Alone in his hostel room, oblivious of the background noise filtering in through the window, Femi lay on his bed, pensive. He was now at the crossroad he had known was coming for quite a while. The last two years had been a slow waltz to this junction. He was just pushed to the edge by what had happened an hour ago.
He had wanted to be a doctor for as along as he could remember. His grandfather was a doctor and his dad was a doctor. His Dad’s friends who were doctors also had this distinguished look about them, as did any visitor to their home who introduced himself as Dr X. The Misters were quite ordinary to him. Thankfully he had the brains to back up this ambition and he sailed through primary and secondary school seamlessly winning a scholarship in the latter. The first attempt at JAMB was a stumble, but the return match was a knockout. He got admitted into the best University for Medicine in Nigeria.
Ibadan. The first year turned out to be a year of the continuation of adolescence, and he was distracted by the booze, the girls, the music and the parties. Skipping classes to indulge in the aforementioned was easy as University offered freedom of thought and choice. A crash preparation for exams ensured he got the barest minimum to leave the Preliminary year for Med school and get in proper. The dream got trickier from then on.
He was enthusiastic at first as he was lumped with like minds, and delightfully he found most of them to be unpretentious. The excitement at cutting up cadavers in anatomy class made him doubt his sanity. The lectures were a bit confusing and his notes lagged behind. Then came the first test. After spending three hours in three different libraries and not getting past the first paragraph of the textbook, he panicked as he lay on the bed in his hostel and wondered if his brain had been stolen. He slept for three hours and started reading from the second paragraph, ignoring the stubborn first which had eluded him. After four hours he had read three pages. Staring into the dark night’s stillness perched in his room’s balcony, he meditated and knew some things had to change. He had to change his friends, none of who were in Med school, he had to cut the drinks and parties, he had to stop the chase as he luckily didn’t have a girlfriend then. He had to cut all distractions if the dream was to come true. The second MB exam in two years was the rate limiting step to being a doctor they said. The remaining three years were a breeze they claimed. So he would pick up all of the above then and life would continue.
It worked! He passed the exam! He rekindled his old life as planned, and the lecture hall gave way for actual patients in the hospital, complete with wearing ties and a ward coat daily. He looked the part and swagged. The euphoria dissipated after seven months when he learnt that in order to specialise and be a top dog doctor, he had to do another six years after completing this remaining three. The residents as they were called, lacked a social life, looked unkempt and were constantly bullied by the consultants. They looked unhappy and unfulfilled. Dad never told him this, but then he hadn’t schooled in the Nigerian system. He had only said becoming a doctor wasn’t easy. Femi was confused. His dream seemed farther away. In that trance he passed through the next one and half years without medical school really passing through him. He partied, played football, drank, generally fooled around, hid at the back behind his taller classmates on ward rounds and struggled to read when tests came along. His good friends helped him before and during those tests and the next exam which he barely scaled through. He wanted out of medical school but couldn’t think of what to do if he dropped out. The only option was to go abroad and play football for a third tier football club as the only other skill he felt he had was on the field. How would his dad and mum feel? They had invested so much in him. He wasn’t happy. He was confused. And then came the moment of truth.
It was an Obstetrics and Gynaecology tutorial consisting of just eight of his classmates with the consultant. There was nowhere to hide. The question came and everyone was expected to give an answer. He was blank. His plan was to repeat something someone had said earlier in response as he was number five.
“Ah, you. You can’t know the answer so don’t bother,” said the consultant as he shifted to the next student. Words cannot describe the embarrassment and emptiness Femi felt.
On the bed, deep in thought he knew the day he had to decide if he was leaving medical school or finishing was finally upon him. Gutless, seemingly without an option and because the dream lingered, he decided to finish it and then reconsider. Luckily his next rotation was a rural posting in a town called Shaki. The plan had been to drop his bags, return to Ibadan to laze and party, but that changed. Thankfully his subgroup of eight students had seven of the more brilliant ones in the entire group. He leeched on to them in those seven weeks and they were keen to teach, as were their supervising doctors. The patients saw him and his colleagues as doctors and allowed them “experiment” and practice all the things the knowledgable University College Hospital denied the medical student. There were no distractions and he was sober. He didn’t even play football. He found joy in reading and medicine again. He read as if he had a test at the end of the rotation although there was none. He knew it was his life examination he was preparing for and indeed undertaking at that point in time.
On returning to UCH, he was more confident on ward rounds and didn’t know when he drifted toward the front right under the nose of the consultant. He was applauded for demonstration of skills and asked to teach some colleagues he respected for their knowledge. Soon he was made group captain. Nine months later he officially became a doctor. There was nothing to reconsider at that point. Six more years? Bring them on.
Today Femi Omololu is a Consultant Obstetrician Gynaecologist of good repute. He continues to overcome challenges everyday, just like you.