Dr. Sunny Onuigbo is a traveling internal medicine doctor based in Georgia. His unique upbringing has created a physician with a kind heart and a determination to give his patients the most comfortable experience possible.
Born and raised in Nigeria, Dr. Onuigbo found his calling to be a physician after learning the details of his own mother’s death during childbirth. It was poor access to health care that caused her passing and Dr. Onuigbo wanted to prevent that for others. His life has been focused on this goal ever since.
After completing his residency in New York and New Jersey, Dr. Onuigbo settled with his family in Georgia. He found the best way to reach the most patients was to take on a traveling physician role. This has allowed him to learn different care options, making him a more rounded doctor.
In between assignments, Dr. Onuigbo returns home to spend time with his children. They enjoy sports and traveling internationally.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I lost my mother when I was very young. She’d been in labor with twins and passed due to what I believe was preeclampsia. This is a very common problem in Nigeria. There is just not the kind of access the medical care that is necessary. As I grew up, seeing my friends with their moms, I felt a sense of loss and decided I wanted to be a doctor so I could help prevent others from having that experience.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
As a traveling physician, my typical day is a bit different than most other doctors. I always arrive early the day before I’m scheduled so that I’m well rested in the morning.
Normally, the shifts I cover begin at 7 am. What I am there for determines how my day goes. If I am a rounding physician, I make sure to take time in the morning to review the charts for the patients I will be seeing. I look at why they’ve been admitted, what tests have been completed, and what should be done next.
I do this because it is very important to figure out which I need to see first. I always start with my most critical patient and work toward the least critical by the end of the day. This process reduces stress and helps ensure the patients who require the most help have my focus as soon as possible.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I take time to really look at the patient’s history. If I feel that more needs to be done, I will fight to make sure it gets done. Insurance companies tend to have a care plan that doesn’t always coincide with what the patient needs. Sometimes it’s necessary to think outside the box to make sure there is not an underlying issue.
For example, I saw a patient once who’d been to the hospital three times already complaining of a cough. Of course, she’d been treated with antibiotics and cough suppressant, but it kept coming back. The standard of care calls for a chest x-ray, which had been done and revealed nothing. I was concerned it may be a symptom of something more.
I sat down and talked with the family. I let them know my thoughts and I learned more about the patient’s history. I explained I thought a CT scan was needed to rule out cancer. This is a scary thought, but I was able to calm them with the knowledge that it’s better to know as soon as possible.
After some back and forth with insurance, she had the scan and we did find a mass. She was treated and was able to recover. As a doctor, you have to be the voice of your patient.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The advancements we’ve had in the medical field with regard to technology is an exciting trend. We are able to diagnose easier, and we have newer, less invasive testing options for patients. You want to find out what’s going on with the patient with as little discomfort as possible. As we continue to create new methods, that will only get better.
Along with advanced technology, we have also seen an increase in informed patients. The internet has allowed people to research a problem and have an idea of what treatment options there are. I don’t recommend patients trying to self-diagnose anything, but I do think it can be a helpful tool when used appropriately. It has helped make patients feel more comfortable in asking for a second opinion if they feel they need it. Patients need to know they have a hand in their recovery and I think the internet has helped with that.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Always be kind. It seems simple, but I feel it’s sometimes lost in today’s society. When I meet with patients, I sit down and talk to them. The conversation is not just about why they are in the hospital. We talk about their life, their career, their family. A lot of doctors tend to stand and very quickly review a brief medical history and give a quick care plan. I feel this can be stressful to a patient, who may already be scared about what’s happening to them.
I prefer to have a relationship with my patients. I may be in their lives for a short time, but I want them to know that their health and healing is important to me. It also helps to remember, doctors are people too and we sometimes make mistakes. Having that relationship with the patient will ease them if something doesn’t turn out as we’d expected. It’s all about making sure the patient knows they matter.
What advice would you give your younger self?
That’s a bit of a tough question for me. I had a rough start. I moved a lot. I lost my mother when I was only one. I think I did the best I could growing up and with my education. There is not much I could or would change if I had the chance. As such, I do not know what advice I would give to myself. It’s through my experience that I became who I am now and I don’t think I’d want to change it.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Well, it’s something I believe a lot of people agree on, but not everyone practices; eat right and live longer. It’s so important that you put the right things into your body to make sure it gets what it needs.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
It is so important to take time for yourself when you need it. I am lucky that in my position, I am able to travel home between work to relax and spend time with my family. It’s necessary to relax. It’s also important to appreciate those around you, those who support and encourage you. You need to be mindful of where you came from and how you got where you are. I am the first in my family to be a doctor. Had my youth been any different, I may not have taken this path. I appreciate what I’ve experienced and who has been with me through it.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I always look back on what has already been done for the patient and make adjustments to their care plan if needed. I stay as up to date as I can with regard to medical options, new treatments, and technology. I see patients as people, not insurance coverage or numbers. They are humans, going through a difficult or sometimes scary time. It’s my job to determine the reason, but also to provide comfort through the process.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve had many challenging cases throughout my career. There are times when you think a diagnosis of something specific is certain and it turns out being something different. You have to be prepared for those moments and learn from them.
It’s also important to remember that death is not a failure. An example of this is a patient I saw for a neurological disorder. The disorder was well advanced and his family did not want to say goodbye. They felt the facility wasn’t doing their best to keep him alive and had even mentioned lawyers.
I called a family meeting so everyone could ask their questions and hear the answers. We discussed all the options available for the patient and by the end, they understood that the patient was at a point where the best we could do is make him comfortable. It’s painful to lose a loved one, but it’s more painful if you don’t understand what happened.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’ve only ever known medicine, so not sure I’d have an idea on a kind of business. I can say this, no matter what you choose, always know that what you put into it is what you will get out of it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
There have been several times, especially during the holiday season, where I may be in line at a store and I will give the cashier money to help the person behind me. Not because they need help, but because I think it’s important to help someone feel special or to make their day. I’ve done this many time, and it never gets old. It’s a great feeling to be able to give someone a hand for no reason.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
There are several different electronic medical record software programs that are used at the facilities I visit. The EMR is so helpful in reviewing patient history and seeing what’s been done for them. It streamlines patient care because it allows doctors to see all the information for the patient in one place.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is an excellent book that teaches about African culture and how you need to work hard to accomplish things.
What is your favorite quote?
I’m not sure where I heard it, but I’ve heard it many times in my life: “use what you’ve got to get what you want”.
● Always be kind
● Listen to your patient
● Be open to new ideas