Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka is an influential public health official who makes the time to give back to other Windmill clients
Published January 31, 2022.
Windmill’s Stewardship and Reporting Officer, Janet Eremenko, met with Windmill alumnus and mentor, Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka, Medical Health Officer at the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. They talked about his profession and the different ways he gives back to the community.
Working in medicine is often described as a calling. Did you always want to be a doctor?
Medicine is often regarded as a calling for many, but, in Nigeria, our parents always have influence on what we eventually become in terms of our careers. Most old-fashioned families (including mine) aspire for their kids to be medical doctors, lawyers or engineers. A family’s success is measured by children coming into any one of those professions.
Outside of parental influence, my passion has been helping people. I saw that becoming a doctor could help change lives and make a difference. Being in the medical profession allows me to provide for people’s physical needs and also their spiritual health and mental wellbeing. I have the chance to change lives and to put a smile on the faces of people undergoing pain and suffering. It gives me great gratification and fulfillment.
You’ve been in different places where that holistic approach to care has been incredibly beneficial. You’re originally from Nigeria, and then you practiced in Botswana before coming to Canada.
I graduated from medical school in Nigeria in 2000 and practiced very briefly before immigrating to Botswana. At the time, they were facing the challenge of HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases like tuberculosis (TB). My role was to support the team in establishing antiviral clinics and providing training for nurses and other allied professionals to address what was a real epidemic at the time. During my eight years in Botswana, I also had the opportunity to do some postgraduate training across the border in South Africa at the University of Pretoria, after which I obtained my master’s in public health and a doctorate to enhance my knowledge and skill around population and public health.
I left Botswana in 2012 and moved to Canada. Since then, it’s been a life-changing experience for my family and me. Those international experiences have proven to be very valuable in my role as the Medical Health Officer at the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority in Prince Albert.
Did you pick Prince Albert, or did it pick you? What has made Prince Albert home for you?
I started in Melford, Saskatchewan, through a friend who hosted us when we landed. When my current employer hired me, we moved to Prince Albert. In no distant time, we settled in. The kids were quick to settle in at school and into other extra-curricular activities, but, over time, my wife and I also saw that “PA” was an excellent place to stay. It’s just the right size – not too big and not too small. The area has a lot of attractions, particularly the lakes in the north where my son and I love to go fishing, and the ski hill is close by where the kids go skiing.
One major thing we found to be amazing is that you can access any part of the city in less than 15 minutes. I have four kids, ages 9 to 15, so that alone is a golden opportunity to make sure they get to their sporting activities on time. For many years, we’ve been managing it, and it’s just phenomenal. It’s a key attraction that has kept us here.
You’ve spoken before about having an affinity for people in the north and indigenous communities. Did you know that your years of practice in Africa would be applicable and relevant from a clinical perspective?
To be honest, I didn’t think those experiences would be relevant. I thought things like TB and HIV might not necessarily be a critical health challenge in a country like Canada. I saw it as more of a developing world communicable disease challenge. But my notion was wrong.
So, I find leveraging the experience of work related to TB, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases in Africa has been beneficial in supporting my team with the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority to address some of the health disparities in the region. They continue to look to me to help provide some input on how we manage those conditions because it’s something that we’re very used to.
Do you think some of those same principles can apply to COVID-19?
It does. For example, we’re seeing some areas of low vaccine uptake within the vaccine rollout in the north. In collaboration with our health partners, communities and the chief band and council, some of the strategies that we’ve developed have been around a targeted approach where a mobile team goes door-to-door to provide families with information about the COVID-19 vaccine. We use it as an opportunity to ease any anxieties or concerns that they might have about the vaccine. Then we can administer the vaccine right there.
That door-to-door approach is something we’ve employed in Africa, particularly around the “Kick Polio Out of Nigeria” campaign, of which I was an essential part. With that experience, I provided some input on how that would work in Saskatchewan and northern communities. We’ve currently seen that it has helped increase vaccine uptake.
On top of a demanding career and a house with four kids, you’ve always given back to your community as a volunteer. Has this always been the case? How do you find the time?
I see myself as a servant. Regardless of my position as a public health physician, I tell people that time cannot create itself. You need to create time to do what you love to do. Giving back through those volunteer opportunities is something I love, and therefore, I make time to give back. Right now, I’m coaching the under-17 boys’ soccer team. It’s my time away from work where I can debrief and unwind, and it’s very fulfilling to see the kids grow and learn life-changing skills. On the soccer field, we teach kids how to be responsible and accountable for their decisions, manage their time and show mutual respect – it all resonates a great deal for me.
I was also president of the Rotary Club of Prince Albert because I have a passion for community development and advocating for the good and welfare of humanity. I’m also privileged to be the president of the Canadian Association of Nigerian Physicians and Dentists. This association has about 2,000 members of Nigerian heritage. It’s a national platform to advocate for international medical graduates that offers mentorship and advice to navigate the process to licensure quickly and seamlessly.
I’m also very proud to be a Windmill alumnus because this organization has contributed to who I am today in society. I’m a mentor with Windmill’s Mentorship Program, and it’s been very fulfilling to see mentees achieve success in the program. I would encourage as many people as possible to donate to Windmill. Besides that, they have a fantastic staff of experts who worked with me, monitored my progress and helped me develop the career goals and timelines that kept me on track. Also, the flexible loan repayment plan was very helpful. It’s incredible how Windmill helps people reconnect to their career paths in Canada.