By Koketso Mamabolo
In February of 2020, Dr. Allison Amarachukwu Karen made a discovery which marked the beginning of sub-Saharan Africa’s battle with the COVID-19 pandemic. The general practitioner diagnosed the first case of COVID-19 in Nigeria in an effort that was recognised by the Ogun State government in March of that year.
She graduated from the University of Port Harcourt in 2013 and has been practising for almost 7 years. “Besides being a medical doctor, I am also a fitness enthusiast and an entrepreneur,” says the young medical professional.
“Asides from AI Packers, which now offers mostly consulting services, I also offer virtual fitness training classes to people. Because I’m on the move a lot, it also serves as a way to hold myself accountable, while also creating an income.”
Her focus is on emergency medicine, but Allison finds time to make a contribution to an underappreciated aspect of healthcare: administration. “Currently I am running an online master’s degree program called Masters in Business Administration Health Management.”
“I learned that patience, paying attention to details, delegating, and just being tenacious about your goals and beliefs will get you further than your wildest imagination.”
We find out more about how she’s balanced being an entrepreneur with practising medicine, the effects of the pandemic and her thoughts on vaccination mandates.
Please tell us a bit about your background – how did you get to this point?
I started my career as a House Officer at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital in November 2013. Prior to joining International SOS in December 2019, I held a Medical Officer position at various clinics in Nigeria.
I hold several licences and certifications, including; HIV Basic Biology, Epidemiology and Prevention, M&E Frameworks for HIV/AIDS Programs, Designing HIV Prevention Programs for Key Populations and Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (MTCT) from USAID, John Hopkins BLOOMBERG School of Public Health, CPR/AED/First Aid/BLS Instructor from the American Heart Association/Resuscitation Council of Southern Africa, as well as Advances Cardiovascular Life Support Experienced Provider (ACLS) and Basic Life Support for Healthcare Providers (BLS) by American Heart Association.
I am also an entrepreneur and I ran a logistics (moving and relocation) company, AI Packers, before I began to travel for work but, unfortunately, I had to stall the operations arm of the business because of the pandemic. From a fitness perspective, I have martial arts training in kickboxing and Muay Thai and have a love for running, CrossFit and weightlifting – all of which I practice routinely and give virtual training sessions to clients.
I am a goal-oriented person. I focus on achieving a goal one step at a time.
How do you balance being an entrepreneur with the demands of being a medical professional?
Lucky for me, my line of work offers me the opportunity to balance the two. As a site medical doctor, I work on a rotation basis, so, for 6 weeks I am working on site and then the following 6 weeks I get time off. During those weeks when I am home, I dedicate that time to my entrepreneurial ventures. However, this did not come easy in the beginning, I had to figure out the right formula to keep me going. So, scheduling management meetings keeps me on top of things and utilising simple client feedback forms has helped me gather useful insight of operations. Lastly, I have great support all round.
How has the pandemic affected you as a business professional and how have you adapted? Did being a doctor on the frontlines help?
The effects of the pandemic brought business to a complete halt! So, I had to improvise: I came up with the idea of consulting for people who are looking to relocate.
However, on the medical hand, it was the complete opposite, we were overwhelmed with work. From an International SOS perspective, we were focused on monitoring and maintaining global and local data in real time in order to share trends, expectations and expert summaries to clients, assisting employers in their rethink of support models for their workforce both physically and psychologically and later on assisting to put effective testing and vaccination programmes in place. The tenacity and patience I learnt from running a business helped me push through the chaos. And amidst all this, one thing I live by is I always ask for help whenever I need it and to take a break to rest when I need to recharge so I can also give the best version of myself for my job.
How long do you think we have until a post-COVID era? Is there anything we can do to speed up the process?
I think we will only start seeing some stability from COVID related disruptions from 2023. However, I fully believe that if we are to speed up the process while we consolidate resilience in the longer term, then organisations need to prioritise their duty of care. From providing their employees with adequate support – in terms of physical and mental health support – whether they are working on remote sites, in offices, at home or on business trips, to health and safety awareness strategies.
What are your thoughts on vaccination mandates in workplaces?
Speaking as a doctor who has been deeply involved in the battle against COVID-19 I think being vaccinated is essential for us frontliners. However, from a civil state standpoint, I understand and recognise people’s right to choose and I implore people to get vaccinated as the vaccines have so far proven to be effective and would be more so, if everyone gets vaccinated.