Dr. Stephena Udinmade Ighedosa, is the first female medical student and graduate of the University of Benin. She is a winner of many laurels in school sports and recipient of many academic awards, and now an honorary consultant community health, University of Benin. Dr Ighedosa who is also the Director of Centre for Disease Control, UBTH, recalled with nostalgia how she and over 100 other pioneer students of the University of Benin weathered the storm in the early days of the institution. She spoke with OJIEVA EHIOSUN. Excerpts…
Could you recall your early days as the first female medical graduate of the University of Benin?
We were privileged to be the instruments that fulfilled the great vision of the late Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia of blessed memory. And between himself and Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark that great vision was transformed into reality in both the UNIBEN and the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH). We started off at the Ekewan campus which at that time was some form of school of education.
Ogbemudia would sometimes sneak into the school in a small car so as not to be recognised, to personally supervise and monitor the progress of the physical development of the school which he felt was needed at the time for successful take-off.
What could you say was the reason you people went to Zaria?
Was it that the then Bendel State government was not ready for medical school or not? First and foremost, I must give kudos to late Dr. Ogbemudia he is a man I will live to remember. One of the best leaders we have ever had in this state. Now back to your question, as at the end of the first session of my studies as the first female medical student of the medical school of the University, the medical school was not yet ready as at the end of the first session.
Not to fall short of the standard required by the Medical and Dental Council for accreditation of medical schools, the school authorities had an agreement with their counterparts at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, which as at then had an established medical school, to send UNIBEN medical students there. Some of us performed excellently to the extent that we came out as the best in our first examination in the school (two years preclinical course).
Dr. Ogbemudia made sure that the UBTH was commissioned before we completed the two years preclinical course in ABU. We came back to Benin to see a new teaching hospital waiting to receive us.
Would you say that destiny played a major role in your choice of a career?
No doubt destiny played a major part in my road to becoming a doctor. Something interesting happened when we were going for our preliminaries at the ABU. Out of the 20 of us that the ABU could admit for the preclinical course, three of us were females. However, on the day we were doing the final preparation before departure two of the female students for some inexplicable reasons, declined going to Zaria.
They opted for Pharmacy at that last minute and that’s how I ended up been the only female medical student in the pioneer set. I was also on the verge of being dropped because I had not paid school fees before one Mr. Pius Isirame (now deceased), an education officer in charge of higher education in the Ministry of Education, came to my rescue by signing an undertaking for me. That was how I became one of the 18 pioneer medical students that joined the bus from Benin to ABU, Zaria.
What was the feeling like at ABU being a new environment?
In my first year at ABU, I was accommodated at Othman Dan Fodio Hall and when it was time to conduct election into hall executive I was nominated and voted into office as food secretary despite not doing much campaign. I did not know that some big guys in the school had their eyes on me, they did everything for me. I never knew that there were Pyrate guys.
That was the first time I would hear the word Pyrate. They did everything for me. Whenever I got to the dining hall I usually sat at the first table that was always occupied by one student called Sad Sam and his friends. In innocence and naivety I would sit with them. I didn’t know who was who. I would just sit there, eat my food and leave.
This was within the first one month of our arrival at ABU. Then one day, Sad Sam accompanied by two of his friends came to my room and said: ‘we have decided that you would be the food secretary.’ I replied that I don’t know how to campaign. His response was that it was an instruction. That they had taken the decision before coming to tell me and others had been told what to do.
Even as I didn’t do any vigorous campaign, other than him taking me round a day to the election, I won convincingly. It was much later that I discovered that he was the leader of the Pyrates in the school. The following session the Queen Amina Hall lobbied me to be its Social Secretary
Could you recall your academic excellence story, what made you different from your mates?
What I would credit my good performance to is that I didn’t miss classes; I used the library; I didn’t read at night, I slept. From the library I would go to sleep, wake up on time, eat my food and go to class. So, when people read at night I laughed because I knew they were destroying the next day’s activities because they’ve not had enough rest.
What was the situation like when you finally returned to Benin?
When we came back to Benin we had a hospital that was ready to receive us. We started our clinical training – very well groomed by some of the best teachers. Well as usual, I continued with the tradition of doing well in my academics including sporting activities at universities games which gave me many laurels in the games of Badminton and Table Tennis for UNIBEN. That put me on the honours roll.
When the university did anything I am automatically invited in my own right. At the African University Games in Kenya in 1975 I chaperoned the Nigerian contingent on the invitation of government. In my final year in the medical school, I scored distinction in internal medicine and community health. That was why I chose to specialise in community health, and my teachers did not forgive me because distinction in internal medicine was very rare. They considered that I wasted a rare opportunity
How did your posting go?
As a doctor, I was on the verge of doing my houseman posting at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) until circumstances made me come back to my alma mater. My external examiners actually wanted to take me to LUTH. I actually went to Lagos but there was no accommodation. Just before we graduated from UNIBEN, the students at the Ekewan campus went on riot.
Those of us at Ugbowo campus were not part of it. We didn’t even hear of it until evening when it was announced. The school authorities closed the two campuses. We were about to do our final examinations then. We lost three months as a result of this. So, we graduated in October instead of June. Because our peers in other universities graduated earlier they had filled up those places and available accommodation for housemen.
Thus when the external examiners took me to LUTH the accommodation for housemen on the hospital premises were all occupied already. They had to transfer me to an annex somewhere else which was not convenient for me as I was not conversant with Lagos. I returned to Benin the next day where a job with good accommodation was waiting for me.
What have you to say about abuse of Hippocratic Oath?
Talking about the Hippocratic Oath, you will agree with me that the situation obtainable now is quite different from what was the practice in my days. As a medical student, things were relatively cheap and living conditions were better. What is happening is a bubble of the society. Who are the people that are becoming doctors now? Products of what we like to describe as sociopathic home situations. In my time as a student, my three meals were guaranteed. So we were able to focus and retain that humane mind and attitude to life and people.
The struggles today are different, the constraints are real. The confusion visible and palpable. But that doesn’t justify unprofessional behaviour. There’s what we call the Hippocratic Oath which every doctor swears to before they are allowed to handle a patient on their own. But you find that ability to swear is one thing and ability to act it out is another. It’s like Jesus said: ‘not all that call me Lord, Lord will enter my kingdom but those who hear my word and do it.’ The doctors too would be judged. It’s the environment that they blame.
Have the authorities put those things in place? You can imagine you have a bleeding patient and you don’t have gloves to wear. There is what we call standard precautions. That’s the minimum precaution when handling any client. The goal of any service is client satisfaction. And that is the anchor point of life first. The client must not only be satisfied but the caregiver too must do it safely. He needs to be able to do it safely, smartly and better each time. It requires some minimum provisions and equipment.
Finally, how did your parents feel seeing you graduate as a medical doctor?
Oh very happy. My parents bought me a car, and even gave me a driver who took me to Enugu where I did my service. I had very loving and wonderful parents. They did everything for me and I never disappointed them. My father’s last activity was when he attended AIDS Day. He died many years ago and was good golfer.
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