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Tunde Gafaar has always been passionate about helping people to solve their health challenges. Working on the frontline of the NHS throughout the COVID-19 pandemic was the motivation he needed to apply for the MBA, and he now has aspirations to transform the healthcare space in both the UK and Nigeria.
I was born in Nigeria. Growing up, I saw a lot of people facing multiple health challenges, and I knew they needed help with solving their problems. This really stuck with me and gave me a passion for healthcare, so I decided to study medicine at university. I studied for my medical degree at University College London (UCL), where I received the UCL Undergraduate Global Excellence Award for Africa Scholarship. Getting the scholarship was amazing; it really showed me the faith the university and faculty had in me.
I love problem solving and find anything related to maths and physics really appealing, so I also studied an intercalated BSc in Medical Physics and Bioengineering. It was difficult but I really enjoyed it; I think it was my best year at university. I spent the summer before the term started going through the syllabus and my A-level maths and physics books, setting myself the goal of doing as well as I could. I managed to get a First Class degree, and to my surprise I was put on the Dean’s List at graduation because of how well I had done; I didn’t even know the list existed! My friends and family were happy too.
Something that really helped me that year was asking people for help. It really emphasised the importance of asking questions if we don’t understand something, and the value of working hard towards a goal. After graduation, I went straight into the NHS and completed my two-year foundation programme in Cambridgeshire. I loved it and learnt so much; there’s nothing like gaining practical experience in something you’ve studied theoretically. I also met some incredible doctors and friends who I’m still close with today.
After the foundation programme, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to specialise in, so I took a year out of formal training and worked in different medical roles. I then completed a two-year internal medical training programme, which was very stressful but helped me to grow, both as a person and a leader. The last six months of the programme coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. I remember we had heard about this new virus in the build-up to Christmas and then in the first week of March we had the first case at my hospital; a young woman who was heavily pregnant. She was admitted to our intensive care unit and had an emergency caesarean section. It was really scary. Two weeks later, lockdown was announced and we had to go onto an emergency rota. It was very tough and challenging, but also a period of growth when I learnt a lot about myself.
A lot of my friends and family were understandably scared, so I tried to learn as much as I could about the virus to provide them with information. I ended up writing a Medium article for them. I then heard people were asking why they should follow the government guidance on social distancing, and I felt compelled to write an article about how we should all have a duty to protect each other. After all, even if we don’t have symptoms of the virus ourselves we could still pass it onto others; sometimes our collective freedom is more important than our individual freedom. So I wrote another piece for Business Insider, which had a good response.
Overall, I worked in the NHS for six years. I really enjoyed helping people solve their health problems, but after a while I realised I was a little cog in a big wheel. I felt I couldn’t implement a lot of my ideas. This motivated me to apply for an MBA. I wanted to gain business knowledge and learn how to be a better manager and leader, to have a bigger impact in the healthcare system, both here and in Nigeria. That’s my long-term dream – to work at the top level making changes.
Working through the pandemic as a doctor also played a part in my decision to study an MBA. I’d always wanted to make an impact in the healthcare space, both in the UK and Nigeria, and had considered an MBA, but thought it too expensive and I was comfortable working as I was. However, the pandemic showed me that anything can happen, and I didn’t want to get to 60 and look back and feel I had regrets. I spoke to my wife and family about potentially doing an MBA and they were supportive. Then I spoke to a career coach, whose contacts in the medical industry had taken MBAs. I reached out to them and they were all overwhelmingly positive about their experience, so I decided to bite the bullet, apply, and see where it took me.
London Business School was the perfect choice for me. My younger brother had studied the MiM a few years before and some of my friends had also studied at the School. They all said it was an amazing community and the MBA programme was very flexible. I also really wanted to study a two-year MBA as I didn’t want to learn everything in the one year, especially as I didn’t have a finance or business background.
When I was applying, the other thing I loved about London Business School was that it was so diverse. I love learning about new cultures, and I love history and travelling. So it was important for me to go to a school where I could make friends with people from anywhere, and have people I could link up with from all around the world. So the School was perfect.
Getting an email to say I’d been awarded the MSc19 (1985) Scholarship was huge. It felt like going to London Business School was meant to be, and it validated all the work I’d put in. It also took a huge burden off financially. I was really happy and very grateful, and it was some much-needed good news and a highlight for me while I was working through the pandemic. I want to say thank you to the donors as it has meant the world to me. I hope more people continue to give as it makes a huge difference to people’s lives. I hope to give to the School in the future too, as the more people that receive scholarships the better.
There have been so many highlights from my time at the School so far. Firstly, the people I’ve met have all been so smart and kind, and willing to help with anything. I’ve learnt so much from the classes, about subjects I didn’t know anything about, like finance and strategy. They’ve all been really interesting, so that’s been a massive plus. I also took a trip to Edinburgh in October with my stream which was a lot of fun. My family keep saying they haven’t seen me this excited in a long time. But my biggest highlight so far has been having my daughter!
I’m one of the cultural officers in the Africa Club. We’re holding a few events this term and we’re also planning to launch a newsletter. The newsletter will talk about different aspects of African countries and cultures, such as songs and art, with suggested books and events, to spread knowledge in the London Business School community. I’m also a member of the Healthcare Club and the academic rep for my stream, which involves liaising with my stream mates and passing their learning experience feedback on to the faculty. It’s been a great opportunity to get to know my stream mates better, as well as contribute and give back to the School. I feel it has already given so much to me, so I want to give back to the community too.
I’m looking forward to the rest of my time at London Business School, as there’s so much to explore and learn. I’m really hoping the Global Business Exchange can happen, and I’ve got my eye on a trek to Jordan. I’m looking forward to meeting more people and making more connections, and I’m hoping to take some electives that can help me move forward in making an impact in the healthcare space.
My hope for the future is that a few years down the line I’ll be making a huge impact in transforming the healthcare space, both in the UK and Africa, specifically Nigeria. My dream is to set up some kind of transformative healthcare business, or to be a high level executive in the healthcare industry, improving access to healthcare and making sure healthcare is better for people.
My advice for people considering the MBA is to speak to people; reach out to students at the School and discuss it with your family and friends. It’s the best decision I’ve made in a long time. The cost is a factor, but I believe it will all be worth it in the end.
Tunde Gafaar is a recipient of the MSc19(1985) Scholarship.