Within five years of becoming a medical doctor at the age of 21, Dr. Ola Orekunrin has founded the first Nigerian ambulance service–which she serves in the dual roles of medic and pilot. A graduate of the University of York, Orekunrin was one of the youngest students to become a doctor in the UK. But rather than continuing to use her considerable talents in a high-powered British medical position (she once had aspirations of becoming president of the British Medical Association), Orekunrin moved to Nigeria, where she believed the flagging health care system would most benefit from her abilities.

Dr. Orekunrin’s decision to found Flying Doctors Nigeria Ltd followed the death of her younger sister, a sickle cell anemia sufferer. She recalls the revelatory moment in an article in The Punch:

“She was always in and out of hospitals but eventually died for lack of the availability of air ambulance. This more or less propelled my interes in medicine because I really wanted to make a difference in the same way doctors had done to her. Setting up the company was a direct result of m fascination for helicopters, trauma medicine, motor accident kinematics and pre-hospital medicine. I knew it was something that I had the skills and experience to do.” 

Dr. Orekunrin says that an ambulance system was first suggested in 1960. Over fifty years later, nothing had been done about it. Today, Flying Doctors Nigeria Ltd intends to provide top-of-the-line emergency care to communities who’ve struggled so long and lost so many without it. Of her company she states:  

“We are completely physician-led and adhere to the highest standards of medical practice supported by the East Anglian Air Ambulance in the United Kingdom. Our mission is simple- to provide the best possible standard of health care to all…. What I do hope is that more states will take up cover as well as making it increasingly available to the common man. I know that as Nigeria starts to take health care reform more seriously, this will begin to happen.” 

Dr. Orekunrin spoke about her amazing journey, her unique vision, and the discrimination she’s faced along the way at last year’s Legatum Convergence, a conference that promotes development and entrepreneurship at MIT. Watch her talk on “Infectious Ideas” here.


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