My UEA Story: Sam Okwuada
Sam Okwuada, Master of Pharmacy graduate based in Nigeria, tells us about his time at UEA, and how it helped him to set up his own pharmaceutical company back home.
“Getting four of our own-brand products registered with the drug authority in Nigeria has been our biggest achievement so far”
My experience studying Pharmacy at UEA was excellent and highly enjoyable. I chose to study Pharmacy, which apart from just leaning about the human body, drugs, and diseases, set me up as an all-round person. The experience was challenging sometimes, but overall was excellent.
"Where I am today is as a result of studying pharmacy at UEA"
I found out about UEA through a university agent called BCIE in Nigeria. I already knew what subject I wanted to study, but I didn’t know which university to go to, and my parents were divided as on one hand they wanted me to go to the UK to get a good education, but on the other hand they were concerned because it is a lot of money and they also wanted me to stay in Nigeria. It just so happened that on the day I went to visit BCIE, they talked about UEA being one of the top schools for Pharmacy in the UK. I did my own research and knew that I wanted to pursue a degree in the UK too. As we were coming out of the office of BCIE we bought one of the daily newspapers, and there was an article showing the world ranking of universities – UEA was in the top hundred in the world. I showed the article to my dad and then he was happy that I wanted to go to UEA.
I had so many good days on the course. I did a foundation year, which meant my degree was pretty much five years. There were a lot of ups, and of course downs as well, but when I passed my foundation year and I got a scholarship that was one of my best days. When I started my pharmacy classes, got to meet my professors, lecturers, got to wear my lab coat for the first time, and started mixing chemicals in the lab, I knew I’d made the right choice. While studying I ran for Ethnic Minorities Officer for the Student Union, so doing things like writing and releasing my manifesto, and campaigning – which was the first time I’d ever done something like that in my life! – was really enjoyable. Based on my success, I went for International Student Officer and I won that as well, so there were a lot of happy days on campus.
"I was very shy when I first came to the UK, but graduated being able to talk to an audience of five or ten thousand without blinking an eye"
Right now I am back in Nigeria, and I run my own pharmaceutical company. We develop drugs and also have a tech division, developing online web apps. A lot of things helped me in trying to set up my business. I always knew I was an entrepreneur, even while studying at UEA, so I went into my course knowing what I wanted for myself after I graduated. Yes, I wanted to be a pharmacist, but in what way? Selling drugs, working in a hospital – I wasn’t sure if those routes were for me. In the four years that I studied, having a tough pharmacy education, I definitely came out with an understanding of my strengths and weaknesses.
The major thing for me that helped was a module called Professional Development. Basically from year one you are given a list of skills that you are expected to attain and get experience of by the fourth year, when you are graduating. Skills like timekeeping, delivering lectures, and debating. So many little cumulative skills that don’t really pertain to a career in Pharmacy as such, but as a whole they make you well-rounded. I was very shy when I first came to the UK, but graduated being able to talk to an audience of five or ten thousand without blinking an eye. At the time I thought “this is a lot of work! Why are they making us do this? It’s irrelevant” but then, setting up a company, I started to see that I’ve applied the skills I learned in a business setting, and it has helped me a lot. Where I am today is as a result of studying Pharmacy at UEA.
Some of the things I learned, and especially the list of skills required, I have adapted to my own organisation. My staff now use it for their own professional development because it helped me so much. It pushed me to do things I never thought I could do, because I was kind of forced to do them. Doing something new for the first time you realise “ok, that wasn’t so bad, I can do this” and it builds confidence and resilience.
The most rewarding aspect of running my own business is the ability to dream big. I’m not bound by restrictions, and I’m not bound by rules set by someone else. I’m free to chart my own course and even though I’ve failed at some of the things I’ve tried, I’ve learned so much, and always pick myself up and keep going.
Since I’ve been back in Nigeria, we’ve been trying to not just distribute products for other companies, but to create and distribute our own products based on my understanding from my degree of the best medicines for particular diseases. Getting four of our own-brand products registered with the drug authority in Nigeria has been our biggest achievement so far, as it was a frustrating two year marathon trying to achieve that kind of recognition, but I am so proud that it has been done successfully.
"You want to be in a place where you can be inspired. It's about the whole student experience, not just the education"
Nigeria is still a developing country, and the infrastructure is not the same as in other countries. Starting a business and doing simple tasks like setting up an office, or getting a car, there is no credit facility, so you must have the full amount of money to be able to do those things. With the poor population in Nigeria as well, drugs and medicine is a big business here, but there is a lot of disinformation and fake or adulterated drugs on the market. For me, to be able to do something proactive, and bring trusted drugs into the market, it has helped having the background of being educated in the UK at a top university. One of the main reasons that people buy from my company is that they know I can back it up with my knowledge and education.
I would definitely recommend studying in the UK, and at UEA. I have already recommended it to several people! Going to university is not just about the formal education. I used to think you go to your classes and that’s it, but it is so much more than that! It’s the people you meet, and the environment around you.
Norwich is a beautiful city, and you can do whatever you want there. If you want peace and quiet, you can find it, if you want to be busy, you can go into the city centre. You get everything at UEA. Based on who you are and what you want to do, you can find your place. I loved the cathedral, museums, and the old buildings, as you really get a sense of the history, but also loved the shopping malls, and Riverside area with the cinema, Nandos, and Chinese restaurants. I think I’m pretty well known in most of those shops and restaurants! I would go from the gym there straight to Frankie and Benny’s and the staff would laugh at me and say “Sam, why are you deceiving yourself?”
When I’m talking about UEA, I usually just take my phone out and show people my Instagram with the lake and the rabbits. You want to be in a place where you can be inspired. It’s about the whole student experience, not just the education.
Sam studied for a Master of Pharmacy at UEA, graduating in 2014. Sam is the owner and founder of Kessington Global.