot of various settings that we can work in and so offers a lot of choice and flexibility. Physiotherapists can work in schools with special needs children and this can be of great advantage for a woman with young kids or they can work in outpatient facilities, which typically can be busier and offer longer hours.
In addition to the various settings we can work in, we are also able to specialise our skills once again offering diversity to the clinician. Finally, I think women need to see more role models of other successful women in the field and I hope I am able to reflect this through my practice.
Many Nigerians think physiotherapy is beyond their reach and prefer to visit local masseurs and the likes, what do you think about this?
Modern medicine has always had to battle with the existence of traditional healers and local masseurs. However, these are quite different and there is no substitute for medically based and sound physiotherapy. There needs to be more awareness and public health messages to the general public on the importance of accessing the right type of care. There are many conditions that are worsened by patients who choose to use local or traditional healers and masseurs.
How best can we improve access to physiotherapy for every Nigerian that needs it?
The best way to improve the access to physiotherapy services for Nigerians is through advocacy and awareness programmes by all the stakeholders. We need public health messages and campaigns targeted at the individual. A broader and easier access to medical insurance and HMOs will aid access to physiotherapy.
Having come this far, is there something you wish you had done differently or would like to change?
I would not change a thing; I am glad I was able to return home at the time that I did. I had very extensive training and experience in the practice of physiotherapy both in the UK and US, and this has given me a good knowledge not only in my clinical skills but also the administration within the healthcare setting. An MBA, has guided me in the business of running my profession as I had envisioned that I would always run my business eventually. With this in mind, I also ensured that my clinical experience was very varied but thorough. I still have things I would like to achieve and believe very strongly in planning.
What does your day-to-day activity look like?
I typically start my day early. During the school term, I drop my kids off at school and then head to my clinic. I am able to see a number of clients before picking up my children and sometimes, I go back to the clinic to continue working, or sometimes I go home to watch a bit of TV.
How do you relax and unwind?
I enjoy watching TV and hanging out with my kids. I enjoy cooking as well and I typically do this with my kids. Prior to the pandemic, I also enjoy some local travel within the country for the weekends with my family but obviously, we can’t do that now.
What final words would you love to leave for women reading this?
It is important to follow your dreams. We need to work hard but still find balance, so we do not neglect our families and whatever other passions are important to us. It is very important to understand that we play a vital role in the development of the nation and our families.
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