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‘Most issues with our healthcare system would be averted if we focused more on preventive medicine’

By Tobi Awodipe
14 September 2019   |   3:30 am
Dr. Nini Iyizoba is a Medical doctor, a passionate advocate for women’s health and an entrepreneur. Her journey into medicine began at St. John's University in New York, where she received her undergraduate degree in Biology/PreMed.

Nini Iyizoba

Dr. Nini Iyizoba is a Medical doctor, a passionate advocate for women’s health and an entrepreneur. Her journey into medicine began at St. John’s University in New York, where she received her undergraduate degree in Biology/PreMed.

After her graduation from St. John’s, she went on to become a Senior Certified Pharmacy technician and worked for a year at Walgreens Pharmacy to help gain knowledge about drug pharmacology before heading to medical school where she received her degree from Avalon University School of Medicine, Ohio. After graduating, she interned at Aultman Hospital, Ohio before returning to Nigeria to continue to explore her passion for medicine.

Since returning to Nigeria, she has worked at various well-known hospitals in addition to running Reviv Integrative Health, a health and wellness company dedicated to ensuring people are educated and aware of the benefits of preventive medicine and a healthy lifestyle.

From her personal challenges, she developed a passion for empowering and encouraging people dealing with fertility issues and so she started Dr Nini’s Women’s Health Awareness Foundation. She has held several seminars and events to help increase fertility health awareness and endometriosis awareness in Nigeria. Also certified in health coaching for couples seeking to achieve optimal preconception health through her company, Fertyl Life by Dr Nini, she regularly partners with other medical professionals and institutions to provide free health checks to the general public.

Named one of the 100 Most Inspiring Women in Nigeria by Leading Ladies Africa in 2018, she is also the brain behind the health and wellness television talk show, “Ask Dr. Nini.” The award-winning health and fertility expert sat down with Guardian Woman to talk about how her own fertility challenges drive her to provide solutions, how the nation’s poor healthcare system is driving up maternal mortality numbers, why there are not more women in medicine amongst other issues.

You have an exciting career, take us through your journey?
I’m really glad you think it’s exciting. Growing up, I always knew that I was going to be a doctor. I used to get good grades when I was in primary school and my mum and older siblings would always tease and call me doctor or professor, and it kind of just stuck with me that I would be a medical doctor when I grow up, I had no plan B, to be honest. So after high school, I attended St. John’s University and graduated with a degree in PreMed/Biology, after which I went on to Avalon Medical School of Medicine and graduated, became a medical doctor, did my internship in Internal Medicine at Aultman Hospital Ohio, and after that, I somehow found myself back here in Nigeria.

Your move back to Nigeria, what informed this decision?
On one of my trips back to Nigeria, I met someone who is my husband today. Well, how do I put this, basically he did not allow me ever to go back fully? I had to decide between going back and keep practicing medicine in the States or stay in Nigeria and continue practicing. Before I knew what was happening, I was happily married and living in Nigeria. Till now, I don’t know how he was able to convince me, but I thank God, as it was the right decision.

Do you habour any regrets moving back?
Moving back has allowed me to explore medicine in a whole other dimension. Not only within the practice of medicine but also, I have been able to dabble in many other things that I would have never thought possible. In Nigeria, I am many things- an entrepreneur, restaurateur, businesswoman, writer, speaker, health and wellness advocate, and coach. I have a health and wellness talk show that I created and produced, I run a Women’s Health Foundation and then, I am still a medical doctor all at once. If I remained in the States, I would just go to my job, go to the hospital and come home. Yes, I would be rich, but I think it would have been a very boring life. Nigeria has allowed me to spread my wings and try out new things, so absolutely no regrets at all.

As an advocate for women’s health, what are some things you have done for this cause?
Through my foundation, I have been able to organise medical outreach programs directed specifically for women to help educate women on the importance of regular health screenings and also various programs that raise awareness about reproductive health disorders such as endometriosis and provide fertility health coaching for couples dealing with infertility. Our launch event took place in 2015; the ‘Kick-Off Endometriosis’ event was aimed at creating more awareness about a rising cause of Infertility known as Endometriosis.

In 2016, we had another event, ‘Positive Vibes Only’ discussing mental health and infertility and mainly aimed at the importance of having a positive mindset during the infertility struggle and we provided resources for women who may be dealing with anxiety and major depressive disorder. In 2017, we held the ‘Keep The Passion Alive Event.’

In addition to these, we’ve had various educational programs aimed at educating young women in the universities about sexual health behaviours and how it may affect fertility. We have also partnered with a few fertility clinics to provide free health screenings and certain treatments for women. We recently launched the Fertyl Life by Dr Nini network, which is just a group of women who are united because they share something in common and provide support for each other by sharing their experiences and success stories.

It is well known that women usually put their interests including health on the back-burner, how can we change and improve this mindset?
As women, we are naturally brought up to be caretakers. So we take care of the home, we take care of our immediate and extended family, in-fact we take care of everything but ourselves. You’re well aware of the metaphor, “put the oxygen mask on yourself first,”

As women, we must learn to also take care of ourselves because we cannot give what we don’t have. Women must learn that taking care of yourself helps you to be more productive, happier, more energetic, less fearful, less stressed, less resentful, and less depressed. Remember that you are a priority as well; it is not selfish for you to practice self-care or take some time to rest or take some time out to visit your doctor. In fact, it’s important for you to be happy and healthy both mentally and physically, because only then can you truly enjoy life to the fullest.

You are passionate about fertility issues, where does this stem from?
It stems from me going through my own fertility challenges as well; I know firsthand the stigma, the struggle, the hurt and pain and the disappointment that millions of people silently go through. So, I wanted to turn all that around into something positive and help people facing the same challenges.

Tell us about your NGO, whom does it cater to specifically?
My foundation was created out of love and a love for other women just like me that struggle with infertility in life. Our aim is to increase awareness on infertility, educate people on infertility and provide resources to help and support those dealing with infertility in whatever measure that we can provide. Also, we increase awareness and educate women about life-threatening women’s reproductive health conditions and advocate for sexual health and reproductive health.

You have your hands in several pies, business owner, CEO, doctor, health coach etc., how do you make everything work so well?
(Laughing) Prayers. But, honestly, I take it one day at a time. Sometimes it gets overwhelming, but for the most part, I derive satisfaction from all of it so I make it work as best as I can.

The health care system especially relating to maternal health in Nigeria is rife with challenges, what are some ways we can improve it?
Well, I would say our healthcare system still needs a lot of work. When it comes to maternal deaths, our rates are alarming. For starters, the government should make health services more affordable for low-income earners in our country. I have heard of situations where throughout a woman’s pregnancy, they never get to visit the doctor and never receive any prenatal care or counseling throughout because they simply cannot afford it. In such instances, some make it alive while some don’t due to complications that could have been prevented with proper planning. Also, our hospitals need well-trained and motivated staff in order to provide proper care to patients. How do you motivate them you may wonder, well two sure ways are to pay them well and provide better equipment that makes the job easier.

Many of our doctors are leaving the country in droves, how is this affecting the country’s healthcare system?
We don’t have enough doctors willing to work in Nigeria because, as I said, they complain of poor salaries and lack of appreciation. A lot of doctors have left the country, a lot more are planning to leave, and the ones that couldn’t make it out are not as dedicated or have other businesses, and quite frankly, I can’t blame them.

A successful woman like yourself must’ve faced several challenges along this journey; tell us how you weathered the storm?
As I said, when I first moved back, I found it a bit difficult to adjust to how things are done here. I practiced for a while but quickly realised that most of our issues with our healthcare system would be averted if we focused more on preventive medicine. This allowed me to step out of the hospital setting and focus more on the programs that encourage prevention rather than just the cure. It’s all about creating what works for you and fulfills you.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
Well, there have been so many amazing moments and milestones and right now I can’t even pick one. But what I do know is that I haven’t yet reached that phase where I can say, yes this is the highlight of my career. It’s still too early. I still have so many amazing things that I’m yet to do but I’m grateful for the journey so far.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) just 28 per cent of the country’s medical doctors are women. In your opinion, what are some factors keeping women away from this field?
I think it comes from that mindset that men may be stronger than women and that being a medical doctor is such a tasking job, both physically and emotionally, you find more men than women. I think that is changing though, especially in more developed countries. More women are becoming top executives, more women are becoming more and more successful in their businesses, more women are becoming CEOs and so much more. I’m sure that would soon reflect in the health sector as well.

How are you personally encouraging younger women who want to take to the medical profession?
Every time I meet a young woman in medical school or that wants to be a medical doctor, I just try to remind them that they can be anything they want to be, as long as she works hard and stays committed to it, she would come out victorious. Yes, it’s tough, but you are tougher and you can do it.

If you could change something for Nigerian women, what would that be?
If I could, I would provide free screenings to young women of reproductive age and provide free treatment for women who need Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) in order to conceive. How awesome would that be.

You’re into fitness as well, how important is it in guaranteeing well-being?
It is very important. Just like proper nutrition, physical activity is also very important. Contrary to popular belief, exercising has far more health benefits than just losing weight so everyone should exercise regardless of weight. An hour of exercise a day will help control blood sugar and lower heart disease risks such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Fitness helps relieve stress, improve brain and heart function and makes you feel good overall so it’s a necessity for a long and healthy life.

Tell us what your typical day looks like?
(Laughing) It’s not a very glamorous one I must say. I wake up, say my prayers, workout, come home and get breakfast ready before heading out to work. Some day’s work could be at the clinic, or it could be at the health and wellness café or check up on my other businesses. At the end of my work hours, which usually ends around 6:00 pm, I head home. On a good day, I would catch up with my family and friends over dinner, then relax and watch my shows till it’s bedtime then I do it all over again the next day.

What does your personal style consist of? What would you never be caught in?
I would say chic and glamourous. It really depends on how I’m feeling. I’m a lady at the end of the day so I usually like to dress like one.

If you hadn’t been a doctor, what would you have been?
I think maybe a fashion designer or an interior decorator. My style is usually over-the-top and I find that I’m drawn to pretty things that are glam and fabulous.

What guiding principles do you live by?
I believe that one should approach every day with a positive outlook. I believe in transmitting positive energy and thoughts into the universe, it would eventually become your reality, so help me God.

What last words do you want to leave with women that have been inspired by you?
Ladies, never ever compare yourself with anyone. The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday. Also, never be too afraid to try out new things, challenge yourselves. You never know what you are capable of unless you try. So step out in faith and believe in yourself.