What they did not tell you about medical school! | by Muhammad-Olodo Abdulmujeeb Opeyemi | Nov, 2021

Muhammad-Olodo Abdulmujeeb Opeyemi

Hello to you whom have decided to indulge me with the next precious few minutes of your life.

I solemnly swear, I am up to no good (clap if you got that reference) but I do know that you will gain something out of this at the end. This is just me at 1:11a.m at midnight, 5th of February, 2021, when every crow and hen is fast asleep (apart from twitter people. They never sleep).

You see, I am a medical student, somewhere in Nigeria. Aaaaaaaand boy…medical school is. A. LOT. (I literally just heaved a heavy sigh now). (Now add being in Nigeria on top. Hmmph!)

Do I regret being here? Nehhhh. I am super grateful to Allah subhana wa ta’ala for granting me this humungous opportunity and privilege to see the closest meaning to creation that there is. Alhamdulillah.

Nothing in this life prepares you for what you are bound to experience in medical school. Coming into medical school, one gets to meet the most brilliant set of minds anywhere. There used to be a saying that, if you took a poll of the students that get admitted into medical school, you’re bound to find that more than 80% of them were prefects in their secondary schools. This may sound anecdotal, but you are quite unlikely to meet a dull person studying medicine.

Three sets of people pass through the school; the ones that seem to get it right all through their stay in school. These are the rare ones. The superpowers.

Then we have the ones that were unsuccessful in winging it through medical school. And lastly, those that are surviving on “in shaa Allah and vibes”. Inadvertently, you may find yourself in any of these categories.

Now, for the non-medical people reading this, let me give you a rough idea of what goes on in a conventional medical school curriculum. For medics reading this, cut me some slack on anything I may share here against which you may have reservations. So here goes….

A regular medical journey begins as soon as you gain admission into the university for medicine. And you roughly have six to seven years at least to complete the degree. Or like we say, *“6 + x years” . One may experience the new euphoria of “independence” and “maturity” that has been bestowed upon you by the liberal four walls of the university. For most (if not all) schools, first year courses are majorly science courses that you are familiar with; Physics, Biology, Chemistry (basically the 3 kardashians of year one). Most often than not, the courses are pretty advanced from that which you learnt from your secondary school. You do your first and second semester exams and by God’s grace you find a way to pass. Not easy at all. This is reflected by the amount of people that may be dropped by the end of the 1st year.

To put into context, the failure may not necessarily be as a result of the person getting “F”. Some schools set various criteria for getting promoted to the next level in medical school. Criteria like, “You can’t get more than 2Ds”, “not less than CGPA OF 3.0” etc. Different scenarios could have come to play out and the person (un)fortunately failed. So moving on, the slashing begins from the very first year.

Now your second and third years are what we call preclinical years. Basically, you’re learning the various things about what makes the body functional properly. While the remaining 4th to 6th year, you’re on the path to being a doctor by learning all that which could be abnormal in the body and rectifying the abnormal. (This coincides with the time your family members start to call you “Doctor”. Advice? Prevent them from doing so before you affirm the oath**. It relieves you of a bit of pressure that you don’t want to start dealing with so early in your career).

Now, getting into 200 level, there’s a complete change in whatever it is you knew. From understanding the equation “y=mx + c”, to how the glucose in the body is what is actually called Sugar and not the ***dangote sugar you are used to. (sorry to burst your bubble)

Then comes the examinations. (at this point 1:49a.m, my eyes are drooping already and my bed calls. I’ll continue later).

It’s 08th of April, 2021 5:08pm and I definitely didn’t think it’d take this long to get back to writing this. It’s part of the rigors of school that I have described earlier. Back to the point..

So, the examinations…you see, the Nigerian system of education isn’t that which tests the intelligence of its students by how much they can apply what they’ve learnt but by how much one can cram and regurgitate when tested. With this sole method of measuring intelligence, it’s fair to expect a good (bad) number of failures amongst students. I’m not here to determine what form of examination is best to assess how much knowledge is imparted into students. But, it’s high time the existing status quo is trashed and a new method of assessment is created. That’s my stance.

The medical curriculum isn’t deprived of this ludicrousness that has permeated through the Nigerian education system. In fact, ****allow me burst your brain. We have it worse by the inclusion of what is termed “The negative marking scoring system”.

The negative marking scoring system was supposedly introduced to “teach” and “prevent” students from guessing answers to questions asked in Multiple Choice Questions a.k.a Objectives. It is said that this practice would also encourage us to desist from guessing management procedures while taking care of our patients on the long run. So in negative marking, a correct response results in a positive score and omitted items result in no marks, while marks are lost for incorrect answers. Let me break that down.

Say in an exam of 5 questions where you have negative marking of 0.5 set as the deductive value; You answer 3 of them correctly, but got 2 wrong. This means you still get 0.5 removed for every time you miss a question. Hence, you end up with 2/5 as your total score instead of 3/5.

In my opinion, I call bullocks on this ideology. The medical school curriculum is bulky and brain draining. Many times, there have been records and reports of students ending up in the psychiatry wards of the hospital. A rational thinking medical student doesn’t guess erratically without making due calculations. The intrinsic fact that the system wants you to recall everything that you’ve read goes to prove my initial statement about the absurdity of the educational system as a whole. A system that tests how much a student remembers, crams and regurgitates and not how much he can apply that which he has learnt, is doomed to be catastrophic towards the student and does nothing to justify his intelligence but instead maligns it. Stupendous statements claiming the students to be weak and unfit for the rigors of the school thus fly around, when in fact, the system is the toxic one.

And as with any examination, there are two outcomes that are expected; Pass or Fail. We don’t use the conventional GPA system. To pass, you need to get 50%. To fail…well, you get the drift. At this point you may probably be thinking,

“what’s so difficult in getting a 50%?”.

Don’t worry, I forgive you. Every single one of us thought the same thing when we heard the criteria. I’d fail to describe how possible this is. Hence, I’d employ the “you can’t understand until you do it” clause. A lot of medics can relate to the guy in this video .

PAUSE IT RIGHT THERE! So, it’s 20th of November, 2021. About, 10 months since I began writing this article. Do I blame medical school for that? I can’t say. But, yes. This is me at 10:30pm typing fast on my keyboard in a bid to finish what I have started.

Moving on…..

So, yes. It’s very possible to fail in medical school. In fact, you can get what we call “shoe size scores”. One of the interesting things about medical curriculum is how similar every student’s story is. (At this point, I have lost my train of thought but just go with the flow yh? Thank you!). You attend national and international conferences, or play around on social media and during your interactions with various students from different schools, you realize they have stories similar to yours. The nights (or days) you cry at how low your self-esteem has dropped? Or how quickly you forget things and how you could almost swear that you read the piece of information you were trying to remember the night before? Or how you finally struggle to making it into the clinical arm of the studies and you have to strike a balance between going for clinical activities, attending long ass ward rounds, going for accident & emergency calls and still squeeze in time to study? Or the lone walks you take when things seem to be getting out of hand? or the subtle times you actually do consider dropping out and going for a less demanding course? Your friend Ayo did the same and he really seems happier now doesn’t he? or the time when….(and the list goes on and on)

Then battling the social awkwardness that comes with meeting up with other normal civilians and realizing how far gone you last had a fun time. But then the fun can’t last long because you suddenly remember how much you have to study to cover up for “lost time”. And then you have your non-medical friend calling you a bore at social gatherings. Medicine is a jealous lover. Many have tried to seduce her and combine her with other things and have failed to accomplish this task.

Sadly, you may lose friends, relationships and time while dealing with this circus ride of a course. And maybe you come out victorious but then, you are faced with another reality post-grad that the past six years was just the beginning and the grind would never stop.

I know at a point, you are thinking, so are there good times on this journey? Yes, there are. They exist in the kinds of relationship you were able to create, the friends you found, the stolen moments of fun you engaged in, the moments you looked at your score board and realize you didn’t fail this time around, or that one friend of yours that is struggling with school is finally getting the hang of it, or in the lovely times you beat your friend in a friendly face off at Pro Evolution Soccer or FIFA or a weekend getaway for a picnic or a lone self-care. So, yes, they exist. And it’s important that each moment is treasured and savored.

So yes, I will not sugarcoat this. Medicine is a journey where courage, hope and bravery are needed. And it’s important to find a way to keep moving with your people as much as possible. Medicine will humble you. Medicine will make you doubt in your abilities. But you are not going to give in. Would I encourage people, to jump at studying it? No. A lot of orientation is needed for people in secondary schools. Career fairs where other professional routes are discussed should be made ubiquitous so students know about other means of livelihood. The world is going into tech now. Look into that and see if you can carve a niche for yourself. Lack of information and lots of misconception surround the status of what society has bestowed upon medicine. Yes, doctors are in their own rights, amazing and likened to be super heroes for it’s a gift to be able to see an ailing individual and do what is necessary to bring his health back to normal. It is the art of arts and takes great grit to go through with it.

And if I ever was asked, “would I do this again knowing all it is that I know now?” I don’t know. I understand you’d expect me to jump at “NO!” right? But, I guess it’s because it’s hard to let go of the lifestyle one is already accustomed to.

Side note: at the time that I started writing this article, I was in fact, getting ready for a resit examination in pediatrics and I had no idea what the future could possibly hold for me. If I failed, I’d be repeating the whole year and if I passed, i’d be moving along with my mates. It was a sad and trying period for me and for all it’s worth, I am immensely grateful to Allah for bringing me to this end. In a couple of days to come, I’ll be getting inducted into this noble profession and getting into this marriage with a jealous lover. It’s now 1:11 A.M of November, 2021 and I have to drop my pen here and thank you for indulging me with your precious time.

  • *(x being any additional years you may spend due to unforeseen circumstances like industrial actions, repeated school years, suspension of studies etc.)
  • **“affirming the oath = the Hippocratic oath sworn by the doctors on the day they are inducted into the medical practice.
  • *** dangote is a brand in Nigeria that makes lots of things; cement, sugar, flour etc.
  • ****allow me burst your brain= let me blow your mind
  • shoe size scores= we use the Europe system of shoe sizes, thus 35, 37, 43 etc. Yes people can score these in exams.

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