Community service is something that may not be so rampant today, but there is no denying the fact that in previous times, it was always encouraged. My guest on Leading Woman page for this week was introduced to community service at a very young age by her father who had a passion for serving the community. Little wonder it comes to her naturally to render such services. “It gives me a strong sense of fulfilment. I learn a lot from the people I meet during every outreach and gain a better understanding of the realities of life. I believe that more young people should volunteer and that it should be a prerequisite for employment. I am also a believer that we can’t rely on the government alone to build our communities, but we as individuals must contribute to the development of our society. So when I established Tabitha Medical Centre, I made community development a big part of what we do,” she reveals.
A consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and medical director of Tabitha Medical Centre, an American Multi Specialty Practice in Abuja, certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and duly registered by the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council, she obtained her degree of Doctor of Medicine (MD) from the American University of the Caribbean and then completed her residency training at University of Connecticut School of Medicine, USA. Chito Nwana, with vast experience practicing in part of the United States as well as considerable exposure to the peculiarities of Nigerian public and private sector medical practice, is today’s Leading Woman.
Though a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, Chito also has a degree in Psychology. She explains how that happened: “I returned to Canada when, in my fourth year of medical school during the long university strike, I was excited about this because I believed I will have a better grasp of medicine if I studied abroad and avoided the frequent strikes. In Canada you must first get an undergraduate degree before medical school and I was tired of basic sciences so I decided to study psychology. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made because it has positively impacted everything I have done since then. It gives you a better understanding of human behaviour and as such helps you understand your patients better. I have a great relationship with my patients and I believe that my studying psychology has a lot to do with it.”
Chito returned to Nigeria to be with her husband, a decision she says she is glad she made. Differentiating between her practice in America and Nigeria, she reveals: “I am glad I did because it feels good to be established at home. The practice in America is quite different from the practice here. When I started working in Nigeria, I experienced a culture shock. The mindset of some of the health care professionals and patients were quite different from what I was used to. I have had the privilege to work with very intelligent doctors in Nigeria and I have learned the limitations that are faced in the health care system in Nigeria is because of lack of infrastructure and regulatory bodies that will enforce international standards on established health facilities. The change in mindset and orientation of doctors needs to begin in medical school. As physicians, you have to strive for perfection because you are dealing with lives. You must be committed in providing your best and learn to treat patients with utmost respect.”
Explaining why she set up Tabitha Medical Centre, Chito says: “Tabitha was initially established as an outpatient centre affiliated with an inpatient facility that met international standards. We adapted the American system, and invested in establishing a world standard centre. All the consultants at the facility are American-trained so our practice is based on that system while embracing the peculiarities of the Nigerian culture. Abuja is a beautiful city with very strong potential for rapid economic growth. One of our challenges is striking a balance between providing a high standard of care and making our services affordable.”
Furthermore, she says: “Tabitha Medical Centre is also a Minimally Invasive Surgery Centre where we perform most of our surgeries through laparoscopy and hysteroscopy. Even though we are American-trained, patients will still rather spend more money to travel to do a procedure than have it done here. A patient has actually asked me to perform the surgery on her in the US and it was such a minor procedure. So we need to gain the trust of patients here and make them aware of the facilities that are available in Nigeria. So the challenge for the country is to develop the health sector, to regain the trust of the citizens and bring medical care back to Nigeria.”
If there is one issue Chito loves to create awareness about among others, it is the issue of cervical cancer, an ailment that can definitely not be ignored as it is becoming rampant. “The incidence of cancer in Nigeria is quite high,” she says, “and I come across a lot even during our community services but the truth is that Nigeria has poor data collection. Let’s focus on cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women in Nigeria, yet it is the most preventable cancer. In most cases, the cause of cervical cancer has been related to the human papilloma virus. This normally causes abnormal changes in the cervix and in few cases will progress to cancer in 10-20 years. The long interval between the infection with the virus and the diagnosis of cancer makes it a preventable disease. So there should be more awareness campaigns about Pap smear screening, HPV vaccines and the government should subsidise the cost of Pap smear screening. Tabitha Medical Centre organises “Walks” and Community Talks to encourage women to perform annual checkups and get screened appropriately.”
Chito is also a co-founder of Innovacare Health Systems, a physician-guided health and wellness promotion organisation that creates programmes for private and public institutions to promote and maintain the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers. She explains: “We do this through health education seminars/workshops, health screenings, stress management and personalised wellness programmes. The goal of our programmes is not only to foster a safe and healthy work environment but also to improve job productivity and organisational effectiveness.”
So, how does she balance work and family? “Time management,” she says, “is the key to how I balance work, family and my social life. I set priorities and as such it is not difficult to know what to focus on at a given time. My family comes before my work. I am also blessed with a very supportive husband who encourages me in all that I do. Having support staff at home and work definitely contributes to my ability to balance my life.”
Chito is a member of several professional organisations including American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and American Association of Gynaecology Laparoscopists. Over the years, she has been a recipient of many awards and honours. She is married and is a committed mother of an adorable son.