Q & A with Dr. Debo Odulana

Bringing your hospital to you

Jaachimma Nwagbara
400-level Medicine & Surgery
University of Ibadan

Hello, Sir. Please, could we briefly get to know you?
I’m Debo Odulana, a medical doctor and health management consultant. I’m from Ijebu-Ife, Ogun state, but I live in Lagos, Nigeria.

What medical school did you attend, and what was your experience like?
I got my MBBS degree from the University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE). Medical training over there is slightly different from what we have in Nigeria. We had a lot of hands-on exposure, and the system took a problem-solving approach in teaching medical students—that was very vital in our training. It was a great experience.

Wow, that’s truly a bit different from our system. Did you do any clinical practice after medical school, and why did you decide to take another path?
I did my house job at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), after which I stayed back in Nigeria and served in a rural community in Ibadan. I worked in St. Nicholas afterwards and became head of quality assurance, where I worked on an expansion plan and contributed to reducing patient waiting time by 30%. I worked for Johnson & Johnson, a professional education consultant, where I was involved in healthcare education and healthcare marketing—this nudged me to take another path.

That’s an interesting journey. I was at the Nigerian Medical Students Association (NiMSA) Southwest convention in August 2019, where I first heard you speak about Doctoora which you founded. Could you tell us about Doctoora?
We are a platform looking to ensure health professionals can practise on their own in Nigeria, without having to build a facility or buy all the required equipment. I realised there was a significant gap in the system due to the high dependence on hospitals and because of this, we work on utilising the necessary facilities and tech support that will enable doctors to practise on their own. All they need to do is market their services via our platform and connect with patients.

That is really innovative. What challenges would you say are peculiar to running Doctoora in Nigeria?
We were met with harsh realities when we started, as we failed to look at some areas which are peculiar to Nigeria. Quality healthcare services are expensive for the average Nigerian, and many people do not have health insurance. Our target market was used to certain behaviours before we came in, and this was also a challenge. We also realised that these doctors are not businessmen that have skills to market their practice, and we had to look into this. Finding the right type of staff for this new type of business was another challenge. Lastly, funding was a major challenge because you have to show investors that some activity is going on, and revenue will be generated, before they can take a chance on you.

Sounds like you faced serious issues there but we can see that you are handling them quite well. Speaking of challenges, in what ways has the pandemic affected Doctoora?
It has actually been quite interesting for us as it has made us more relevant. We have been involved in the response and setting up Electronic Medical Records (EMR) for isolation centres. We also advise and manage home care services of COVID-19 patients. It has helped us showcase ourselves and helped us realign our business.

I guess we can agree there’s a silver lining to every cloud. It is a general belief that working abroad is better than working in Nigeria. What made you stay back?
There are opportunities here. I am quite specialised as a person, and I believe my skill set would be of greater value to Nigerian than to any other country. I am at home here and have access to the network and resources I need. I create jobs for people here. What am I going to be doing building another person’s country?

You make a very valid point. You also co-founded Cyber Logik (CLK) Foundation. Kindly tell us more about CLK.
Cyber Logik Foundation is an arm of the Cyber Logik group that makes use of technology for social causes. I founded it alongside some of my colleagues from secondary school who happen to be engineers. So far, we have worked on printing 3D prosthetic limbs for amputees, 3D printing of braille for the blind and we have taken on a few other projects.

Wow, that is really commendable and, I must say, very impactful. From what I know, you attended Imperial College Business School in London, United Kingdom. What was your experience like, and how has it helped you?
It was a really great experience for me, and every bit of the exposure was important. We had a lot of practical real-life scenarios to work with and case studies that showed how things work in the business world. The most important aspect for me was the networking—meeting people and getting advice from investors. I value peer capacity training, and I met great people there. Working on an algorithm for a group of people I met there birthed the idea behind Doctoora.

Sounds like that played a very vital role in your journey. We are very much aware of your contributions in the tech industry with regards to healthcare. What would you say are the prospects of telemedicine in Nigeria?
I see telemedicine as a tool that, when used well, can close a lot of gaps for us. For example, it may not be possible to set up a healthcare facility in a riverine area in Nigeria but I can turn a boat into a facility where patients can get a consultation. It is about using telecommunication to improve healthcare, such as sending messages to mothers reminding them about vaccination dates. While we may not have the infrastructure, we have some of the devices. Using EMRs to enable health workers function easily and using decision-making tools are aspects of telemedicine we can begin to look into.

I guess we have a long way to go, but it helps if we start now. It cannot be easy doing all you do. How do you relax when you’re stressed?
I run an indie record label business—Ministry Records—so I go to the studio to relax most times.

That seems very interesting. If you were not a medical doctor, what would you be doing?
I would be selling food.

I certainly didn’t see that coming. What is your advice for students interested in a path similar to the one you took?
Keep an eye out for problems; innovation is a process. When you create a solution to a problem, don’t stop there. You need to find new ways to make people use your solution, by asking people with the problem and testing it with the target market. Once you have ticked all boxes, you have created innovation. Consistently explore ways to solve problems.

That is really valuable advice. Thank you so much, Sir, for your time and for sharing your knowledge with us. It has been a pleasure speaking to you.
Thank you. I had a great time.

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Jaachimma Oluwabunmi Nwagbara

Jaachimma Oluwabunmi Nwagbara is a fourth-year medical student studying at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. She is from Abia state, one of the most beautiful places in Eastern Nigeria. She was born and spent most of her years in Northern Nigeria, Kaduna state to be precise. With a drive and passion to contribute meaningfully in her immediate environment, she has participated in politics, the Press and outreaches. She was the Editor-in-chief, Preclinical Press of the University of Ibadan Med- ical Students’ Association. She currently serves as the Financial Secretary of the Association. She also volunteers and participates in medical and social outreaches. She enjoys watching comedy series and exploring new places. She says, “Medical school is a journey, different for everyone and we all should share our stories. I look forward to sharing mine and learning from others who share theirs. As medical students/doctors, we never stop learning!”

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