Untold Stories of Medical School Setbacks in Nigeria: Quitting Medical School to Veer into Art


As much as the Nigerian medical system unarguably trains a number of the world best physicians, it still has its imperfections.

One of the prominent drawbacks it has, is the proportion of actual enrolees at the beginning of medical school to the eventual number of graduands or inductees at the end. With a significant number either left behind or totally dropped out during the course of study. Ideally, a system – by and for the “noble” profession – should be able to take care of all its own, or at least most of its own. But this is usually not the case, especially in Nigerian public tertiary medical institution.

Hence, the medical mirror team telling the stories of people who have gone through this system and dropped out of it at different points. With the aim of opening people’s mind to various realities and possibilities, as well as uncovering the faults in our medical training system that could be fixed to avoid these preventable occurrences or “brain loss” from the medical profession.

In this article, Uzor Ugoala (UU) shares his story on why and how he dropped out of medical school while repeating final year (600 level) to pursue art. He speaks about his choices, support systems, experiences and journey through the medical path into art.

All stories that start the same do not have to end the same. But all the ends can still be beautiful, impactful and interesting… if you fail out or dropout from the medical profession, you can restrategized and thrive in various other found fields away from medicine. ~ Agoyi M. O., 2023 (Medical Mirror Correspondent – MMC)

MMC: First, how and why did you enrol in medical school to study medicine? [I believe going back to the beginning of the journey would help put things into perspective appropriately].

UU: I came into medicine like many people who were science students back in secondary school. At that time, the other option was engineering, which I felt indifferent about. This reason and also peer pressure; most of my friends were choosing medicine. So, I thought that was the usual way to go.

MMC: Having spent over 7 years in medical school, during pre-clinical and transitioning into clinical years, how was medical school experience for you? Did you enjoy it? Were you passing your incourses and exams or failing?

UU: The only major thing I ever really enjoyed about medical school was the relationships I had with people and whatever experiences those relationships brought. I also found God during my time in school. By the way, I was passing exams and incourses but the times I had resits were in 500level & 600level.

MMC: Now, could you tell us how the “fall out” from medical school happened? In your opinion what was the root cause? And where their other factors that contributed to that “fall out”?

UU: To be fair, if one had told me earlier in my life that I would get to drop out of med school for art, I would have doubted heavily. I started to feel the internal discord I had for medicine from my 300 level days. I’ve always believed that if I’m to do something as a career or my life’s work long term, I need to have my heart in it — that way, it’s easier to stick with it during tough times. I never truly felt my heart was in medicine. I’ve always known myself to be effortlessly creative, the dislike for medicine made me more conscious of that. At the very center of this was self-discovery for me, that was what truly birthed the dichotomy between medicine and art/photography. The decision to quit medicine and focus on developing what I believed in (art) wasn’t made overnight. It was a buildup process until halfway into my extra year (in final year), I quit medicine.

MMC: Wow. So, when this happened and you left, did the school at any point reach out to find out the cause of your “fall out”; or have any counselling or support session to discuss with you on possible ways to move forward or options to forge ahead or remain?

UU: Medical school especially in Nigeria can be quite a bully. There’s the image of ‘doctor’ that is expected to be worshipped and when a person chooses to go a different route, they are heavily frowned upon. I stayed away from lecturers to even have a conversation with them because they wouldn’t have understood. I never truly was interested in medicine. I didn’t see myself being a doctor, I couldn’t see myself practicing medicine as my life’s work.

MMC: Thats a lot of bold and daring decisions. However, beyond the school lecturers or admin, how did the “school environment” react or respond to your decision to leave medical school? As well as your family… especially at that final stage, after spending such a longtime.

UU: I was careful about who I opened up to because I knew there would be resistance that would come solely from a place of fear from them. Only about 2-3 of my friends really understood my person and were non-judgmental towards my decision. I’m skipping several bits because quite a lot happened during those months in 2018-2019. It was a tough pill for my family to swallow but eventually they came around to see things from my perspective after months of arguments. In hindsight, they were only acting out of care, they did what they understood to do, and I really don’t fault them in anyway.

MMC: What would be your recommendation to people possibly in this situation or similar? Also, to the school concerning handling situations like this and making the most of it?

UU: At the base of any life decision that concerns work or career is self-discovery. You can’t do a career your heart doesn’t align with for the long haul. Have honest conversations with yourself, ask the tough questions, consistently seek God’s help and guidance. Whether I finished medicine or not wasn’t going to matter, what mattered was that I had discovered what I wanted to do and it was going to be in the arts.

Schools need to be more practical in understanding that many people who choose courses to study do so out of limited information and understanding. You are always free to begin anew, you are always free to review your decisions, you are always free to look down the road and see if you’d like the destination should you continue on that path. One’s life isn’t cast in stone so much so that one must commit to a career decision they made in their teens. As you grow older, you understand life a bit more, you acquire wisdom to make better choices and so on.

MMC: Who was your most support system through this all…?

UU: I had 1 or 2 friends who were initially surprised at my decision but gradually supported me as time passed. I’m grateful for them.

MMC: In your new field now, do you think your training or time in medical school had or has a role to play in your successes there or how you relate or see things?

UU: Well, in some way. I can be a bit systematic in my approach to creating work and I like that.

MMC: Can you tell us about what you do now and how you ended up on that exact path? The course, the education, the training and everything…

UU: I’m an artist now – creating work in the genres of conceptual photography and sculpture. I create the props I use in my shoots and that hands-on prop-making process has morphed overtime to become sculpture. Most of my education in my practice is self-taught from experimentation and consulting more experienced colleagues in the art industry. It’s been bliss.

MMC: What is your take on schools giving some form of certification to people who leave medical school – after their basic medical sciences years or in clinical years – to compensate for their time?

UU: The certification isn’t really as important as understanding that people — in this case students — make decisions based on the information they possess at a time, and as they grow up, things change, experiences evolve, and people learn new things about themselves which informs their choices. Who you were in secondary school is not who you are today.

Self-discovery happens and one becomes honest enough to admit that a career mistake has been made based on limited information or things like ‘peer pressure’ ~ Uzor Ugoala, 2023

MMC: Finally, what would be your recommendation to avoid or prevent such career mistake?

UU: Parents need to be willing and open to having sincere conversations with their children about their career choices. The thing is, people make career choices based on the level of exposure they have, and this evolves over time.

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