Obehi Ikem, ITD 2025: Solving the mystery of service

Obehi Ikem, Internationally Trained Dentists program (ITD) 2025. (Schulich Communications)

By Cam Buchan

As a 16-year-old growing up in Benin City in southern Nigeria, Obehi Ikem was intrigued by the mystery of the health-care professionals who took care of her grandfather.

“I saw the way the health professionals were diligent in doing their work,” said Ikem, ITD 2025, who trained as a dentist at the University of Ghana before joining the Internationally Trained Dentists (ITD) program at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “I saw how, as early as 5 a.m., the doctor was coming in to check on my grandfather. So, it was a mystery to me: ‘What do you love so much about this profession that helps you put everything aside to take care of someone else, even at the expense of yourself, and your own family?’”

Obehi’s journey to the answer was a circuitous one.

“I am the first of five children, so right from the time I was born, I always felt a responsibility for them. I knew I had to follow a path that would serve as a guiding light for them.”

Her excellent grades enabled her to choose between engineering or biological sciences. But while attending to her grandfather in the hospital, her love for health care blossomed and she was admitted into dental school at the University of Ghana, a path that leads right out of high school in Nigeria.

After graduating in 2010 and completing her mandatory national service, Ikem headed into a training program in 2013, doing rotations in all aspects of dentistry.

Her journey took another interesting turn while at dental school in Ghana, and ultimately led her to the ITD program at Schulich Dentistry. Two of her instructors were graduates from Schulich Dentistry – Dr. Nii Otu Nartey, and Dr. Mereley Newman-Nartey.

“They stood out to me in terms of their work ethic, and what they expected from students,” said Ikem. “There was also a human side to the way they behaved that made them stand out. For me, it was their behaviour and their professional ethic that attracted me to Schulich… so when I had the opportunity to apply here, I did.”

So, in 2019, she joined her sister and brother here in Canada, who both went to the University of Manitoba, and fell in love with the country. She, her husband and children call London their home.

Now at Schulich Dentistry, the journey is almost complete.

“It is more than I was expecting in a good way, and definitely more demanding and challenging. But it makes me strive to be the best I can be every day. You know, there’s a lot of expectations on me from my family back home, my family here. Ultimately, by God’s grace, I can overcome any challenge that comes my way.”

And the answer to the mystery?

“First, as a health-care worker, I better understand the responsibility I take on for someone’s care – it’s something you take very seriously. And also, I can’t get comfortable, no matter how hard I work. I know I have to keep getting better,” said Ikem, who doesn’t regret her life’s journey so far.

“My time here as been very rewarding, I wouldn’t take a day back,” she said. “If I had to go back and do it again, trust me, I would make the same decisions all over again.”

Obehi Ikem shares three important lessons she has learned along the way:

  • Never give up, no matter that challenge;
  • Have a belief system, something that keeps you grounded; and,
  • Be a good person, be nice to people.