Dr Bilqis Williams, a medical practitioner based in Canada, tells GODFREY GEORGE about her experience and desire for medical reforms in Nigeria
Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Dr Bilqis Williams, a medical doctor and a global environmental public health practitioner serving in clinical, research, managerial and crisis resolution roles. I major mostly in feminine health, mental health, community and policy development, geospatial analysis, health equity, racial justice, inclusive leadership, human rights activism, immigrant or refugee and displaced persons’ health and humanitarian service.
What is your driving force?
I am incredibly grateful to God for His blessings and favours. I am confident that the progress I have made thus far stems from a few advantages I possess: my upbringing, faith, character, experiences and clear vision for my goals.
Has it always been your dream to be a medical doctor?
I cannot take credit for being a medical doctor on my own. I decided to choose this career path after a conversation with my mother. She explained the intricacies and disadvantages that persons and especially women face in Nigeria when in search of employment. She advised that the best route for a life free of travails was a professional course. Since I enjoyed biological sciences, I opted for medicine.
After studying medicine at University of Lagos, you left for Canada. Whose idea was this and how has your experience been practising abroad?
I did not immediately jet off to Canada. I practised in Nigeria for about five years before relocating. It was not like it was anybody’s idea before I decided to leave. You know there comes a time in our lives when we have to make some critical decisions. It is either you go hard or you go home.
Which schools did you attend after UNILAG?
I had a master’s in public health, global health and environmental health at Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, where I received an Excellence in Service and Leadership Awards Scholarship. I have gone for many coursework in Canada, the US and the UK. I just keep pushing.
How would you grade your experience working and schooling abroad over the years?
After my National Youth Service Corps programme in Gombe State, I worked as a medical officer at the Jericho Specialist Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State. I also worked at the Lagos State Health Service Commission as a medical officer and emergency physician. Outside Nigeria, I have worked as a public advisory council member at Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, Toronto. I worked at Ontario Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research, Patient Partner Working Group, Canadian Blood Services, and Hell’s Kitchen, New York, as a donor care manager. Other positions I have worked include policy advisor and campaign director, Justice, Racial Equity, Disability, and Inclusion; Canadian Red Cross, quality assurance research assistant, Priority Assistance to Transition Home; University Health Network, Toronto; as a researcher at Center for Health Law, Ethics and Human Rights, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I also worked as a unit administrator, surgical oncology unit manager; Federation for International Gender and Human Rights, New York; and I am a mission ambassador to the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Maternal Care Crisis).
My experience working abroad has been very beautiful. I wouldn’t want to begin to make comparisons with my experience in Nigeria. They both form a critical aspect of my journey and I am greatly humbled to be part of both forays. It has been a very enlightening experience and deeply enriching working in Canada now. It has helped me understand the similarities and disparities in health systems and how these variables affect health outcomes.
Which among your awards over the years do you consider most rewarding?
All the awards and recognitions I have got over the years were as a result of hard work and God’s grace, so I don’t take any for granted. I particularly love the Peace Prize for Community Activism, Canada, where I was a Bucks Grant Recipient for the Skill Up Homelessness project, Clean Energy Project Liaison (Boston – Lagos). I was the first-ever recipient of the prize and was listed by the Boston University School of Public Health as one of 20 change-makers of our century. It was for community activism – my investments in human capacities, advocacy for marginalised communities and work in human rights, ethics, diversity, sensitivity and inclusion. I cannot take it for granted.
Have you ever been looked down upon because of your age, gender or race?
In Nigeria, I was, but I have yet to have that experience abroad. Hopefully, I won’t. What I have experienced thus far is a pleasant surprise from persons I have interacted with that I was raised in and educated in Nigeria. It seems to amaze people that my mind works the way it does.
How would you describe your interface with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation?
I work in many spheres that serve similar interests as the foundation.
How would you assess medical practice in Nigeria?
I am very happy to say the quality and skills of our medical practitioners in Nigeria are of global standards. However, our facilities and institutions are ill-equipped for optimum results. The practitioners cannot provide the outcomes we seek when they exist in a non-functional system. The doctor can save a life if the roads are pliable, devoid of traffic and irrelevant roadblocks.
Would you say this is the reason many Nigerian doctors leave the country almost at the beginning of their careers?
Is this a fact? I am not sure when Nigerian doctors leave, but I am confident that when most do, it is because the system has failed them, disregarded their interests and failed to protect them.
What do you think the Nigerian government should do to avoid this brain drain?
It should be more responsible and accountable to the nation. It should be aware that charity begins at home and be compassionate towards our nation. It should also provide facilities and systems that enable swift engagement as well as resolution of the people’s needs.
What is your definition of an ideal home and what would you not do to get a man?
My thoughts about an ideal home are that everything is relative and each person’s needs are valid.
You had to work with homeless and underprivileged people in Canada. What was the experience like?
I served persons experiencing homelessness and marginalised communities in the US through advocacy and capacity building. In Canada, I served senior populations and persons in palliative care through research. My takeaway from these activities is that everyone can lead and make a change from where they are, a system that loves its citizens is one that thrives and benefits everyone including the leadership and a people’s condition will never change except that they change what is in their hearts.
Do you plans to return to Nigeria to start up anything of your own?
Certainly! By God’s will, our projects are already underway; we just incorporated our company, Belief Beyond Dreams, that will cater for environmental issues and event management, and our non-governmental organisation, Hands and Minds Empowerment Initiative, a tool that will aid children and teens to explore vocational, sensory, novel and alternative methods of literacy, psychosocial development and skill acquisition.
You were a student representative at the Governing Council of the Boston University School of Public Health. What was the experience like?
That experience instilled the art of listening and the validity of varying perspectives in me. It was wonderful to see that one’s thoughts really mattered, were heard and were acted upon. Several issues that I brought to the table were resolved promptly. These immediate actions resulted in outcomes that benefited both the students, leadership and the school’s global image. It also gave me the opportunity to create sustainable solutions for marginalised populations refugees, the homeless and substance abusers under the guidance of experienced minds.
Are there times you felt like giving up on your journey?
There have been several of those times, but with the help of my faith, family and invaluable friends, I was able to forge ahead.
What will give you ultimate happiness?
(Laughs) If I am assured heaven. But in earthly terms, peace of mind and great quality of life.
What advice would you give to young people who have lost faith in the country and want to go abroad?
I understand that each person’s destiny takes them through different journeys, hence different individuals migrate for different reasons. Always remember there is no place like home. Ensure you come back to invest your mental assets in the Nigerian economy.
Thank you so much for reading this article, we really do appreciate. We hope you loved it, if you did, please share this page with your friends via the share buttons below. Sharing is caring.