When you meet Dr Adaeze Oreh the first thing that strikes you is her warmth and friendly candour, the next thing is her passion about public health and lastly is her passion for fashion. She seems to juggle her professional and family life without breaking a sweat and is one inspiring young lady, be inspired by our WCW of the week!
Tell us a little about you and your growing up years
I’m Adaeze Oreh, a daughter, a wife, and a mother. I’m from a very close-knit family. Both of my parents are professionals in the field of Medicine and Law respectively. I’m the oldest of four children in the family; I have two beautiful, accomplished sisters and an amazing, driven and equally accomplished brother. We are supportive of each other in my maiden family.
I’m married to the love of my life, Engineer Patrick Oreh, and we are blessed with two lovely children – an 11 year old daughter and an 8 year old son. I have been blessed to have a strong, supportive family system both in my maiden and in my immediate family. And I’m very grateful for that.My siblings and I from watching our parents and emulating their strong work ethics, found our professional niches. As an MD, I specialize in Public Health and Family Medicine, my brother is in Medical Microbiology, Diagnostics, Health care and Agriculture, while my sisters are both in Law.
We grew up in Port Harcourt, and I have very fond memories of my childhood; holidays with my grandparents, playing with my siblings (though they will tell you I was quite a bossy firstborn!), watching action movies with my father and grandfather, and especially sitting at my mother’s feet to hear her tales about her experiences as a child. I was always captivated by her experiences because they sounded far better than any fairy tale, but those were true stories. My father also shared his individual experiences of the Biafran war. These shared experiences have been very useful as I go through life.
We know you are a Medical Doctor and have a number of other qualifications some of which you got as a mum…what was your most challenging period while getting your qualifications and how did you deal with it?
Alright, so concerning my professional life. Yes, I’m a Medical Doctor and I specialize in Family Medicine. I graduated from the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus. I currently have two Masters degrees in “International Health Management” from Imperial College London and “Public Health” from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I recently took the Membership exams for both the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, and West African College of Physicians. I passed both, and I’m grateful to God.
In terms of difficult moments as a ‘student/mother’, I vividly recall that when I started on my first Masters degree at Imperial College, my daughter was about 18 months old. So, here I was away from home, in the UK, with my precious plumpness of a toddler who just refused to sleep through the night each and every night! So when she wakes up in the middle of the night, I would have to feed and play with her till she goes back to sleep. These were usually in 2 hour cycles.
Needless to say, I hardly got much study done at night, so I learned to use the College library during the day in between classes, and engaged a part-time nanny to help me watch her for about 4 hours on weekends so I could put in several hours work at the library.
You mentioned that you recently passed exams for both the National and West African Colleges of Family Medicine quite an accomplishment considering you work and run a home. How did you cope?
As a working wife and mother, I will say it’s extremely difficult juggling all the roles, especially having to leave my family at home be it for ‘call duties’, clinical meetings or discussion group meetings. However, these are just some of the challenges of professional women who juggle family and career roles. In my personal case as a female physician, I am not alone with the challenges described. My husband and family have been an immense support network for me, and I’m very grateful for that. They rally to help at a moment’s notice and my children feel right at home with them and have a blast!!
I’m very fortunate to be married to a loving and supportive husband. Although as an engineer he is very active in his profession in the Energy sector, his love and support have been vital to my career progress and self-actualization. Many times, he assists the children with homework, and volunteers with school activities. So I would say having a supportive spouse is crucial to being able to cope with all the competing demands.
I’m equally lucky to have been blessed with two understanding children. The kids would randomly leave me notes saying “Good luck” and “Don’t worry mummy, you’ve got this” as my exams approached. While these were very emotional, they were quite motivational for me as well and a daily reminder of the sacrifices they made as I pursued my studies and prepared for the exams. All this support from my husband, children and family made my resolve stronger to give it nothing but my best.
Also, having very supportive trainers and other colleagues that I was close to in Abuja who were also taking the National and West African College exams together helped me. We were a support system for each other, and committed to daily discussion meetings after work, often forgoing our lunch hour so we could study for 3-4 hours prior to going home to spend some time with our spouses, kids, and still put in some personal study time. At weekends, we would do what we called our “Weekend marathons” of 6-7 hours study together! We stood by, supported and prayed with each other. This was a great coping mechanism for all of us.
Our maternal mortality rate in Nigeria is still quite high what do you think can be done to change this?
Though Nigeria’s maternal mortality rate has improved over the last few years, it still ranks amongst the highest in the world. The problem however is not due to a lack of adequate government policies regarding maternal health, the problem in my opinion is due to the lack of and improper implementation of those policies. Secondly, matters concerning the health and wellbeing of women doesn’t seem to be a priority for many state governments. In many states, the framework of facilities and personnel is there, and in some cases the facilities are provided to address women’s issues. However, the maintenance of these facilities and the deployment of the necessary personnel to provide the needed services is the critical issue. That being said, there are countless individuals in the communities who work tirelessly day after day to effect positive change in their community health indices and their efforts cannot go unrecognized. Some of these individuals include community health workers, skilled birth attendants, nurses, midwives, primary care physicians, surgeons and other healthcare workers.I would like to share a quote by the past President of the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Mahmoud Fathala:
“Women are not dying of diseases we can’t treat. Rather, they are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.”
You are such a lady, what defines your style?
My definition of my personal style…hmmm that’s a tough one, but I’ll give it a try!
I’d say – Classic, feminine cuts and pieces with a bit of an edge (Rock, punk, African culture and art deco feature in several of my pieces – I like to think I was a band guitarist in another life!!!!).
I do occasionally veer into the androgynous arena every now and then, but always with a feminine touch thrown in. It’s awesome to see how Nigerian fashion has grown to be a force to be reckoned with both locally and on the global fashion stage. A testament to the determination and hard work of our local designers and fashion business people who have projected the Nigerian prints.
You are obviously a very family focused individual, how do you strike the balance between work and spending time with those you love the most?
I would say in finding a work-life balance as a family-oriented professional, time management and listening to your spouse and children is key. This helps me pick up on the subtle messages they send me when I’ve not been very ‘present’! Knowing how to apportion my hours so they don’t feel abandoned is a skill I constantly pray for. Especially working in the area of Medicine which is even more vocation than career.
I have however had the perfect role model in my mother, Justice Mary Odili who has worked in her profession every day from my childhood till date. She always made time for us after work, never shirked on her professional responsibilities even as the wife to a former Executive State Governor and has always been a constant feature in our lives holding up the home front while being an amazingly supportive wife, mother, jurist, mentor to many and selfless advocate for women and children. In fact we have a family joke which I will share – once when my daughter was about 2 years old, someone made a comment about “Grandma’s office” to which my daughter swiftly replied “Grandma doesn’t have an office, she only stays at home, plays with me and watches TV!” My daughter simply couldn’t understand that her grandmother who she saw every time we went to visit could possibly have a job! She was and always has been that present in our lives! She I must say made it look supremely simple, but as a wife and mother now myself, I know it never could have been easy. It takes prayer, the grace of God and a positive support network.
Your advice for women who want to have a career but have young children
My advice for women who have young children and also want to pursue their careers? I would say go for it, but surround yourself with a supportive network.
I’m a proud feminist and advocate for girls and women and as a researcher believe the evidence to be true that the education and empowerment of girls and women makes perfect economic sense both micro and macroeconomically. The family benefits and the community as well. There will always be naysayers who may say it can’t be done. I would say “Yes it can be done, has been done and you can do it!”
However, it is a tough road, but the toughest roads are often the most rewarding at the end of the journey.
What are your most precious assets?
My faith in God, my family and my very close circle of trusted friends. These have seen me through the most turbulent times and I’m forever grateful and feel tremendously blessed. Harness your support networks whatever they may be, and the sky truly will be your limit.
Thank you Adaeze talking to you has been extremely enriching!