Jamiu Busari Jamiu Busari Theo van Ommen

“I let people discover their own talents”

In Body
Written by  Loek Kusiak Wednesday, 24 October 2012 07:23

Jamiu Busari is an English paediatrician with Nigerian roots. He was among the first batch of students to join Maastricht’s pioneering programme in Health Professions Education. Now the medical manager of the Department of Paediatrics at the Atrium Medical Centre in Heerlen, Busari is a true role model, creating a positive workplace atmosphere and training and coaching junior doctors.

It’s the Smurf doll tied to his lab coat that immediately stands out. This is just one of the 50 Smurf-like dolls Busari has either bought himself or received as gifts from colleagues and patients. “Aren’t they cute?!” he asks with a loud, infectious laugh. The Atrium MC paediatrician is a genuine merrymaker; playful and funny in his dealings with his young patients. “It’s in my nature”, he says. “I can’t help being playful and light-hearted. Otherwise I could never have chosen paediatrics. Kids are honest, uninhibited and uncomplicated.”

As Busari sees it, a good paediatrician is “empathetic, good at clinical pattern recognition and careful when selecting medication. I see children aged anywhere from 0 to 18. You have to investigate everything very carefully, especially with young children. Working with kids calls for a holistic approach, because their symptoms could stem from an imbalance between mind and body, or from social factors in the home. So you need to talk a lot, ask lots of questions and listen well, including with the parents. Parents want the best possible care for their children. And a dash of humour in communication breaks the ice.”

Mad about uniforms

Busari was born in London to Nigerian parents. The family returned to their homeland when Busari was eight. “As a kid I was mad about uniforms, like firemen’s gear and doctor’s coats, because it meant you could help people. That’s what I do now. I realise every day how privileged I am. When I was studying medicine, I realised that surgery just didn’t fit my personality. My instructor, who knew my playful side, encouraged me to become a paediatrician instead.”

Busari heard about the Master in Health Professions Education (MPHE) in Maastricht through international contacts in his student association. “Maastricht University had an international secretariat and was aiming to recruit students from Nigeria. That’s how I ended up as the only Nigerian student in the first MPHE cohort in 1992. I quickly got used to it and was impressed by the technology I saw. In Nigeria, I’d never seen a ventilator before; I’d only read about them. I had to redo my residencies because my Nigerian medical diploma wasn’t fully recognised here. I remember that during the 100-question progress test, which was in Dutch, they let me use a Dutch-English dictionary.”

Healthcare in Curaçao

Before his specialist training in paediatrics, Busari spent two years at the Sint Elizabeth Hospital in Curaçao. “I seized the opportunity, and it turned out to be a fantastic experience. I was given a lot of freedom in my work.”

Even after finding a post in Heerlen, Busari’s connection with Curaçao remained. Last spring, at the request of the ‘Island Council’ (the board of directors), he produced a series of recommendations in his report ‘Quality requirements for competence-based medical care in Curaçao’, calling for the roles and responsibilities of the healthcare providers to be better defined. “To provide patients with the highest quality care, an entire cultural transformation is needed”, he explains. “Doctors should retrain regularly, and their ongoing development should be registered and evaluated. Healthcare providers need to invest in the latest medical equipment. The health inspectorate should conduct thorough inspections, and impose sanctions when necessary. And health insurers should develop quality standards before taking on healthcare providers. I was pleased to see that the governor of Curaçao praised the clarity of the recommendations.”

Discovering talent

As the medical manager of his Atrium department, Busari is a role model to his colleagues and junior doctors. “To me, coaching means teaching people how to discover their talents”, he says. As an associate professor at Maastricht University, he collaborated on the design of a new curriculum for continuing medical education. “Management is not part of the medical curriculum at present, but negotiation skills, time management and business insight will be important qualities in the future. So I try to get some of that into the programme. We’re also seeing new health problems emerge: binge drinkers, kids with obesity and diabetes. In 15 years we’ll need a different type of doctor than we have now. E-health and internet consulting, which are both on the rise, are pushing doctors towards a different, perhaps more modest, role.”

What remains unchanged in the field are the heart-breaking messages every doctor is faced with personally delivering; for example, informing a parent that their child is chronically, perhaps untreatably, ill or handicapped. “But even in sad situations I try to bring a smile to a child’s face”, Busari says. “The Smurf helps. And often works.”


Jamiu Busari (1968) received his bachelor’s degree in Ogun, Nigeria, and studied paediatric medicine and medical education in Maastricht. His work placements included stints at the Emma Children’s Hospital in Amsterdam as well as in Curaçao. He has since followed courses in leadership training and healthcare innovation at the Harvard Medical School. Busari has been a paediatrician and trainer at the Atrium MC in Heerlen since 2005, and also works one day a week as an associate professor of medical education at Maastricht University.



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