Striving for Medical Excellence

Nigerian cardiologist in NY gets US Congressional citation

American-based Ife trained doctor gathers awards for excellence in medical practice.

"Mr. Speaker, Dr. Oluyemi O. Badero has reached the highest levels of medicine in our country, all the way from Nigeria and he has used his expertise to improve the lives of his community."

Those were the words of a US Congressman from New York, the powerful Ed Towns when he spoke recently at the US House of Representative to honor a young Nigerian cardiologist based in his constituency in New York City. Last Monday in Brooklyn, New York Congressman Ed Towns held a remarkable reception for Nigerian born Dr. Oluyemi O. Badero, 43, where he presented the top class cardiologist with a plaque bearing his citation in the US Congressional Record entitled "A Tribute to Oluyemi O. Badero, MD. FACC."

In New York of today, Badero is regarded as one of the topmost interventional cardiologist, and only recently was named the topmost black doctor in New York by a newsmagazine, The Network Journal. In an edition of the magazine that emblazoned Badero's picture on the front cover page, the magazine noted that Badero "deals with matters of the heart by getting to the heart of the matter." After a careful review of all the leading black doctors in New York including at least four other Nigerians, the magazine declares that "Badero Wins," detailing the unique talent of this young Nigerian who is specialized in four areas of medicine: internal medicine, critical care, general cardiology and interventional cardiology. But he prides himself primarily as an "invasive and interventional cardiologist."

Badero has his own full fledged medical practice in the heart of Brooklyn, New York, but he is also affiliated with the State University of New York, SUNY, Health Sciences Center at Brooklyn, where he is Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine. Along with his job as a professor, Badero is also Associate Chief of Cardiology and Deputy Director of Cardiac Catherization at the Interfaith Hospital, in Brooklyn, New York.

He is also affiliated with the New York Methodist Hospital, and Kings County Hospital both of which are in Brooklyn, New York. His fourth hospital affiliation is with the St. Vincent's Hospital, New York. If you enter his private practice location in Brooklyn, New York, you would be overwhelmed by the several awards and certificates that decorates the interior of his office. He is proud to point attention to the one from the then University of Ife, where he got his MB, BS in 1984.

Badero still recollects his days at "Great Ife. "People never see me read, but saw me as a trendy guy who drove a car. But they don't know that I don't miss lectures, that I always disappear to the library, that I always review my books before I sleep and when I wake up everyday. But before he got to Ife, Badero had always been very exceptionally brilliant since his early schooldays. Born in Ibadan but hailed from Ijebu, Oluyemi grew up in Lagos and still remembers "what our parents told us, you either read or you fail in life."

This geared him up to success in life, he says. He is the second of 9 children, seven of whom are surviving. As a matter of fact, he has brought six of his siblings to the US after he arrived here in 1988. At his primary school where it all started- St. Peter's School, Faji- Badero recalls that he was always on top of his class. Her mother, whose huge photograph with Oluyemi is very conspicuous in his living room in New York, was then working at Standard Bank-now Union Bank. "My mother was a secretary/typist at the bank when the bank started a scholarship scheme for all children of staff in the country. But it would only be won by a student.

My mother entered me for the contest in 1971 and I won." Then he was only 11 and he remembers that on the day of the award "my mum wore me a bow tie on my neck and a black suit. It was the first time I met a white man, and that was the head of the Bank at its headquarters in Lagos." That scholarship saw him through his secondary school at St. Anthony Grammar School, Ijebu-Mushin. It was at that catholic school, a boarding facility, that he met Kayode Fayomi, who he recalled, was his best friend and toughest rival in school. Fayomi was also very brilliant and they both took turns coming first and second one after the other all through their secondary school days. Fayomi, according to Badero is a psychiatrist in Ohio, here in the United States. When he got to form 4, alongside with Fayomi, they took the General Certificate of Education, GCE and cleared 6 subjects including physics, chemistry and biology. " The school was without electricity, no generator, we were using candles to study and we did not even have enough to eat," he recollects.

According to Badero, there were times when teachers would not show up for work, but the principal of the school would still insist that with or without teachers students could read up the books. And read up the books, they did. Badero said on some occasions they even spotted errors in their textbooks and they wrote the publishers. "When we were at school, parents were told to make sure that we were the mentors of their children who were new students." By the time, Badero and Fayomi took the WASCE, he had 7 A's and his friend, Fayomi had 6, both making Grade 1. That was in 1976.

He returned to Lagos to spend a year at the Federal School of Science before proceeding to study medicine at Ife, gaining admission in 1977. He got in with Fayemi, by which time their parents too had become good friends on reason of the friendship of the two children. One thing that struck Badero at Ife was the ravishing beauty of the landscape and the attendant alluring architecture of the building. "It was like paradise, the campus was so beautiful." But the other good thing for him was more substantial; he won the N2000 Federal Government Merit Award after a year at Ife. The Standard Bank Scholarship was also extended for him up to the university. So he was a very comfortable student, who could buy a Volkswagen beetle car as a student.

On the day of his graduation at Ife, Badero carted away all but one of the available awards for medical students. As he recalled, he won the NMA prize, the Glasgow Allenbury, Pediatricians and the Obstetrics & Gynaecology prizes. He simply dominated the scene at the graduation day. During the chat with the reporter, Badero narrated the details of the day with graphic and physical dramatization: "After I was called for the first prize, I had n't gone far before I got called again. The woman in charge asked me to stay close around for there would be more awards. I pretended as if I did not know, and did not tell my parents, they were so pleasantly surprised." So why would such a successful student not stay in Nigeria afterwards?

The story of how and why Badero came to the United States is an index on the sociopolitical history of Nigeria in the mid 80s. After graduation, he did his NYSC and then took at least two jobs in Lagos-at Mount Sinai Hospital at Ikeja and St. Stephens Hospital at Ebute Meta. He worked hard and wanted to change the beetle car he bought when he was on campus. He saved to buy a Santana model of Volkswagen. The car then was going for N12, 000 and he had saved N9, 000, when as he said "second tier came, as Fela said and overtake don overtake overtake." Badero did not understand why he could not afford a car he wanted even though he had two jobs and was well paid. It was time to give in to a taunt of his childhood sweetheart, his girlfriend who was already in the US. "She had been taunting me since that if I knew I was that brilliant why don't I come to the US to prove it. I didn't want to come here, but it was the inflation." His sweetheart sent him all the papers and with only $500 that was allowed any traveler then, he packed 2 shirts, 2 trousers and left for Seattle, US. But another thing was to happen. By the time he landed in the US, his sweetheart was already pregnant for another man and she was not coming to see Badero, who had to stay with the lady's brother. Matters became worse when the said brother could no longer host him.

"I was devastated, I thought I left a good job in Lagos and now no one to back me up here." He moved to another person in Salem, Oregon State before his dad then asked him to move to an Uncle whom he never met in Nigeria. But before that he had used his money to enter for the US National Medical exam for foreign-trained doctors.

On getting to his Uncle in California, he was told that if he wanted money he would have to work for it. But he was ready to work as a doctor. Many laughed at his dream of wanting to be a doctor in the US. Even his Uncle asked him to join his Cab driving business as a driver, which he had to do to stay there and keep body and soul together. People said he was not serious planning to practice medicine in the US. Said he: "I drove the cab during the day, and I prepared for my exams at night. I did not have money to buy books, but I used the library. I remember a time I had to eat only bread for 3 days. He went on: "It was tough, I wanted to leave America, but I said come what may I will take that exam. I could not afford remedial classes, and this was an exam of three parts that people fail regularly and normally retake several times. The failure rate then for that exam was about 90%" He arrived in the US in February of 1988 and by July that same year he took the exams and passed all at once. But before the results came in Sept of the same year, he wanted to work as a doctor in California, but everywhere he went introducing himself as a doctor, no one believed him. So he had to truncate his CV to stop at his first degree removing the medical qualification. That was how he got a job as a medical assistant in a clinic. But no one knew at the Clinic that he had sat for the exams.

The doctor who owned the clinic was always surprised at how he was able to handle and perform some critical medical procedures and before long the doctor took to him. And that caused the envy of some of the other more senior staff of the clinic including the Head Nurse, who felt he was getting too close to the Doctor. What the nurse did was to reassign Badero to work at times when there would not be surgeries or anything that could make him show his skills. It got to a point that they asked him to clean toilets since he was the most junior of all the staff. He complied. After his results came out, an incident happened and the nurse spoke harshly to Badero, by which time, he could not take it anymore. Badero told the woman point blankly that he was in fact senior to her in medical practice. The woman could not take it coming from a medical assistant, a qualified term for a medical messenger. The matter got reported to the doctor and it was there and then that Badero pulled out the smoking gun, showing the doctor the results of his medical board exams, which he had passed. "That day, the doctor said 'I figured that much considering the things you were able to handle.' So he called all the staff and introduced me as a doctor to them all." It was afterwards that Badero got admitted to do his residency training at SUNY Downstate Medical Center between 1989 and 1990 when he became a resident in Internal Medicine at the same hospital.

By 1993 he had been named the Chief Medical Resident at the Hospital and got the clinical fellowship in Critical Care in 1993. The next year he earned the clinical fellowship in Cardiovascular Medicine, and by 1997/98 he became fellow in Invasive and Interventional Cardiovascular medicine after he attended the prestigious Yale University. In the words of the US Congressman Towns who honored him with a citation in the US Congressional Record, "Badero completed an unprecedented nine consecutive years of post-graduate training...(and) is a highly regarded expert in cardiology." Even after he had scaled the huge hurdles, he still had to prove that he could stand on his own. Many people in his very exclusive areas of specialization-there are less than 100 black doctors in interventional cardiology for instance- would normally relocate and get top jobs at some lucrative, affluent suburbs and get mouthwatering offers running into half a million dollars and more. He got such offers as well. But Badero knew from where he came, the struggles that he fought. So he chose to stay in the populated, less lucrative areas of inner cities, with its attendant social challenges like crimes, drug and other vices. He wanted to make a mark: to serve the densely populated areas, where poorer people live and many of whom badly need but lack the services of a specialist in the areas that he had been licensed to practice, particularly the human heart.

When he decided to go into private practice earlier than many would normally do, he was again scorned and doubted. "They told me that I can't do it, they said my private practice would not survive. And it was indeed rough. When we started it was only me and my assistant. No patients were coming, until the relatives of the very same people who said my private practice would not survive had heart problems. And they knowing that I can do it brought them here!" That was how he established his private practice, the "Cardiac Specialists of Brooklyn" and within two years he was able to buy up the property he rented for the business, turning from a tenant to landlord.

Now Badero says he would be involved in helping other doctors to establish their own private practice unlike those who tried to stop him. He says he would continue to help the poor people in the densely populated areas of Brooklyn in New York and be an example to all black people, especially the young ones that they too can make it in life. According to him, "many times the people that get a lot of training and expertise from these neighborhoods will just leave after they must have been trained in the big hospitals in the neighborhoods. They always get lured to better neighborhoods, but I chose to stay and use my expertise to serve the underserved and the underprivileged." The Congressional Record by the US Congressman Towns in Badero's honor also testified to this:

"...he has used his expertise to improve the lives of his community. As such, he is more than worthy of receiving our recognition today and I urge my colleagues to join me in honoring this truly remarkable person."

One of Badero's hopes now is to see to the establishment in Nigeria of a medical center of excellence, "especially a world class heart center." The honor done him last Monday by the Congressman was the highest recognition so far, but there had been several of such from politicians and publications in the US. Badero also won the Humanitarian Award by the New York State legislator, Assemblywoman Diane Gordon last month for "outstanding and dedicated service toward all mankind. Just like the US Congressional Record honor bore the seal of the government of the United States, the Humanitarian Award also bore the "Great Seal of the State of New York." Badero has two daughters, Simidele and Babafemi.