People are often amazed that I grew up and was educated in Nigeria – the award-winning Nigerian doctor from Canada, Williams
Released September 11, 2021
Dr. Bilqis Williams, a Canada-based doctor, recounts GODFREY GEORGE about her experiences and her desire for medical reforms in Nigeria
Can you tell us about yourself
My name is dr. Bilqis Williams, a physician and global public health environmental practitioner serving in clinical, research, management and crisis management roles. My major subjects are women’s health, mental health, community and policy development, geoanalysis, health equity, racial justice, inclusive leadership, human rights activism, health of immigrants or refugees and displaced persons, and humanitarian aid.
What is your driving force?
I am incredibly grateful to God for his blessings and favors. I believe that my progress so far is due to some of the advantages I have: my upbringing, my beliefs, my character, my experiences, and a clear vision for my goals.
Has it always been your dream to become a doctor?
I can’t take credit for being a doctor on my own. I decided on this career path after talking to my mother. She explained the subtleties and drawbacks that people, and especially women in Nigeria, face when looking for a job. She advised that the best way to have a no-hassle life is to take a professional course. Since I enjoyed the life sciences, I chose medicine.
After studying medicine at the University of Lagos, you left for Canada. Whose idea was that and what is your experience abroad like?
I didn’t fly to Canada straight away. I practiced in Nigeria for about five years before moving. It wasn’t like it was anyone’s idea before I made up my mind to leave. You know, there comes a time in our lives when we have to make some critical decisions. Either you go hard or you go home.
Which schools did you attend after UNILAG?
I completed a Masters in Public Health, Global Health, and Environmental Health from Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, where I received a Scholarship for Excellence in Service and Leadership Awards. I have taken many courses in Canada, the US, and the UK. I just keep pressing.
How would you rate your many years of work and school experience abroad?
After my National Youth Service Corps program in Gombe State, I worked as a medical officer at Jericho Specialist Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State. I also worked for the Lagos State Health Service Commission as a medical officer and emergency doctor. Outside of Nigeria, I worked as a member of the public advisory board at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in 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 in have been Policy Advisor and Campaigner, Justice, Racial Justice, Disability and Inclusion; Canadian Red Cross, Quality Assurance Research Assistant, Priority Assistance to Transition Home; University Health Network, Toronto; as a researcher at the Center for Health Law, Ethics and Human Rights, Center for Addiction and Mental Health. I also worked as a department administrator, department head for surgical oncology; Federation for International Equality and Human Rights, New York; and I am a mission ambassador in the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Maternal Care Crisis).
My experience abroad was very nice. I don’t want to start making comparisons with my experience in Nigeria. Both form a crucial aspect of my journey and I feel very humble to be part of both forays. It was a very enlightening experience and deeply enriching work in Canada. It has helped me understand the similarities and differences in health systems and how these variables affect health outcomes.
Which of your awards over the years do you think was the most rewarding?
All of the awards and recognitions I have received over the years have been the result of hard work and God’s grace, so I do not take any for granted. I especially 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 award winner and was listed as one of 20 changemakers of our century by the Boston University School of Public Health. It was for community activism – my investment in human skills, my advocacy for marginalized communities, and my work on human rights, ethics, diversity, sensitivity and inclusion. I can’t take it for granted.
Have you ever been despised because of your age, gender, or race?
I’ve been to Nigeria, but I’ve never had this experience abroad. I hope I won’t. What I have seen so far is a pleasant surprise from people I have interacted with who were raised and educated in Nigeria. It seems to baffle people that my mind works the way it works.
How would you describe your interface with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation?
I work in many areas that serve interests similar to those of the foundation.
How would you rate medical practice in Nigeria?
I am very happy to say that the quality and skills of our doctors in Nigeria are of a worldwide standard. However, our facilities and institutions are ill-equipped to achieve optimal results. Practitioners cannot produce the results we seek when they exist in a system that is not working. The doctor can save lives when the roads are flexible, free of traffic and irrelevant road blocks.
Would you say that is why many Nigerian doctors leave the country almost at the beginning of their careers?
Is that a fact? I’m not sure when the Nigerian doctors leave, but I’m confident most do because the system 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 quick engagement and resolution of people’s needs.
What is your definition of an ideal home and what wouldn’t you do to get a man?
My thoughts about an ideal home are that everything is relative and every person’s needs are valid.
You had to work with homeless and disadvantaged people in Canada. How was the experience
I have helped people with homelessness and marginalized communities in the United States through advocacy and capacity building. In Canada, I have served seniors and people in palliative care through research. My conclusion from these activities is that anyone can make a difference from where they are. A system that loves its citizens is one that flourishes and benefits all, including leadership, and the state of a people will never change except that they change what is in their hearts.
Are you planning to return to Nigeria to start something of your own?
Certainly! According to God’s will, our projects are already underway; We have just added our company Belief Beyond Dreams, which takes care of environmental issues and event management, and our NGO Hands and Minds Empowerment Initiative, a tool that helps children and young people explore professional, sensory, novel and alternative methods of literacy, psychosocial development and skills acquisition.
You were a student representative on the Governing Council of the Boston University School of Public Health. How was the experience
This experience instilled in me the art of listening and the validity of different perspectives. It was wonderful to see that my own thoughts were really important, heard and implemented. Several issues that I brought to the table were resolved promptly. These immediate actions produced results that benefited both students and managers and the school’s global image. It also gave me the opportunity, under the guidance of experienced minds, to create sustainable solutions for marginalized population groups, refugees, homeless and drug addicts.
Were there times when you wanted to give up your trip?
There have been several of these times, but with the help of my faith, family, and invaluable friends, I have moved forward.
What will give you the ultimate happiness?
(laughs) When Heaven is assured. 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 fate leads different paths, so different people migrate for different reasons. Always remember that there is no place like home. Make sure you come back to invest your intellectual fortune in the Nigerian economy.
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