In conversation with Dr Jamiu Q. Busari

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Hello I’m Domhnall MacAuley and welcome to this BMJ Leader conversation where we talk to key opinion leaders around the world. Today we’re in the Caribbean and I’m talking to Jamiu Busari. Jamiu is a real globetrotter so, rather than tell you where he’s been, let me ask Jamiu you to give you a quick summary of his academic career.

JB: Thank you very much Domhnall. I don’t know where to start. Born in England, I moved to Nigeria at the age of eight with my parents. My first medical degree in MB ChB was in Nigeria. After that I moved to Maastricht where I came to do a master’s in Health Professions Education. Apparently, I was one of the first, a pioneer student in the first course, of the MHPE program in Maastricht. After that I entered the medical program, got an MD in Maastricht, so a second medical degree, followed on with my PhD a couple of years later, also in medical education. But after that I went on to my clinical career in Pediatrics. I trained in Amsterdam and, during my training to become a paediatrician, I spent two years of training in Curacao, which is in the Dutch Caribbean. I’d never heard of Curacao before in my life! The only Caribbean islands I knew of were the British Caribbean islands, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and others. I spent two years in Curacao. After that, I came back to the Netherlands, and went on to do my management and leadership training in the US at Harvard Business School in Boston. I did a three months sabbatical in McMaster, Hamilton (Canada) and finally found myself here in Aruba where I am currently practicing my medicine in Pediatrics and also lead the medical educational departments of the HOH Academy at the Horacio Oduber Hospital as Dean. Yes, I believe I’ve seen a lot of the world in my small period of time on Earth.

DMacA: I’m really interested in what you’ve written about leadership and it’s not the standard textbook leadership theory, I’ve seen you write about is the importance of being a dreamer…

JB: Yes, that sort of typifies who I’ve been and how I’ve approached the world. I always dreamed big as a child. And, going straight to the point- being second generation in Britain, my parents came to England from Nigeria and I was born in England, we’re talking about the mid 60s. – growing up and having to face the challenges of being part of society, being part of the community, and contributing to, and aspiring. You’ve got your role models out there and you want to be like them. That’s when the dreaming starts and you get ambitious and then you’re chasing that dream. But, learning at a very early stage that it’s not a given that if you have that dream that you’re going to get it, sort of motivated me and typifies how far I have travelled in chasing that dream. It’s been a fulfilling experience and, drawing that back down to leadership, the way I see leadership, one thing I’ve noticed is that it’s so important to be given opportunity. It’s so important to have people who are going to support you, people who will sponsor you, who will mentor you, and that is one of the aspects of leadership that I have tried to highlight, to emphasize, and to further promote, such that everybody can at least chase and achieve those dreams.

DMacA: Following on from this idea of leadership, and you talked about your training in America, when we talk about leadership training in America it’s always very positive but actually, what you’ve said is, it’s really important to fail. What does that mean?

JB: This is the way I see it. In my career as an educator but also as a leader, there are X number of times you have to fail in that trajectory. You can choose to be very very careful and not want to fail, seeking perfection. There’s nothing wrong about that but it will take you a while to get to B. On the other hand, if there’s a fixed number of times you have to fail between A and B, the earlier you fail, the earlier you learn from those failures, the quicker you learn what you need to learn in that journey from A to B and you even have time left over to learn new things. So, my philosophy is to fail as much as you can, fail as much as you want but, learn that failure does not mean that you’re not good. Failure is an opportunity for you to learn so that you can get to your destination quicker than you might anticipate if you were afraid to fail. Failure determines success because learning from failure provides you with opportunities to succeed further down the line.

DMacA: There’s something else I really must ask you because you’ve such experience around the world, and it’s something you’ve written about as well- the difficulties for non-white scholars to succeed in medicine.

JB: I’m learning every day around this conversation about non-white scholars, and there’s a recent paper in Nature in which they did a review across journals and where they found that non-white scholars don’t get published as quickly as their white peers. And, if you look at editorial boards and reviewers, there aren’t that many non-white scholars represented there. It’s called “Racial inequalities in journals that was highlighted in giant study”. So, what does this mean? I’ve experienced it personally. I’m fortunate enough to say that I’ve published sufficiently that I’ve built a name, so it gets a bit easier. But, compared to my peers, it took me quite a while to break through that bias, that pre-existent bias, so that people really value the work that you do. This was my strategy: I chose to focus on Open Access journals because my philosophy is that I want people to read my work and not the citations and all that stuff about being published in Ivy League journals. A concrete example- getting into BMJ Leader is testimony of how my strategy worked out for me. I’d been writing to the New England Journal, Lancet, top journals, and my papers were either not read or they were just sent back. And, then I sent this paper to BMJ Leader, I think it was in 2019, about the challenges of black scholars in healthcare, something like that in the title, and it was received positively. I submitted a paper, it was reviewed in a fast review process, it was published, it was open access. People picked it up, they read it, they saw and identified with it. And then, all of a sudden, I get noticed on the topic of the challenges facing black scholars in healthcare and leadership, but also in science. One leads to another, I get noticed by the editorial board, I send more papers, I get invited to be an associate editor for a BMJ Leader. That’s a big thing for me as a black person. It’s the ‘BMJ’. So, here I am today as the commissioning editor. It’s a big thing for me personally but also it resonates, and it’s a message out there for other people like me who think- is it even possible. Well, I think it is possible and I think that’s one of the credits to the Journal, making a bold statement that they want to work on representation and inclusion.

DMacA: That’s a really positive note and it’s wonderful to hear because I know you’ve also written about the problems of hypocrisy and dishonesty in education. Is that something that’s a problem as well?

JB: Yes. It is. Unfortunately, it is. Personally, I say to myself, I’ve achieved a lot professionally, academically. So what I’m doing now is creating opportunities and giving back and helping those who might be facing challenges that I’m facing, to support them so that’s where I am. But the truthful answer is, it is still not equitable. If you’re not white and you do not belong to that privileged group, it is challenging to break through. So, I think we have a collective responsibility. I engage in conversations where I say- we all know what it means to be disadvantaged. Whether you’re white or not, it doesn’t matter, we’ve found ourselves in situations where we’ve been disadvantaged. We know how that feeling is. And I focus on that feeling of being oppressed, of feeling disadvantaged. We recognize all of that and it’s our collective responsibility to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to achieve, to grow, to dream, and achieve their dreams.

DMacA: What a lovely conclusion. To talk about dreaming, and the importance of achieving your dreams. Yes, there are barriers but what a positive note to finish on.
Thank you.


Dr Jamiu Busari

Jamiu Busari is a consultant Paediatrician and Dean, HOH Academy at the Horacio Oduber Hospital, on the Caribbean island of Aruba. He has worked and studied around the world and brings an insightful and challenging perspective to clinical practice and medical leadership. He is a fervent advocate for diversity, social accountability, and social responsibility and his achievements have been recognised in many clinical and educational awards.

Declaration of interests

I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: none.


Professor Domhnall MacAuley

Domhnall MacAuley currently serves on the International Editorial Board for BMJ Leader.

Declaration of interests

I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: none.

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