Dr. Stephena Udinmade Ighedosa relives life as the pioneer female medical student and graduate of the University of Benin. A winner of many laurels in school sports and recipient of many academic awards, and now a honorary consultant community health physician, University of Benin, Dr. Ighedosa, in this chat with ISAAC OLAMIKAN, recalls with nostalgia among others how she and over 100 other pioneer students of the University of Benin weathered the storm in the early days of the institution.
The early days
“We were privileged to be the instruments that fulfilled the great vision of the late Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia of blessed memory. And between him and Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark that great vision was transformed into the realities of both the University of Benin(Uniben) as well as the University of Benin Teaching Hospital(UBTH)
“We started off at the Ekehuan campus which at that time was some form of school of education,” she recalled.
She reminiscence how Governor 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 were needed at the time for successful take-off.”
Dr.Ighedosa recalled that the Medical School was yet to be 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 Uniben authorities had an agreement with their counterparts at the Ahmadu Bello University(ABU), which as at then had an established Medical School, to second the Uniben Medical students there.
Though there were doubts that they would not be able to do well academically Dr. Ighedosa disclosed that some of them performed excellently to the extent that they came out as the best in their first examination in the school(two years preclinical course).
“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.”
No doubt destiny played a major part in her 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.
“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.”
Dr. Ighedosa recalled that she was on the verge of being dropped too because she had not paid her school fees before one Mr. Pius Isirame(now late), an education officer in charge of higher education in the Ministry of Education, came to her rescue by signing an undertaking in her favour.
“That was how I became one of the 18 pioneer medical students that joined the bus from Benin to the ABU Zaria.”
In her first year at the ABU she was accommodated at Othman Dan Fodio Hall and when it was time to conduct election into hall executive she was nominated and voted into office as food secretary despite not doing much campaign.
“Whenever I get to the dinning hall I usually sat at the first table that was usually occupied by one student called Sad Sam and his friends.
“In innocence and naivity I will sit with them. Then I didn’t know who was who. I will just sit there eat my food and leave. This was within the first one month of our arrival at the ABU.
“Then one day, Sad Sam accompanied by two of his friends came to my room and said: ‘we have decided that you will 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 have 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 Pirates in the school.”
The following session the Queen Amina Hall lobbied her to be its Social Secretary.
My academic excellence story
“What I will credit all 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 go and sleep. Wake up on time, eat my food and go to class.
“So, when people read at night I laughed because they are destroying the next day’s activities because they’ve not had enough rest.”
Back 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.”
Continuing with the tradition of doing well in sports at universities games while at ABU she won laurels for the Uniben in the games of Badminton and Table Tennis.
“That put me on the honours roll. When the university is doing anything I am automatically invited in my own right.”
At the African University Games in Kenya in 1975 she chaperone the Nigerian contingent on the invitation of government.
In her final year in the medical school she scored distinction in internal medicine and community health.
“That’s why I chose to specialise in community health and my teachers have not forgiven me since then. Because distinction in internal medicine is very rare.
“They considered that I wasted a rare opportunity.
How I missed posting to LUTH by whiskers
Dr. Ighedosa also recalled that she was on the verge of doing her housemanship at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital(LUTH) until circumstances made her come back to her Alma mater.
“My external examiners actually wanted to pull me out to Lagos(LUTH). I actually went(to Lagos) but there was no accommodation.
“Just before we graduated here(Uniben) the students at the Ekehuan campus went on riot. We(at Ugbowo campus) were not part of it. We didn’t even hear of it until in the 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 graduated in other universities earlier they had filled up those places and available accommodation for housemen. Thus when the external examiners pulled me out to LUTH the accommodation for housemen in the hospital premises were all occupied.
“They had to transfer me to an annex somewhere else which was not convenient for my as I was not conversant with Lagos. I returned to Benin the next day where a job with good accommodation was waiting for me.”
Abuse of Hippocratic Oath
On abuse of hippocratic oath, Dr. Ighedosa said the situation obtainable now is quite different from what was the practice in her time. She recalled that in her 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 situation.
“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 client 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 will enter my kingdom but those who hear my word and do it.’
“The doctor 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 client 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 safe. He needs to be able to do it safely, smartly and better each time.
“It requires some minimum provisions and equipment.”