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The smile on my mum’s face was the greatest reward I could wish for –LAUTECH’s best student who lost father at 12

Awonbiowo Abiola, 23 years old and best graduating student of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology in this interview with TUNDE AJAJA shares her educational experience

Why did you choose to study medicine?

It started as a childhood ambition during my stay in the hospital when I was sick as a child. I just wanted to become that person who takes care of people when they are sick. Though my parents wanted me to study chemical engineering, they supported my dream and were happy about my obsession with medicine. It was my father’s wish before he died, so my mother took it up and supported me with everything I needed. I think I would have enjoyed studying chemical engineering, but I have no regret, it couldn’t be better.

Is it true that only students with records of brilliant performance can study medicine?

You don’t have to be an extraordinary student to study medicine, though medicine used to have the league of champions from various secondary schools. Personally, I didn’t do badly in my pre-university education; I left primary school at age eight, secondary school at age 14 and as the best in my class. Even though human beings have different intellectual abilities, I believe every success comes with hard work.

Some people run away from medicine because they feel it is difficult, what attracted you to it?

I got attracted to medicine because of that impression that it is difficult. I have always been a person who loves challenges. I tend to love what people feel is difficult. Even in secondary school, mathematics and chemistry which most people feel are difficult were my favourites, and I had a scholarship in mathematics. I’ll say medical training is not difficult; it only requires more dedication than other departments.

Some people are scared of blood or dead bodies, what were you scared of initially?

I was scared of dead bodies. I remember staying outside for a few hours of our first anatomy practical class in 200 level, I could not enter because I was scared of dead bodies and when I was forced to enter by our instructor, I burst into tears and froze at the sight of the cadavers but I got over it just after the first class.

Some people think a good medical student must always be in the library, do you believe that?

It is all about understanding oneself. I know a lot of good students in my department that would rarely be seen in the library. I read in the school library because I didn’t like distractions while reading which may not be avoidable in my hostel. I like reading varieties of textbooks which I only have access to in the library, I usually stayed till 8pm when they closed the library in my school and I also had to reduce my sleeping hours, though it was difficult.

What was your typical day like as a medical student?

My typical day as a medical student was like a triangle, from wardrounds/lecture to library then home. It was a continuous cycle, not as boring as it seems though. I didn’t have a specific number of hours to study, I planned what I wanted to read each day and I stopped only when I was done.

People also say that medical students don’t have social life apart from their academics. Were you social?

During my first two years in the university, all I did was reading, I had little or no other extracurricular activities. Thereafter, I started getting used to medicine and began to pick up some other extracurricular activities and learnt to balance my academics, social, and spiritual life. I went for social gatherings once in a while and I did a little of departmental politics. I wish I made more friends though.

What major decision(s) did you take when you entered school, which helped you?

I made up my mind in my first year not to disappoint the poor woman who struggled to put food on the table for me, covered me with clothing and suffered to pay my fees. I lost my father when I was 12, but my mother never allowed me lack anything. So, I felt the only thing I could do for her was to be serious with my academics and make her proud. I just didn’t want to be a good student; I wanted to be the best, so my aim was to be the best. Whenever I looked at her, I felt I owed her that; to make her proud.

Did you deprive yourself of good sleep when exam was approaching?

I didn’t lose good sleep because of exams. I read mostly during the day because that was when I did assimilate better and faster. Then, by midnight, I was already in bed. Reading all night doesn’t work for me, and I slept at least six hours daily.

What were the challenges you faced?

The journey to success is never an easy one, sometimes you are tired but because of the drive, you keep going. There was a time things were not going on well with my family financially in my second year in the university, I had to borrow textbooks to read. During my clinical year, the university teaching hospital was closed down for two years, which made me spend nine years for a six-year course without failing or repeating any class.

What part of your course was most challenging?

The most challenging to me of the courses was pathology; it was like 4 in 1, histopathology, medical microbiology, haematology and chemical pathology, and as I said, I love challenges, so I had a distinction in the course.

Which one did you enjoy most?

Paediatrics; maybe because it involves children.

How did you handle gestures from men?

It’s about knowing what you want and what you don’t want. I was disturbed mostly by senior colleagues in my first clinical year and some even became my reading mates. Later, I was used to the advances and learnt how to manage them. It takes the grace of God and determination to stay on the right path.

When did you start leading your class?

I started having good grades from my first year.

At what point did you know you would be the best graduating student?

After my final MBBS exams.

What did you do differently that gave you an edge over others?

Determination, hard work, perseverance and prayers. My aim was to be the best graduating student in my set.

Why do medical students often feel superior to other students?

Medical school used to be the league of champions from different secondary schools, though there might be more brilliant students in other departments, it has the majority and anyone that meets the requirement of admission to medicine is entitled to feel special, not superior.

What was your happiest moment?

My happiest moment was the day I was told I made distinction in pathology after 30 minutes on the hot seat with about 15 professors.

Was there any form of reward from your mother for doing well, like cash or material gift?

The reward I got from my mum for doing well was a smile on her face, which was the best I could wish for.

What are your future plans and aspirations?

I want to be a successful doctor, a good mother and wife, and that person that makes a difference in Nigeria’s health system.

Is there anything you intend to change about the society?

Any society that doesn’t encourage the good indirectly promotes the bad, it’s sad that we now live in a society where immoralities have become norms. Rogues, strippers and gangsters are now the role models, where political thugs are more celebrated than professors. The priority of this society is not well placed, I wish for a change and I’m willing to do my part on this, but it calls for the collective effort of all.

Which organisation have you always wanted to work with?

The World Health Organisation. I have always dreamt of it and I hope to be there someday.

How easy was it to graduate with first class honours?

The journey to success is never easy

What is your advice to students?

God has endowed us with different potential to fulfill our destiny but we can only maximise the potential through hard work. Define what you want in life and set your goals. The only obstacle to your goal is yourself.

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