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Why some students are foregoing medicine and courting less known science courses

Right from her secondary school days, Dum Odia just like most of her peers in science class wanted to study medicine, she dreamt of being called doctor, of being respected and of treating patients etc. but after applying to schools in Nigeria, Ghana and even Liberia, she gave up after the third try of writing the necessary exams and not making up to the cut-off mark, instead she settled for the relatively less known course; Radiograpy.

She is not alone as in a Times Higher Education article titled ‘are medical school admissions too competitive’, the writer, Katie Hodgkinson highlights this trend: ‘In 2011, there were 10 applicants for every UK medical school place – so inevitably, some mistakes are made and good candidates are being turned away, but it’s a rarity. There will be times when medical students look at their peers and wonder how so-and-so got in because they’re terrible with people or they’re always behind on work, but admissions officers see everything: every possible spark of potential’ she writes.

In Africa the situation is not much different as the number of people that seek admission to study medicine are always more than the available spaces.  Higher institutions like the University of Ghana, Ibadan, Benin all have good medical schools but they are not able to deal with all the admission requests so in the bid to get the best of the crop, the cut-off marks are always the highest. So, invariable many people get turned down. Joy Obel a graduate of Botany is one such example, she actually wanted to study medicine at the university but because of the high cutoff mark, ended up studying Botany at the University of Ibadan.

As a result of such changes some individuals over time start appreciating their second choice course and even end up preferring it to studying medicine. Based on admission requests, botany is not one of the highly sought after courses but its description highlights the importance. It is thus described ‘Botany is the scientific study of plant life, including the life of some things, such as fungus, which aren’t really considered plants anymore. The structure, properties, life processes, classifications, diseases, and environmental impacts and interactions are all included in botanical science’. (Source: Study.com write up titled ‘what is botany).

In a Wiley online article Jon C Lovette laments that ‘though plants are the primary producers in African ecology, botanists go unrecognized’ he also talked about an African botanist by the name of Prof. Sebsebe Demissew of Ethiopia who was given the prestigious Kew medal and why people like the Professor should be celebrated.

From indicators, it appears that quite a number of people are getting more enlightened about other fields of study and thus getting less enamored with studying medicine

“I wanted to read medicine, got into physiotherapy and never looked back. It’s amazing to see or know how movement is intertwined with the body system to facilitate recovery of patients back to a state of functional ability… It’s amazing when your client who has been referred to you after the drug therapy is doing well, functionality restored… I am proud to be a physical therapist because I know that with my hands, skilled techniques learned over time, trainings and course improvements, I can offer better care to my patients,” says Ogechukwu  Egwu-Ojeniwe a physiotherapist.

In an article at the Ontario Physiotherapy Association, Veronique Yeon supports Ogechukwu’s assertion with the following words; “I love it (physiotherapy) because it is a profession where you are always learning new things and helping people. You can change a person’s life. Physiotherapists help patients in every aspect of their existence, whether it be their health, confidence, or even overcoming obstacles that seemed insurmountable.”

She is not alone as more and more people are seeing reasons to appreciate non-medical courses. Joy Ogonna works at JUBO diagnostics. She says for a long time she was not even aware of the existence of her course while in secondary school. “I remember in secondary school, it was either medicine or surgery… Then I kept asking if there wasn’t more to health management, apart from medicine and surgery … there had to be more, the moment I was introduced to medical laboratory science, I fell in love with it, researched it, looked for schools in the JAMB brochure that ran it and I never looked back.”

In a country like Nigeria medicine is seen as the most prestigious and the most deserving in terms of salary structure so doctors are usually on a higher salary than other medical personnel. This has led to a number of crisis in the health sector as nurses and other health personnel sometimes go on strike because they want to receive higher wages.

A doctor Charles Godwin (not real names) is outraged he wonders why this is the case, “medical doctors study for six years while most of them studied for just four or at most five, from year two, we give up spending holidays like Christmas with our families and yet they want to be paid the same wages as we are paid. Some of them like optometrists insist on being called Doctor and that is annoying to say the least. In my opinion they are envious.”

Onaoluwa Abimbola studied Medical Laboratory science in Ibadan. She is a member of Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU). She was an active voice on social media during the Facebook crisis between JOHESU and the Nigeria Medical Association. She says for her it is not an issue of envy; “let me assure all my concerned friends that I am not bitter or jealous or envious of the MBBS degree.

My decision to study MLS was made after I was offered an admission in University of Houston, USA to study Medical Laboratory Science – called Medical Laboratory Technology there. Getting the knowledge that I could do same course in Nigeria changed trajectory for me and I promptly decided to check out the Nigerian option. That was the first time I would hear about the course, and my curious questions made me realise that this was a course that fit my personality.”

I remember the first question I asked at orientation week – “How can this course help to make healthcare and diagnosis easier in the villages?” Yes, even then, my focus was on the health access. So, even when getting the degree became so challenging, I was unmoved”.  She got support for her assertion from an unlikely source.

Adeoye Philip is a medical doctor who is in residency training. Specializing in Community medicine he encouraged her thus, “I stopped two of my bright siblings from studying for medicine and surgery ……. I have not regretted my decision……. They are better off today……. one even attained a status that can dwarf my current position in medicine…… medicine may just be one of the ways of actualizing a life dream… definitely not the only way,” he said.

Most of the respondents appeared to change their minds after not gaining admission into the medical profession?  Pundits wonder if it is just a case of the available becoming the desirable. This following assertion gives an unusual twist not only to the theories but to the topic in focus.

“In secondary school I actually wanted to study law but I wasn’t doing too well in government. I was doing better in all my science subjects so I opted for medicine but after I got admission, I started appreciating the course. my appreciation got further strengthened when I started my house job,” says Ngozi Osuji best 10 graduating students in her class at the University of Nigeria and currently doing her master’s programme at the John Hopkins University in Baltimore. But the seeming discrimination does not only lie in one course like law medicine, engineering and other highly sought courses. It also lies in multi-dimensional ways.

Okolie Ogechuckwu attended Delta State Polytechnic and studied Science Lab Tech but confesses that because of the discrimination he would have preferred studying not only in the university but studying medical lab science which is seen as more lucrative than science lab tech but he confesses that notwithstanding, he is getting to like his course of study because it is more broad.

He is not alone, as the woman, Dum Odia whose journey was highlighted at the beginning of the story – she also wanted to study what she considered a better course but today she is fully satisfied with her course and is registered in a European country as a radiographer.

“I have always had abundant job opportunities even when I was back home in Nigeria, so I did not lose anything from studying my second choice course,” she states.  Her words echo the general point made by others that no course is useless and that every course of study has huge potentials

By Omordia Efe Alexandra

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