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Friends in Medicine ~ Dr Sophia Zoe, Public Health Professional.




Dr Sophia Zoe is from the South Western part of Nigeria Ogun state. She studied medicine at Sumy State University, Ukraine and graduated in 2011. From 2012 to 2016, She worked as a clinician in different hospitals and in 2017, she decided to change her career path to Public Health. She works with the Reproductive Health Unit at Ogun State Primary Health Care Development Board designing and implementing programs aimed at improving maternal and child survival in Nigeria.
In this refreshing and exciting interview, Dr Sophia Zoe shares her experience in Public health including inspiring tips for aspiring medical professionals interested in a career in Public Health.

 What attracted you to public health and what does it involve?
First of all, Public Health is basically Preventive Medicine. So the first time I thought of practising
preventive medicine was when I began to take “infectious disease” as a subject in medical
school. I remember thinking, “if only one could work on preventing all these diseases”. Also
during my clinical experience in Nigeria, I witnessed a lot of maternal and child deaths that could
have been easily prevented, this in addition to my love for meeting new people, travelling and
not just wanting to be restricted to the four walls of a hospital motivated me to change paths to
Public Health.

What does Public Health involve?
Public health is all about preventive medicine. So, it is focused on the design and implementation of
interventions, programs and policies aimed at improving health outcomes for communities. It
involves a lot of research work, surveys, data collection & analysis, health insurance, health
financing, health promotion and a whole lot more. Public Health is very vast and has so many
components.


What steps does it take to get into public health?
There are several ways to get into public health,  important to note, is that networking is key to getting into public health.
One way to get in, is through residency in community medicine. As a community
medicine specialist, chances of getting a job with international health organisations are higher
because a lot of these organisations specifically request for specialists. However, networking is
key. My advice for people who intend to follow this pathway, is to make sure that they build a
strong relationship with professionals from partner organisations that they do field work with.
Also, they can take up some side consultancy jobs during the program so as to build their
network portfolio.
Another way to get into public health is by getting a job with a Government Health Agency like
the Ministry of Health. This is how I got into Public health.
Lastly, people can get into public health through volunteer jobs, internships etc. I left the best for the last because this is the most effective way of getting in. All health organisations want experienced professionals, if you do not have work experience, getting into public health work is difficult. So to get work experience, you can start with volunteer jobs or internships. You might not
be paid much but you will gain experience and a whole lot of network. If the organisation has an
opening, you stand a better chance of getting the job than an outsider.

Note: Getting a Masters in Public Health is an added advantage to getting into public health.

What are the difficulties with being a public health professional in Nigeria?
Wow, a lot. Bureaucracy and Politics really go a long way in frustrating your efforts as a public
health professional in Nigeria. Everyone is after what is in it for them from the national down to
the community level. Even health workers want to be given incentives for doing the jobs they
are being paid for. So, to carry out interventions in communities, you might have to pay different
people so that your work can go smoothly. Also the government does not commit enough funds
to health projects, so most times we are dependent on donors and donors have so much rules
that are limiting but you must adhere to it, I mean it’s their money so they call the shots.

What opportunities are out there for people who plan to go into public health and what
regions (rural or urban), is it financially sustainable?
Truthfully, there are a lot of opportunities because there are so many health projects going on in
Nigeria. However, more health projects are ongoing in the Northern parts of Nigeria hence more
public health opportunities are there. Nevertheless, there are also other opportunities in other
parts of Nigeria. Most times the rural areas are where the real interventions are going on
whereas the urban areas are mainly headquarters where the projects are being coordinated. So
one could get a job at headquarter offices or get a field job, depending on the qualification and
experience.
Public health is financially rewarding even more than clinical medicine in Nigeria. However,
a lot of NGOs recruit on contract basis, so sometimes contracts can be terminated abruptly. So
the sustainability is dependent on if the organisation has continuous funding for their projects or
if the organisation is happy with your work. Hence, most public health professionals move a lot
in between organisations. But those working with Government Agencies have more job security.

 What advantage do you think public health has over clinical medicine?
It is  more financially rewarding here in Nigeria, that might not be the case abroad.
Another advantage is that it increases the worth of your network because you get to meet a lot
of influential people both locally and internationally. For someone like me who loves travel and luxury living, Public Health gives me that advantage because I get to travel for workshops, training's, conferences and stay in luxurious hotels for free.
Besides, clinical medicine deals with the health of individuals while public health focuses on the
health of the community as a whole. For me, I find it more fulfilling knowing that I am part of a
movement that is set to change the future of women and children in my country Nigeria.

 Please share a little of your experience in Public health.
So far as a Public Health Professional, I have been so blessed. I have attained positions that
normally would have taken me several years to attain. And I credit that to God and my boss who
believes so much in me. One of the highlights of my career is the people that I have met so far.
From politicians, to traditional rulers to public health professionals from different countries and
organisations, it’s been such an honour and privilege. My best moments are the times when I
knock my presentations out of the park in front of key stakeholders and when I see the positive
impacts of the programs that I lead in the lives of women and children.
   My worst moments are those times when I have to apply diplomacy to get work done, I find it
frustrating that I need to cajole people to get their work done but they say it’s part of
interpersonal communication which is key to anyone’s success as a Public Health Professional,
so I guess I will adjust over time.

You have a blog, what do you blog about?
Yes I run a blog called the “Small Town Girl” blog. It’s really about me sharing my journey with
everyone hoping that it inspires as well as motivates people to live authentic lives and become
the best version of themselves. It covers all my areas of interests and in the near future, I hope
to share more of travel, luxury and my public health experience.

What do you enjoy doing when you are away from work?
Reading! I co-founded a virtual book club with my Kenyan friend called “African Girls Read” so I
spend a lot of time reading books and running the book club. I also sleep lots and spend lots of my downtime on Google too. I am always looking out for cheap deals and career development opportunities on Google. Lastly, I watch a lot of Television series!

 What advice do you have for anyone who wants to be on same path as you?
Once you’re sure you want to pursue a career in public health, set out on the path early
and decide which step you want to take to get into Public Health. If you have the opportunity to
do your masters early, please do it, don’t stall! It will come in handy.
Research! A lot of people ask me questions about public health but I notice many are
yet to do their own research about it. If you are interested in public health, go online and read up
about it then you can ask questions to get clarifications. This is important so as to identify your
areas of interests early.
Don't despise the days of your small beginnings. If you find opportunities to volunteer or
intern with little or no pay at all, please do it. I say this because I know a lot of graduates don’t
like to hear “volunteer” but I know doctors who started out as volunteers and are now doing so
well in their public health career. You can also start as early as a student by volunteering or doing internships during holidays. I wish I started out that early.
  Finally, build positive and lasting relationships with people especially those that you work with
and don’t be shy to network with people! This can determine how far and how fast you will go in
your Public Health career.


All the best to everyone looking to pursue a career in Public health..
Cheers.

About Mute Akpomedaye

Mute Akpomedaye
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