He is simply one of Nigeria’s leading medical practitioners in the United States. Dr Eromonsele Idahosa, Medical Director of Diamond Medical Services, Indianapolis, is one of the most prominent and reputable Nigerian professionals in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. He is a versatile Internal Medicine specialist with uncommon grace for putting smiles on the faces of his patients, especially the Nigerian community in Indianapolis.
Dr. Idahosa, MD is a practicing Internist. He graduated from the University of Ibadan College of Medicine in 1982 and has been in practice for over 37 years. He completed a residency at Interfaith Medical Center. He was a Staff Physician at the US Department of Veteran Affairs.
In the comfort of his office in Indianapolis, Dr Idahosa spent quality time with Demola Akinbola, talking about his humble upbringing in Edo State, his rollercoaster ride into the field of Medicine, his unforgettable experience as a Local Government Chairman, and his over 20 years stay in America.
Let’s Start by Getting to Know More About You
Thank you. My name is Dr Eronmosele Idahosa. I am from Ebelle in Edo State, Nigeria. I grew up with a very strong family support from brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, and there was a lot of friendship and good bonding within the family. I grew up in an environment full of love. My parents gave me very sound education. They were very supportive, and I grew up with that spirit of love and trying to do the best for myself.
I attended my elementary school at St Matthew’s Anglican School, Ebelle and Pilgrims Baptist Grammar School, Ewohimi, Edo State. After that I moved to Port Harcourt, Rivers State where I did my HSC (A Levels) at the College of Science and Technology. I did my pre-medicine A-Levels in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. That time it was London GCE A Levels. Upon getting my A Level Certificate, I got direct admission into the University of Ibadan to study Medicine. From 1977 till 1982, I was at UI and the College of Medicine, UCH, Ibadan where I graduated with my MBBS Degree.
So, I had a very smooth ride with my parents supporting me. Everything went fine. Most of the time, the government in Nigeria then was good and I enjoyed Scholarship and Bursary awards from the UPN government of Professor Ambrose Ali, the governor of Bendel State (as Edo State was then known). In the University, I was also lucky to be a university scholar. Even before graduation, my parents bought me a brand-new Volkswagen car.
Once I graduated, I returned to Benin to do my internship at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH). Thereafter, I did my NYSC in Lagos working as a physician at the Yaba Psychiatric Hospital. On completion of my Youth Service, I went back to Edo State and became a Medical Officer with St Camillus Catholic Hospital. It was from there that I decided to venture into politics.
What was the attraction to venture into politics?
Pure compassion for the suffering masses. When I was working at St Camillus Hospital, Uromi, it was a rural setting. I had the opportunity of seeing many patients without access to good medical care because of funds. I even went as far as setting up my own private clinic to offer service to these categories of people. I knew that these people needed government support. So, at one of our meetings at the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) Bendel State Chapter, we told ourselves that the only way we can help the people in the area is to also be involved in politics.
So, I decided to join at the local government level. This was during the NRC and SDP. I contested on the NRC platform and I won. I became the first chairman of Isan Central Local Government Area with headquarters at Irrua (hometown of the late Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, former Chief of General staff). Aikhomu was my mentor, he was very supportive. I served the first term. It was during the beginning of our second term that Abacha came in and things were no longer the same.
So, I went back to my practice. Because of the climate of political uncertainty and fear of threat to life, I decided to move to the USA in 1997. I did my USMLE Medical licence exam, got my licenses and I got into residency training in New York. I did my residency in Internal Medicine at Interfaith Medical Centre, Brooklyn, New York.
After my training in 2003, I was hired by the Veteran Affairs Hospital. That was how I moved from New York to Indianapolis. So, since 2003, I have been in Indianapolis working with the Veteran Affairs Hospital. I retired a few months ago. I am now fully in private practice as the Medical Director of Diamond Medical Services.
Your story is quite interesting and motivating. Who or what motivated you to study Medicine?
To be very honest with you, when I was in secondary school, the impression we had then was that if you were very good in the Arts, you should be a lawyer, and if you were good in the sciences, you should be a doctor. So, in my class, I was the best student in Science, and everybody was already looking at me and saying Oh, you must be a doctor. That more than any other thing made me to study Medicine. Also, there were a few renowned doctors around then, Dr Okojie, who was very popular in the Western region. We all used to admire him. We looked at doctors as special breed of people. I felt I could do it; I was interested in doing it.
Looking back, would you say it has been fulfilling?
Oh, it has been very fulfilling. I don’t have any regret at all. I have enjoyed every bit of my career. I am enjoying what I am doing, I enjoy taking care of the less privileged. Also, because of my upbringing in the rural setting, I have realised that most of the myths and superstitions are not true. Their low level of education fuelled those beliefs. So, I see it as part of my responsibility to educate them. People don’t take care of themselves; they have High Blood Pressure, Stroke, Diabetes etc because they don’t check and treat themselves. They end up accusing their neighbours of witchcraft attack. I educate my patients to know the truth.
Luckily enough, my kids have been following my footsteps. Right now, I have a daughter who has just graduated as a medical doctor.
You have practised in Nigeria and in America. Do You Want to Compare? In clear and specific terms, what are the major differences?
Yes, the Nigerian system and the one here are very different. To be honest with you, the doctors there may even be more intelligent than the doctors here, because in Nigeria, the best students study Medicine. Whereas in the US, an average person can study Medicine. Here, they think more of the career that pays best. In Nigeria, even though people believe that doctors earn good money, a lot of people are scared by the hard work involved. They don’t want to go through that. In America, an average guy can decide to study Medicine and take advantage of the numerous facilities and support systems – internet, video – available. It’s tougher to be a doctor in Nigeria.
We are still struggling with the basic diseases that are preventable in Nigeria. In Nigeria, almost half of the patients in hospitals are there because of infections. Malaria, Typhoid, etc, whereas we don’t have all that. Here, they are more understanding and cooperative. If you ask a patient to go for a test here, he will gladly go. In Nigeria, it is not so. Some don’t see the need for it, some cannot even afford it. These are some of the things we are going through. In Nigeria, things are very rough, and it is very difficult to practice. Practising Medicine in America is something you enjoy, while you really must struggle to excel in Nigeria.
Let’s go back to Politics. What was your experience like, what lessons did you learn? Have things changed now?
I don’t think things have changed in Nigeria. If you are looking at it from outside, you will think it is so easy. But, when you get involved, you will see that it is not that easy. One big problem I see is that most people in Nigeria see Politics as a career; they see it as the way to survive. Whereas, if you look at the USA and other advanced countries, most politicians are retired successful professionals who just want to serve the community. They have already made their money.
I told you about my experience with the poor local people who could not afford basic healthcare. When I wanted to contest, I told everybody that this is what I was going to do, and I said I was not going to tolerate any type of lobbying, bribery or corruption. But, when I got in there, I discovered that it was not possible; the structure and the people already there won’t make that work. I remember that even my Councillors and Supervisory Councillors who were my cabinet members had series of meetings with me and they told me that “doctor, we know you are a young man, you have your own money. But we need money to pay our children school fees, we need money to send our wives to the market. All these contractors, we don’t get anything back from them, how do you expect us to survive?”
Initially, I argued that they wouldn’t do that. I succeeded for a few months, but the pressure became too much on me and they started threatening me. They went to my parents and asked them to warn me that they would kill me. So, I asked them what exactly do you want? They said if I didn’t want to collect money from the contractors, that was me. Just leave us and the contractors. So, they started getting a certain percentage from the contractors on every job I awarded, and they shared among themselves. I didn’t want that; I thought I was going to be able to stop that, but I couldn’t because the pressure was too much from every corner.
These are some of the problems, and if you don’t play ball, things will not move. They will sabotage you. Some will even plan to assassinate you. So, at the end of the day it was very frustrating, and you start wondering if it is worth it. You end up succumbing to their pressure or you leave the position.
So, What’s the Way out for Nigeria?
The way out is that we need very strong leadership from the top. I remember that when I was there, if EFCC came after you and you have a godfather in Abuja who can call them to order, you will be let off the hook. That influence from the centre is too much. Unless, there is a strong leader with impeccable integrity who can assert himself and insist that the right thing must be done no matter who is involved, we have a long way to go. Everybody still believes that if you have any problem with the EFCC or the Police or the Courts, just go and meet a top shot in Abuja and you will be fine. If that culture prevails, we really cannot do much.
Which means our survival as a country may not lie in the hands of the political class, forcing some people to ask for the return of the military with a benevolent dictator as leader. Do you agree that this is the way to go?
Probably. But we have tried the Military before. Though things were not as bad as this, they are not perfect. Some of these military guys are also very corrupt. Look at all the money Abacha stole. We thought we had seen it all with IBB, but Abacha was worse. There was no transparency. That is why it may not be correct to say a military regime will be better, but the way it is now, if we really have a leader who is not ready to compromise his position, things might work. If Buhari was not sponsored by some rich and influential power brokers, he would have been able to tell them off and fight corruption more effectively. By accepting he money of these corrupt elements, he had already compromised his position. I think gradually, things might change as people are getting more aware of what is going on. People are getting more enlightened. It will soon get to a stage where someone like Tinubu will no longer be able to say I want Lagos to vote like this.
Just the way it happened in Kwara State where Saraki was uprooted, it will soon go around …
Yes, it will go around. So, those things will correct themselves gradually. People are getting more aware and with the power of the social media, people are getting more enlightened. We need to continue to educate and enlighten people.
Let’s come back to Indianapolis. You have been practising here for so long. What has been your personal experience relating with Nigerians and other nationalities
My experience has been very interesting because I have had the opportunity of interacting with and taking care of the African community. What I see is that some of them are still very backward in terms of healthcare. Some don’t see the need to see a doctor. Those who see the need don’t have the means of seeing a doctor, especially those who are here without full documentation yet. They are afraid that if they go to see a doctor, he will call the police and they will be picked up. Some of them don’t even know that they can still a doctor without health insurance. Some of them now know after we have educated them that they can go as a private patient to see a doctor and pay cash. Some of them think that when they get to the doctor, they will be asked for their social security number or asked how they entered the country. No, your immigration status is not the doctor’s business; he is there to take care of your health, and doctors are not working for the police or immigration.
So, many of our people without legal status are suffering in silence. Some of them still bring in medicine from Africa. Now, it’s either the medicine they bought is fake or it is not the correct medicine. No prescription or dosage. So, many people I have seen come here and say the medicine they brought from Nigeria is what they are still using. Some of these medicines expired years ago. Secondly, many Nigerians here are diabetic, hypertensive and they don’t even know because they don’t check. By the time we are seeing them, they are already having complications. So, we have been doing a lot of education and sensitisation. And some of them, when you prescribe for them, they don’t want to buy the medication not knowing that some of these medications are so cheap.
They are not used to the system here; they prefer to ask people in Nigeria to send Lisinopril to them, which is just $4 here for one-month supply. These are some of the challenges we are having with our community here.
How have you been addressing these challenges? Are you organising health seminars for them?
Yes, we are doing that. Apart from the one to one I do when they come here, we also organise health fairs by going to churches and cultural organisations. On my own, I do Flu vaccination free of charge season to season to members of my church and other churches. I give health talks at different forums. I also give special discounts to some groups.
For instance, there is a programme that we have with the Ile-Oluji Cultural Association whereby we give members who are introduced by Sir Sunday Akinbobola, the President, $50 discount for their medical check-ups. It is very good for them because they have the opportunity of checking their blood sugar, blood pressure and the likes, and if they have to be on medication, I give them prescription and also point them to pharmacies that are affordable and that can give them discount coupons.
There was a man that came last week. His sugar level was so high that I had to put him on an injection that he must take every week. Ordinarily, that injection costs over $800. He could not even afford to pay my consultation fee. I was able to get him some discount coupons and he got the injection free of charge. There are some discount coupons that exist like that, but people will not come forward to take advantage of these opportunities.
You have been in America for over 20 years. Tell me about the so-called American Dream. A lot of Nigerians are still desperately finding their way out of Nigeria to America. What should they watch out for? What are the conditions for success in America?
If you are honest and hardworking, you will succeed in America. There are so many opportunities that are here but not in Nigeria. You don’t need any godfather or parental influence to achieve whatever you want to achieve here. But, unfortunately, many of those who come in from Nigeria copy the suspicious and fraudulent lifestyles of some of those who are here and are not doing honest jobs. They won’t tell you the truth, most of them are doing credit card frauds; some are into internet fraud. If you come here, do honest job and work hard, there is no way that you won’t succeed because this society rewards hard work. Things are so organised that an average person can succeed. All you need is to be hardworking.
But, one barrier is documentation. If you come here without legal documents, you won’t have access to so many things. So, the first thing if you want to succeed in this country is to try and regularise your documentation, so that you have your green card. Once you have that, you will have access to so many facilities. So, the success principles are getting your documentation right, be honest, and be hardworking. Because, once you run into trouble, it goes into your records and you are ruined.
And I have also observed that some come in with green cards, but they don’t want to go to school, they are contented with menial jobs. Those who are professionals in Nigeria need to write some professional exams here for them to be fully integrated into the society. While you are preparing for these exams, it’s okay to do just any job to pick your bills and to survive. I also went through that process in New York while writing my exams.
How do you relax because I know that you are a busy man?
These days, I relax on weekends. I attend social gatherings. I belong so some organisations such as NIDO (Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation). I am the Chairman of their Board of Governors in Indiana State. So, we have meetings periodically. I attend many social engagements. I am happy with myself
How have you been combining being a father, a husband and a professional?
It has been okay. Luckily, my kids are grown up and they are on their own. I now have a lot of time for myself. We are okay the way we are. Even though I am retired as a federal employee, I am now into private practice.
How are you keeping busy in semi-retirement?
I am involved in many other businesses. I am doing non-emergency medical transportation through a new company called Reliable Medical Transit. We transport patients to doctors’ appointments, for dialysis, nursing homes. We are enrolled with Medicaid and different insurance companies. If they have patients they want to transport, they call us, and we run the trips for them. Also, I have just been approved now to start training CNAS – certified nursing assistants. Many of our women who come from Nigeria and who aspire to be nurses, they need to have the CNA qualification. We prepare them for such training. We will soon start accepting students. My own is to train them to be ready for the CNA exam.
Thank you so much for your time, sir. I would like to specially thank you on behalf of the Ile-Oluji community. They always talk of how nice and supportive you have been to them. God bless you sir
Thank you too.
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