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Meet Dr Esther Ajari, a trailblazer in medicine, law and business

Dr. Esther Ajari speaks with Edugist on balancing medicine, law and business.
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Dr. Esther Ajari is a remarkable individual at the intersection of diverse fields. She graduated from the University of Ibadan with a degree in medicine and a cumulative GPA of 6.9/7. She is now at the University of Pennsylvania, USA pursuing postgraduate degrees in law and business (ML and MBA). She speaks with Edugist on balancing medicine, law and business. Excerpts

Please share with Edugist, a little about yourself and your background.

I am the tenth child of a family of 16, based in Oghara, Delta State, Nigeria. I am a medical doctor, and currently a student at the University of Pennsylvania, USA – where I am pursuing a Master in Business Administration degree from the Wharton School, and a Master in Law degree from the Carey Law School.

At the Wharton school, I am pursuing a dual major in Business Economics and Public Policy; and Operations, Information and Decisions.

At the Carey Law school, I am focusing on International Law.

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Before I relocated to the United States, I was the Founder and Director of The TriHealthon Development Network, a multi-award-winning national NGO combating period poverty and sexually transmitted infections among women; and malnutrition and diarrhea among children via research and community development projects.

What initially drew you to pursue a career in medicine?

I always thought I would study Engineering because I am great with numbers, but my best friend’s death, at age eight, from his inadequate access to quality healthcare is the primary reason I switched professions.

Another reason was because from 2008-2012, I suffered from severe, chronic backache, and no doctor I saw could identify its cause(s).

Fortunately, the ache stopped abruptly.

Moreover, out of the three indigenes of my community who are doctors, one travelled to live in the far-North, and the remaining became hospital administrators. So, I decided to change this narrative.

How did that journey lead you to pursue postgraduate degrees in law and business administration?

As a doctor, I saw a lot of people die, not from lack of expertise, but from Nigeria’s lack of adequate healthcare facilities and technology — and this affected my mental health.

On the other hand, as an NGO leader, I grew tired of always going to corporate leaders and begging them for funds to run my organisation.

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The culmination of these issues made me take a break from the healthcare industry. During this time-off, I decided to pursue an MBA to explore a different industry, and learn how funds are generated.

After getting to the US, I realised the importance of legal knowledge in any business affair, and therefore decided to get a degree in law as well.

What was your undergraduate experience like?

While my time at the University of Ibadan will always be a huge part of my life, I did not feel like an undergrad for very long because I was always travelling abroad to handle my NGO-related affairs.

Let’s just say I grew up too fast, and therefore cannot relate to the full experience of a typical Nigerian undergrad.

However, I must explicitly credit the University of Ibadan for giving me a full-ride scholarship, a relatively well-rounded medical education, a bit of leeway to explore the world, and the opportunity to meet one of my best friends, Dr Adebola Bolarinwa.

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How do you believe your unique combination of medical expertise, legal and business acumen can contribute to solving complex healthcare, legal or business challenges?

Ultimately, I want to retire as a diplomat — and one of the best tools a diplomat can have in their arsenal is multidisciplinary knowledge of the issues affecting Africa.

From period poverty to human right to the lack of credit for small business owners, only someone at the intersection of the medical, legal and business fields can properly create, implement, adapt, revise and recommend policies that would address these issues.

What skills or knowledge do you believe are most transferable between your fields of study?

Critical thinking and social competency!

No successful lawyer, doctor or business mogul has ever gone by without these skills.

In what ways do you think your interdisciplinary background sets you apart from other professionals?

I do not consider my interdisciplinary background to be what distinguishes me from other professionals.

Instead, I believe the following are my standout qualities: my never-ending passion for change, my willingness to speak my mind unreservedly on an issue, my continual thirst for knowledge, and my openness to admitting and learning from my mistakes.

My Headshot with my African hairstyle

How do you stay updated on medical advancements and legal or business developments?

As a researcher and lifelong learner, I am always reading medical, legal and business journals and news articles each day.

I need these updates to be able to contribute meaningfully to class discussions which makes up a huge portion of our grades here at the University of Pennsylvania.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing the healthcare industry in Nigeria today?

Lack of infrastructure, accountability, and sustainability.

These challenges are interwoven. The solution to these is an “all or nothing” situation.

What is your advice to young Nigerians aiming to tread the same path as yours?

They should not tread this path just for treading sake. It is a long and arduous path, and only passion and adequate self-care, self-compassion, and self-awareness can keep you thriving.

Instead, my advice is to be the sole author of your life’s journey.

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