I wasn’t a bookworm – Alabi, OOU best graduate
The best medical student and overall best graduate of the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State in the 2015/2016 academic session, Dr. Alabi Saheed, set some records in that institution before he left. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, the 30-year-old shares his success story
We learnt you set a record in your department when you graduated. Could you tell us more about it?
Yes, I had a special result called MBChB with Honors, the first in the history of the university and the medical school. Also, I was the best graduating student at the last university convocation for making MBChB with Honors. The normal degree awarded is MBChB, but the ‘honors’ added makes the difference. To make Honors in medicine, the candidate must fulfill the following criteria; the person must have a minimum of four distinctions, one of the distinctions must be from at least one of the clinical subjects: Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Paediatrics, Medicine, Surgery and Community Medicine, and the last criterion is that the exams must be written at only one sitting. With the help of God, I made distinction in Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Pathology and Surgery. I also led the class in Medicine and Paediatrics, all of which made me to lead the class in all. I must say it wasn’t easy but Allah made the journey an easy one.
Were you surprised when you were told you were also the overall best in the school?
After writing my Part III professional exams, I already had the feeling I was going to lead the class provided there was no problem during the Part IV professional exams. And I thank God the final exams was a success as well. Thankfully, I led my class in each of the four professional exams we did. I was only surprised when I received a call that I would give the valedictory speech as the overall best graduating student of the university. Interestingly, the criteria for attaining that special status have always been in the handbook. Actually, achieving that feat seemed almost impossible because it was very stringent. I think I read that book while in my first year and felt maybe I would meet that standard. And God made it possible.
We learnt you had attended two institutions before going to OOU. Why was that?
Yes, immediately after my secondary education, I went to Yaba College of Technology where I obtained National Diploma in Science Laboratory Technology and I finished with distinction. I sat for my first Universities Matriculation Examination (now Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination) when I was still in secondary school and I scored 233, but I didn’t use it. I sat for the second UTME after my ND and I scored 284. That was what I used to enter the University of Ibadan where I was given Zoology. I resumed and I was already a first class student, but I wanted Medicine, so I sat for another UTME, and I scored 269. I was offered Medicine in OOU. I scored 40 out of 50 in post-UTME, so I knew I would leave. I only waited till the end of that first year before I left.
Why did you go to Yabatech when you knew you wanted Medicine?
I would say I went there to prepare myself. I remember vividly my principal in secondary school, Mr. Adegboyega Adepegba, told me he wouldn’t give me a reference letter, which was a requirement to enter. When I told him, he said he wanted me to go to the university. He even gave me money to obtain another UTME form but I spent the money. I didn’t bother telling anyone at home. That principal is a very good man and a disciplinarian. I must say he was one of those who influenced my life positively. He later gave me the letter, which remains one of the best reference letters I ever got.
To what extent did the Yabatech experience help you when you resumed in OOU?
It really helped, even till now that I’m practising. During ND in SLT, we touched every aspect, so I was well equipped and I had a firm grip of the theoretical aspect of the things we did back then. I can do some tests in the lab, so I won’t have to wait for lab scientists, because I know some of those things.
Why were you bent on studying Medicine?
It’s because I had always wanted to be a doctor. I affirmed my love for the course due to an incident that happened to a very close relative. (I like to keep it personal). So, for me, it had to be medicine. Some people say it is not lucrative, but I chose the course to make my mark. It is not hidden that Medicine is truly voluminous such that you have to read big books and be able to retain so much information in the long term memory. But I’m happy I made that choice. I remember my HOD in UI then telling me he wouldn’t allow me leave for another school. I laughed. I knew I would and I didn’t feel bad that I was going to start again. I knew that 100L would be easier for me, and truly I had a very good result in 100L. I left with 5.00.
You must have done some unique things to have the kind of result you had. Would you mind sharing so students could learn from it?
I won’t say I did anything differently. All what anyone needs to study medicine are diligence, smartness and hard work, coupled with God’s grace and prayer. Strike the iron when it is hottest, that is, read when you assimilate best and teach your colleagues or engage in academic discussions with your colleagues. It’s good to teach your colleagues. When one teaches, two people learn. I also read books apart from medical books. I love motivational books as well as Islamic literature books. Humility is key to success in life. Also, students should form the habit of having good mentors and getting advice from them.
What was your reading pattern?
It would interest you to know that I read for maximum of four hours daily, and it wasn’t even regular. People close to me then knew I wasn’t a bookworm. I engaged in social, religious and political activities. In my first year in OOU, I joined an advocacy group, called The Diplomats. It’s like CDHR. The group was saddled with the responsibility of speaking for the oppressed and advising the school management on issues. We used to print newsletters to inform students. In 200 level, I became the senator representing my class in the Olabisi Onabanjo University Medical Student Association Senate, and in 300L, I was returned as a senator. I later rose to become the Deputy Senate Registrar. I also held positions in the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria as well as in the Association of Muslim Health Students. But after 300L, I had to quit because of my academics. I was the chairman of the quiz club in the school and I was also the editor-in-chief of Isegun journal which is the medical journal published by OOUMSA. I’m happy I lost interest in politics.
Why, would it have affected your academics?
It wouldn’t have. In fact, I like to do many things at a time. Doing one thing at a time does not bring out the best in me. Combining religious activities with social, academic and political activities helped me. Even when I left politics, I was still an influential member. I am a very social person. However, I know my limits.
Were you in a relationship throughout or you saw it as a distraction?
I started a relationship towards the end of my programme in school. It was for a personal reason though, not because it might affect my academics.
We learnt your dad is a butcher and your mum a herb seller. Did that affect your finances in any way?
That did not affect me so much, just that one had to spend wisely. Whatever is not very important, you don’t get it. Finance is always an issue for students but my parents did their best. However, I thank MTN. I was a beneficiary of the MTN Foundation Scholarship scheme for a year. I was also a Federal Government scholar for five years; from 2010 to 2015.
Did anyone ever make jest of you because of your background?
No one did. Sometimes we did joke about it during academic discussions with my colleagues. I would say jokingly, Emi omo Iya Elewe-omo (son of herb seller).
How did you spend your holidays or were you always reading as well?
Holidays don’t really exist for medical students. We were always happy whenever there was a break; it was an opportunity for catch-up with the backlog of academic works. But anytime opportunity presented itself, I did help my mum in her shop.
The medical profession seems to be faced with some hitches in recent times, like the difficulty in getting housemanship placement and residency programme. How does that make you feel?
It is a sad development because that is a reflection of where we are. Housemanship and residency programme placements is now so tough to get in the country. Our teachers would always reminisce on how they enjoyed while in school and even after becoming doctors. But that has changed now.
If or when you are to do your residency, which aspect of medicine would you like?
I love all the specialties, but I think I’m beginning to have preference for surgery or pathology.
What was your experience like the first time you were confronted with a cadaver?
I don’t remember having any fears some people associate with such initial contact. In fact, I looked forward to be given cadavers (dead bodies) for dissections. The beauty about it is that you would see all you had been reading in textbooks directly on the bodies. It was fun then. I had already prepared my mind for such exposure, so there was nothing to be scared of.
Are there things you would have loved to do as an undergraduate that you could not do?
Medicine could isolate one from friends.
Where would you like to work?
I would love to be trained abroad and return to give back to my country. Actually, the governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, promised that the state government would sponsor my postgraduate degree. I thank him for that gesture and I can’t wait to take that advantage.
What were your most memorable moments?
My happiest moments in medical school were after my Part I exams when I made distinction in the three subjects and in Part IV when I made a distinction in surgery, which was the first time in the history of the department. The conferment of the honors degree in medicine at the convocation ceremony capped it all. Thank God. However, there was an embarrassing moment I have not forgotten. It was when a lecturer asked me a question and I was trying to answer but couldn’t hit the nail on the head directly. He then asked a colleague who also gave one vague answer and the lecturer said “at least that is professorial”. I felt bad about it but of course life had to move on.