Ayugi, the civil engineer that turned to medicine

Saturday April 03 2021
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Tezira Ayugi Olwoch,

By Tobbias Jolly Owiny

By 9am of a Saturday morning, clients march in and out of Paragon Hospital through its busy reception. 

At one corner of the reception, Tezira Ayugi Olwoch, welcomes and directs incoming clients.

For any client that walks into the facility, Ayugi, the deputy managing director of the hospital, knows that they should have access quality health care services within a reasonably short time.

With passion and zeal, Ayugi aggressively spends her first hour at the facility every day walking around all units to check on the staff before she embarks on her tasks.

She prefers to keep herself mobile while at work. She spends a third of her time interacting with each unit because she knows productivity and delivery do not run on luck.

Pursuing engineering

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Born in London at Ealing Hospital in 1989, Ayugi went to Kitante  Primary School,  St Mary’s Namagunga for her O-Level and  King’s College Buddo for her A-Level.

Her ability to decide which course to go for was put to test while joining the university. She had to choose between Chemical Engineering and Medicine.

“I wanted to go for Chemical Engineering but I was discouraged that I would spend most of my time in the factory in future. I then irrationally went for Civil Engineering since it had some chemistry component in it,” she said.  In the engineering class, she was one of the 20 females and  90 males.Ayugi’s prime hurdle soon became gender stereotyping.

“Sexism was real at campus, especially in our class. We had to work so hard to prove that we were not underdogs in that field.”

In moments when she doubted her abilities, her family was supportive until she completed her course. 

Swapping careers

Nearly 10 years ago, Ayugi took up the leadership of the hospital when her predecessor and father, Dr William Olwoch Lalobo relinquished his roles at the facility.

While pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering at Makerere University, she would make time to run some errands at Paragon hospital in the records department.

When she completed her examinations and exited the university in June 2012, she did not expect to find work immediately. She hoped to join her father for the warehouse project as an engineer.

Her excitement, however,  was cut short on the first day she stepped into the hospital to deliver documents. One Monday morning,  when she had been asked to deliver payment cheques at the hospital, the head of finance asked her to sit in for a cashier who had not showed up that day.

She worked as a cashier until January 2013 and during her graduation ceremony,  her  family declared that she was the new hospital director.

“It was shocking. One of my greatest fears was that my talents and knowledge in engineering were going to waste. As a professional engineer, I know that if you are not constantly practising, you cannot make the best engineer – you cannot gain experience,” she recounts.

In Uganda, medical facilities at the level of hospitals, whether government or private, traditionally require heads to have a medical background, an odd that Ayugi has defied. Her profession instantly had very limited applicability, so she felt.

But Ayugi needed to quickly fold her sleeves and take up the new assignment. Nearly a decade at the helm of leadership at the facility, she says she learned to have mentors as well as build an honest relationship with her team.

She adds that “within my work environment, I slowly built around me people I could count on. The only thing that kept me focused was the level of honesty of my team and I was able to execute without the worry of institutional sabotage.”

Since she joined the facility, Ayugi has not had an opportunity to practise her profession, although her knowledge has remained significant in the roles.

 “I do not have any regrets because the analysis and assumptions I make to solve many engineering issues at the hospital come in handy here.”

Everyday, there is some form of a project taking place at the hospital, which requires civil engineering knowledge and skills.

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Ayugi (L) flanked by her mother Christine Olwoch display a plague during the 2020 award ceremony in which Paragon Hospital was voted the best private hospital in the country PHOTOs/Tobbias Jolly Owiny

Challenges

Like any other leader, she admits there are challenges she faces. During the interview, she does not only line up the pile of challenges she encounters but narrates how she juggles past the hurdles such as sexism, fear of failure and childcare.

She recounts how she struggled during the transition period. “There was a lot of resistance. Some staff thought I was simply handed the role. I have had to disprove everyone not only to maintain but consistently improve the quality and standard of the institution.”

Ayugi says she quickly learnt from her mistakes and polished up her decision-making and analytical abilities and exhibited transformational leadership.

 Meanwhile, juggling a demanding leadership role alongside family care can be complex, emotionally fraught, and costly, but this situation has not bogged Ayugi down.

In all these challenges, she credits her role models (her father and mother) who she says always kept around her to counsel her on how to maneuver through the difficulties.

Certain personality traits, however, are not only important for a medical field, but are even great indicators of success, according to Ayugi.

 In the 21st century, for one to excel in this industry, she says that the person must not only be emotionally stable but compassionate, patient and passionate.

Medical professionals often find themselves needing to exhibit a great deal of patience while dealing with patients and their families. Additionally, they also need to be able to communicate effectively

 “Communication is a vital part of your relationship with the patient. A medical worker requires great communication skills when it comes to speaking and listening since they have to understand and relate to a patient’s feelings.”

 In the medical field, acting with appropriate demeanor, respect, and proficiency performing the tasks at hand help a patient to have complete trust and confidence  in any health worker.

Achievements

She says she is motivated by the load of responsibility she carries every day.

“I am responsible for the hospital, the staff and whatever goes on in their homes. I am responsible for their daily well-being.”

Mastering the three stages- inception, growing, and maturity of the adaptation cycle of an institution and captaining it to the last cycle is what Ayugi considers her biggest achievement.

She says executing fundamental changes, especially in the growing stage was the toughest when the institution almost had a slump once Microcare Insurance Ltd collapsed with more than Shs800 million it owed Paragon Hospital in 2015.

“Starting management at 23 and holding the fort to see the transition of both management staff makes me proud,” she says.

There were a cascade of challenges especially statutory obligation backlogs that were yet to be met by the facility which I had to deal with immediately I came, these were URA and NSSF remittances as well as a loan obligation, she recounts.

However, all her achievements as head of the facility are summarised in the 2019 and 2020 Consumer Choice Awards in which the hospital was voted as the best performer among the private health care service providers in the country.

“The award recognised our excellence in ensuring clients’ satisfaction, we ceased to be a conventional institution built on traditional business systems,” she says.

Not long ago, she crafted the idea to establish the Women and Fertility centre, a subsidiary of the hospital with purpose-built infrastructure; state-of-the-art IVF technology and a set of experts.

She says having a child is a fundamental human right and childless couples who have been condemned by society will have hope of having babies.  “I am honoured to now deliver with a difference Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), the centre has an array of services that welcomes women of all ages and levels of fertility,”  she says.

This year, the hospital was voted under the Consumer Choice Awards for the second time as the best private health care service provider in the country) for the year 2020 whereas the Women and Fertility Centre won as the best Women and Fertility Hospital.

In a highly competitive and especially sexist work environment where women have to pull ahead of competition, Ayugi believes that accountability, learning to tackle the unknown as well as building a strong team are key.

“Building the right team is sometimes stressful and difficult. It’s not enough to simply find candidates who fill certain roles,”

“The ability to overcome self-doubt is a necessary trait if one is to succeed. 

Vision and advice

Her routine schedule is usually home, work, and home. Such a schedule is reinforced by her own personality, a character who prefers to easily relate to herself, “I am very comfortable in solitary environments and I can perform in solitude very well.”

 Usually on weekends, Ayugi bakes cakes for her long line of clients or takes up construction gigs.

 “Right now I am refurbishing my house and taking on another one besides doing cakes, I am not an outgoing person and there is simply no better way I can account for the free time I usually have,” she added.

 She is also pursuing an MBA from Heriot-watt University, Scotland. “From work, I return home to have time with my family and between 9 to 1:00 o’clock I am reading before I sleep to wake up the next day for work.”

 Leveraging technology to create a platform where patients can have an online consultations and interactions with doctors at the hospital without necessarily coming in person to the hospital is the next move she and her team are daring.


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