Untold Stories of Medical School Setbacks: Leaving Dentistry to Psychology


… Still telling the stories of people who have gone through the medical training system and dropped out of it at different points

In this article, Oluwaseun shares her story of leaving Dentistry in the College of Medicine University of Lagos (CMUL) to Psychology in the Faculty of Social Science, University of Lagos (UNILAG). She speaks on her struggles through the withdrawal process from medical school, her thoughts on the non-existence of support within the medical school system, her experience transitioning from one course of study to another, her time spent in both courses of study. As well as her failures, successes, choices, lessons and lifelong impact.

… I believe going back to the beginning helps us trace our steps well. ~Agoyi M. O., 2023 (Medical Mirror Correspondent – MMC).

MMC: Why did you enrol in medical school?

Oluwaseun: Deciding to go to medical school started mostly from the fact that, “oh, you are a serious science student, then you should do medicine or engineering” – depending on whether you did Technical Drawing or not. So, enrolling in medical school just seemed like a defined path for science students. It wasn’t like I saw something and decided, “I wanted to become a doctor”. It just so happens that I was a smart science student.

MMC: How did you then decide to study Dentistry, and not Medicine?

Oluwaseun: I think my sister spoke to someone who informed her that instead of Medicine, I could do dentistry since they are quite similar. Similar in number of years of study and the experiences were very close. Then, the explanation I got was that “if you don’t like dentistry after you’ve gone through dental school, you could just take a two-year course to do medicine”. Which is very hilarious and not true in any way at all! But that was how I veered in dentistry and got into medical school.

Hmmm… We all need to do more about dispelling these types of myths and misconceptions that plague and affect peoples’ career choice in the medical field. Thank you for sharing. ~Agoyi M. O., 2023 (Medical Mirror Correspondent – MMC).

MMC: So, how did you end up in UNILAG for the selected Dentistry course?

Oluwaseun: To be honest, UNILAG was not my first choice. It was not a school I ever wanted to attend, the school I always wanted to go to was UI. Largely because, coming from Ijebu–Ode (where I lived and grew up), Ibadan city (where UI was located) was just the perfect blend of urban and rural for me. It is not as exposed and rowdy as Lagos, and I figured I could just fit into UI. But that didn’t happen, and I ended up on UNILAG’s merit list and the rest was history.

MMC: What was it like in UNILAG, studying Dentistry?

Oluwaseun: Actually, my journey in UNILAG started well. When I resumed my first year in 2011, I was staying with family and coming from home then, because we had not gotten hostels. We began to meet a lot of people with similar stories. One thing about med school I quickly realized was that – almost everybody that got in to study medicine or dentistry were the “best of the best” students in their secondary schools. So, it was not a matter of “this is a place you would get into because you have connection”. We mostly all got admitted majorly on merits and started this exciting journey together.

100level was a mix of all science students, including the medical students. That year, I never missed lectures and it was just like a continuation of the “serious student imagery” that I had form from secondary school i.e., go to class always, pay attention in class and do all that is expected of you.  But in 2nd semester all that changed; we got hostels and moved into them. During this period, I think there were times I skipped classes to rest but at the end of the day, results came out and I passed the cut–off mark by just 1 or 2marks.  Although I eventually crossed over to med school because I scored above the cut–off mark, but it was a close shave. I think what caused this was that my first semester results were ok, but my second semester was just there, but I was grateful during that holiday for crossing over.

Getting to med school, it was exciting we had crossed the first hurdle of crossing from 100level to 200level. For med students it was not just 100level, 200level, and 300level like regular students. After crossing from 100level into 200level, the 200level became part one of medical school. So basically, we were like 100level students all over again, but in medical school. Medical school was a totally different environment; it wasn’t like 100level, where there were different departments and faculties. Akoka (UNILAG’s main campus) was a mix of everybody but moving to CMUL in idi-araba, what we had were just medical students – either in basic medical sciences or clinical sciences. It was a different experience and then we were exposed to anatomy, physiology and biochemistry but that wasn’t just all. The volume we were exposed to – what we had to read and the syllabus to cover it – was a lot. However, because everybody admitted into med school then were the “best of the best” from their secondary schools, no one could say anyone was a dull student. It became about how much material you could cover within a short period of time, how much of those materials covered you could retain, and are you able to apply that knowledge retained to questions asked and so much more.

MMC: During your first and pre-clinical years in medical school, how was the experience for you? Did you enjoy it? Were you passing your incourses and exams?

Oluwaseun: Really, there were different experiences. One of such was the practise of reading overnight. I was not the kind of person to read overnight, but in med school there were not enough hours during the day to cover what you needed to cover. Then, there were tutorials as well, which I really didn’t like. I remember going for one of those tutorial classes and it felt like I couldn’t fit in. The tutor made it seem as though we should already know the things he was meant to teach us, because he kept asking questions about them. Honestly, this made me close-minded towards tutorials, group reading and reading partners. Also, there were fellowship groups and platforms for forming relationship with seniors, but I didn’t do any of that. I think my personality type contributed to this, because I was not very social. Even when people were available (seniors making time and efforts to teach) I was not just willing to participate. Then, I didn’t know I wasn’t interested, I just thought – why do we have to go through all this stress?

In the beginning, the courses we started with seemed basic, so I thought it was easy enough. Until results came out and I would never forget what someone said. The person was like “Ah! Have you gone to check the result? People are getting their age on the scoreboard o”. I didn’t quite understand what the person meant, until we got to the board and saw people actually scoring their ages – seeing 18 over 100 and other very ridiculous marks. Then we didn’t fully understand the power of negative marking. To be honest, I can’t say I passed all my incourses or had great grades in my medical courses.

MMC: Did you find the lecturers and activities intriguing or captivating?

Oluwaseun: For the lecturers, I don’t think I had any best lecturers. Funny thing is, I barely remember any of their faces or names at this point, which is very weird, but I am unable to.

MMC: Sounds quite interesting. Could you share how the “fall out” from medical school happened? In your opinion, what was the root cause, since you guys admitted in the first place were the “best of the best”? What role did you play in it? And were their other factors or actors that contributed to that “fall out”?

Oluwaseun: Fallout from med school wasn’t something that happened overnight. I remember in my part one (i.e., 200level in med school) when our first MB results of anatomy, biochemistry and physiology came out, I failed two courses. So, for us (medical students) doing those courses, it was like taking the accumulated the four-year courses – for those studying them as a singular basic medical science course – in one year.  Then, due to the preceding state of things, I was already scared I would fail, and – lo and behold – when the results came out, I passed physiology and failed anatomy and biochemistry.

That failure was bloody. But one thing about med school was – and is – that; when you fail, you get the opportunity to re-sit those failed courses. However, if you still fail after that, you are asked to repeat and if you still don’t pass on repeating, then you are withdrawn. So, when I failed, I was sad, but I knew it was time to start reading more. Plus, all the people I was friends with were split into two categories: those that passed, and those that failed. Albeit, we all didn’t fail the same courses. Also, there was one who had just one fail in physiology. This caused a missed mixed reaction amongst the people I walked with then. I knew it was too early for failure, and to move forward, every one of us had to pass the re–sit exam(s).

So, we started coming up with ways to aid us in the examination(s), contemplating tutorials and all activities possible. Funny thing is, even at that point, I was still not opened to tutorials. I wasn’t exactly sure why; probably if I had found a tutorial class that moved with my pace or level, or if I had spoken to people that I needed someone to help and break things down for me without expecting that I already know all or part of it, or if I had found people like that, it would have helped. Because at that point after seeing results, it would be normal to start signing up for tutorial classes but no, that wasn’t me. Instead, I told myself I’d rather read this up by myself, and in a way, that decision was both bad and good.

It was bad being that I was not able to cover the important things – of course, I was struggling. It was however good on the part that, it allowed me read by myself and at my own pace. In the sense that, a part of me did not feel “rushed” like being in a reading group. Where the reading would have been fast, and I don’t have to feel like I am dragging the other persons backward. So, I had to figure out what worked better for me. Therefore, towards preparing for the re-sit exams, I was always in the “reading room” but never the “cold room” or “night classes”. To the extent that I had a “sitting spot” in the reading room. Asides our own efforts, close to the exams, the lecturers, seniors and student association organized tutorials for re–sitting students. They gave ideas on what to expect in the exams, likely questions and how to answer them.

We eventually had the exams and results came out. Some of us passed and that was the beginning of getting disillusioned by med school. At that early stage – 200 level – we already had people getting dropped. Some repeated, and after repeating, were asked to withdraw. It was indeed painful. Even though we – that passed the resit- were happy to be moving to the next level, the fact was – seeing others who we moved and studied together fail again, and being withdrawn was painful and traumatic. But apparently, that was basic trauma, as we did not know what was awaiting us ahead, and that it was just the beginning of getting dealt with by med school.

MMC: Wow, that must have felt intense.  So, after scaling through 200 level – despite the setbacks – what was the next phase like?

Oluwaseun: Well, we moved to the next stage – 300level, i.e., part two – and by this time, we started having some form of differentiation between the medical (MBBS) and dental (BDS) students. As dental students, we had additional courses to the core 5 courses we were taking together with the medicine students. i.e., we had oral biology, in addition to pharmacology, morbid anatomy, microbiology, clinical pathology and haematology, as well as epidemiology. At this point, the going was getting tougher. As it was no longer just three courses, but 6 major courses, with a rigorous 8am to 5pm classes scheduled every day. We also had laboratory sessions in between all of these. Really, there was literally no time for anything.

I remember then, I would barely go home. I missed a lot of family events because I was in school. I mean, I could have gone home – nobody was stopping me – but my people understood when I did not show up for those events. I went home only during Christmas and New Year and missed a lot. Looking back now, I don’t know why I was doing “serious” dental student in medical school. At the end of the day, it wasn’t like I was reading over the weekend or doing anything significant. I mean, I read, but it wasn’t that I couldn’t have taken some time off to go home.

The pressure got worse, as we were now in the pre–clinical stage, with barrage of incourses. And those incourses were brutal, I would not wish them on my enemy. Personally, it was at this point I realised I did not know what I was doing in medical school anymore. Thinking about the entire event now in retrospect, I just needed to get out of that environment to see what was happening. But back then, I did not understand what was going on.

MMC: Hmmm, that retrospective thought sounded like there was more to it. Can you share with us how all of these occurrences affected you…?

Oluwaseun: The “suffering” – failures and setbacks – then in medical school wasn’t just “you”. There were others in the same shoes as you, so we were all in it together. But also on the flip side, there were people that were passing and thriving in the same medical school. Then it started dawning on me that, “yes, I know you are one of the best from your secondary school, but clearly, something is not adding up in medical school”, which started to affect my confidence.

For me, it now became a case of; if I passed the incourses, that meant I was lucky. This stripped away some sort of achievements I have ever had. It became a vicious cycle of; if I failed the incourse(s), I’d say to myself, “what were you expecting”. And if I passed, it was “thank God I did not fail this one”. It was a taunting feeling of “I was lucky to pass”, rather than, “I passed because I studied”. This severely dealt with my self–confidence and the way I was learning. To the extent that, even while in class physically, I’m unable to assimilate or retain what had been taught, talk less of being able to answers questions asked concerning the class. I was just there, and this pattern continued for the whole year.

Also getting into med school at a very young age made it easier for my self-confidence to be crushed. I mean, that – teenage – period was when we were supposed to be getting more confident about our abilities and the knowledge we were acquiring. But then, here I found myself in medical school – taking exams after exams, and meeting lecturers that would outrightly say things like “you are going to fail”. I can never forget one time a lecturer came into the exam hall – while still writing the paper -and started yelling at us that we would fail, because we were writing rubbish. It is just a toxic way of learning and people kept saying that was the norm, but it should not be.

During that period as well, especially when it was time for the 300level professional exam, the six courses we are meant to write was structured in such a way that, you’d have papers from Monday to the next Monday – with no breaks at all in between. In regular school, you’d probably be doing five or six courses, which would usually run for about two weeks. Sometimes up to three weeks, depending on your department, with the papers spaced out over the exam weeks. Even if you haven’t been reading, you still had some time in between exams to do so. But this was not the case in medical school, rather, it was a “pressure cooker style”. We had papers back-to-back from Monday to Friday and the next Monday, then practicals followed suit. There was no time to catch your breath, or even revise. Keeping in mind that, we are trying to cover different courses people would usually study for four years each, as a combination in just one year.

After we did the exams, results came out and again, I failed. Of the first round of exams, I passed just one of the 6 courses, and I was like, “again! regular customer”. At that point, I had started getting used to failing. I mean, in part one, I failed incourses and the professional exam. Now in part two, I failed incourses again. So, when the main exams came and I failed it, it was not new.

MMC: Wow, going through another round of failure must have been tough. But did it ever occur to you at this point to leave medical school yet?

Oluwaseun: At this point, it still didn’t occur to me that I had to leave med school yet, since I had not failed totally. We still had the opportunity to do re–sit exams, which we did. On the second sitting, I had five papers left of the six courses for the year, of which I passed three. This meant I had to repeat the entire year to retake the 2 courses I had failed again. That eventuality was shocking to me, I was not expecting to repeat. I don’t think people ever accept the fact that they will fail or repeat before it happens. But when it eventually happened and I realised I had to repeat the year, it was like double trauma.

But of course, we move! And I didn’t fail alone; I had friends that failed too. At that point, I felt we should have changed friends (LOL, just kidding though). But thinking more about it, people I walked with – as friends – were failing as well. We failed together and were repeating the year together in a row. I’m sure questions that would have been flying around then were: Why is this group of friends failing? Are they the only group of friends in the whole level that has to fail? Anyways, we accepted our fate and repeated.

MMC: Interesting perspective. On repeating, how did you cope? And since you spent most of your time within the school premises, was there any form of counselling or support available through your struggles in medical school?

Oluwaseun: During that repeating year – now that I have had a chance to think about it and move on from that part of my life – I realized that I probably had some form of depression (undiagnosed though). Back then, I thought it was just me “losing interest” in school. Because I didn’t want to go for lectures, practicals or show up for anything. I wasn’t going to church and never wanted to step out of my room. If I was a junkie then, I would have fallen deep into addiction of all sorts. But my coping mechanism and solace was Hollandia yoghurt and watching series back-to-back… and people would think or say I was “enjoying myself”. Nobody recognized what it was, and neither was there any proper way I knew I could have handled the situation.

There was no guide or counsellor to put me through. A lot of people were giving motivational speech then – which was nice – but it didn’t help. There was no proper counselling to help me navigate that failure then. I was supposed to be more intentional about studying and passing but I just wasn’t interested. I visibly started checking out of med school.

MMC: That must have been a lot to struggle with… But when did you think it become apparently palpable that you had completely checked out of medical school?

Oluwaseun: We all know Medicine is not just about reading alone, you have to see things and actually understand them. But I was not doing any of that, because I had become so disinterested and just wanted to “pass and go”. A silent part of me became complacent with the thoughts of “whatever will happen should happen”, I didn’t care anymore. But another part was resolute with the thoughts of “at this stage, after going through all that, all those years… you have to pass!”. However, I wasn’t putting in the effort actually needed to make up for the reading and other activities involved. Even if I wanted to read on my own in the hostel then, it still wouldn’t help because I had stopped going for practicals or attending classes. It was at this point it became clear that I had completely checked out of med school and was done.

MMC: Through this phase, was there any help or support system set up within or outside the school, reaching out to you [and your colleagues]?

Oluwaseun: Looking back, I can now admit that there was no proper structure or guide to help me manage the situation. Another thing that made it worse and added to my depression was the fact that, I knew that I was not an idiot but the fact that I was failing exams in med school made it harder for me to reconcile with. I recognised that I know things; I am smart and a very intelligent person but somehow, I was still failing. That was a hurdle, and I did not even know what I was “toying” with then. But just had to manage on my own.

For support – I remember when my parents would call then to ask, “How is school?” and I couldn’t explain myself. Only my sister understood (to an extent), what I was going through. Because she did a medical-related course and had friends in medical courses that go through hard times. She knew how tedious it could be. Also, because she has been there all my life, and knows that her sister is not a stupid person. She would usually ask, “I know you are a smart person, but I also know med school can be a tedious journey on its own, so how are you coping?” Even though I didn’t have answers for her, she tried to be as supportive as much as she could be. But it was a different thing getting support from outside the medical school system, as compared to getting such from within the system – which we (or rather I) never got at any time. I couldn’t even process what I was dealing with and how traumatized I was by medical school. It was just me working through it all by myself.

MMC: That must have been challenging. So, after all these, when did it occur to you that you had to leave medical school? What led to your withdrawal from medical school?

Oluwaseun: So, after a whole year passed – with me barely attending classes, practical and lab sessions – result came out and ofcourse, I failed. A little back story, when the initial result for repeating came out, I was in school. Although during the waiting period for that result, we are meant to start pre–clinical postings and some clinical junior postings – for about six weeks where we rotate through the core medical departments before moving permanently to dental school. Then, I had started with surgery department in orthopaedic unit, and did paediatrics as well. When the results came out, we were supposed to start the “almighty neurosurgery” posting in few days. And I remember getting to the board, saw that I repeated and a part of me was happy that (at least) I didn’t have to deal with neurosurgery. Despite how sad and bad I felt that the worst thing then had happened to me, how strange! However, this was largely due to the things we had heard about how tedious neurosurgery posting was, coupled with the questions and other things associated.

Now back to the present, when the result (that showed I was withdrawn) was pasted, I was at home. I had gone back to my family house for the holiday, and someone called to inform me of my result. I remember I was with my sister when that call came in, so instantly, she saw my mood changed. In that moment the person told me I had failed and was asked to withdraw, I froze.  I could not speak for a bit, my sister kept asking, “what happened?”, but I was utterly speechless. When I was able to talk and told her, she was shocked as well, and was so sad for me. Immediately, she said “calm down” I broke down and started crying. My tears triggered hers, and she started crying as well.

***Ms Oluwaseun had to take a brief moment to deal with the various emotions triggered from recounting these experiences and her feelings from this occurrence.*** 

My parents were not back from work then, but my mum was forced to come back earlier than usual. Apparently, she sensed something was wrong at home. When she got in, we couldn’t even wait for her to unwind, I bloated out and told her result was out. She could also sense it was not good because of our mood. But when I told her what it was, that I have been asked to withdraw from med school, the entire atmosphere turned sad. Just sad, not tensed, but really sad.

Everybody was sad, mostly because of the time wasted in medical school (by this time, I had been in school for over 4 years). Coupled with the fact that they knew I was not a stupid person, neither was I unintelligent, nor not smart or good enough; but it was just that things did not work out.

Again, thinking about it now, even if I had gone through and finished med school, I don’t think I would have stayed in that specialty for so long. Because at the end of the day, I don’t think I really wanted to be a doctor of any kind. Apart from the prestige of being a doctor, I don’t think I feel any sort of connection to medicine or dentistry. I didn’t like it, I didn’t have any passion for it, and I didn’t care. Unlike other people who are able to describe what inspired them to get into med school, and you could tell they are passionate about it, that was never me.

After the entire atmosphere was calm, I told my friends about my result with my plans to go and pack my things from medical school.

MMC: Wow, that must have really been a lot to deal with back then for all of you. But are there any good side to the entire event, or it’s all tales of gloom?

Oluwaseun: At the time, I did not appreciate everything that happened, but now – introspectively – I do. The pressure I got from preparing for the incourses by myself, developed my ability to read very fast, which helps me in my current day-to-day life and activities. Now, even though I may take a while to process it, but I am able to pick up and take in a lot of information quickly within a short period of time. Also, I am able to work strictly with time and make sure I have the correct information. Because then, we had to answer 300 questions within 1hr 30mins and also had to ensure our answers were correct – while at it – to avoid negative marking. This largely helped me curb the attitude of “let me just fill something”, or “leaving the space blank”. Hence, for the most part, whatever information I am giving out I want you to know that I am very sure of it. So yes, that is an advantage – I think.

MMC: So, after withdrawal from medical school, what happened next?

Oluwaseun: Well, this didn’t just happen to me. And like others, I started thinking of what next to do, particularly on moving to another department. So, someone suggested we spoke to one of the HODs of the basic medical sciences courses i.e., pharmacology or physiology. But that didn’t happen, because we were told that they had no space in their department to accommodate us. Moreover, they usually do not take people withdrawn.

However, this issue was compounded because then, we didn’t even know the right people to meet or the right places to go – to help us ease out of the medical school system into whatever course we choose or was available for us to continue studying in the university. It was more of “trials and errors” and “hearsays” to get help and make headways, but none of that worked out.

Although I was asked to withdraw and transfer to another department that would take me, there was no pathway or support system in place to make that happen seamlessly. Eventually, months after things had calmed down a bit, and I was sure I no longer wanted to have anything to do with laboratory work; I (and my friends) started moving through departments in Akoka, in search of the one that would take us. During this process, at every department we visited, we would meet with the HOD and have a mini-interview to discuss our peculiar situation. When we got to the faculty of sciences, to try out the departments of zoology, microbiology and botany, they checked my previous grades (from 100level); and one thing they (the HODs) all had in common was agreeing that my results were very good. Same results that wasn’t good enough for med school.

However, by the time we were done at the faculty of sciences, I knew I didn’t want anything that would bring me to doing laboratory work, because at this point, I had become “allergic” to anything involving practicals and laboratory (mostly stemming from the PTSD of medical school). So, I emphasised this and “psychology” – as a course under the faculty of social sciences – was suggested to me, which I gladly said yes to. Aside from not having any lab work, I was informed that the course would entail a lot of reading, which l could do effortlessly… this was the beginning of my second of phase in Akoka.

MMC: Eventually choosing to transition into social sciences to study psychology from dentistry, How did the “school environment” react or respond to this? Who was your most support system through the process?

Oluwaseun: One thing that helped my transition from med school to another course and made me comfortable enough to make the choice of course I wanted to continue with – was that I had the support of my family support. Even though – understandably – they were sad I had to leave med school, despite the time, energy and resources spent. But at the end of the day, they (we) were more about “what next”. There was never a time any of my parents berated me or made me feel like an idiot or a dummy or spoke to me anyhow. Even at the points when I needed and asked for things, they never made me feel like I was not good enough. This made my burden easier to carry, because whenever I’m thinking or have to think about my struggle in med school, it was mostly exam-related and never about what my parent (or family) will think about me or do to me. They gave me that full support I needed at the time, and this made it easier for me to think about my next steps.

Asides my family, there was no other support from the school concerning taking the next steps. There was no one from school checking up on students that failed or were withdrawn. Although, I wasn’t as well close to any lecturer or departmental figure that would have taken a personal interest to ask about my next steps. This also aided me to be able to detach myself from everything – in and from medical school.

MMC: How would you advise people possibly in this situation or similar, to handle and make the most of it? 

Oluwaseun: Well, in my opinion, it depends on what kind of “thick skin” and “shock absorber” you developed while in med school. If this situation is a onetime occurrence, it might be harder to adjust. But if you had seen it coming due to past failures, a part of you would have been expecting it anyways, and you would be able to adjust quickly. As in my case, the failure started from the beginning. From writing incourses, I was already struggling to pass. I had already started getting used to failure and the “we pass, we fail, we pass” cycle, then the biggest failure came. Due to this, there was the chance that it could have happened with that exam. The result didn’t come out of the blue because I had been failing since 200 level.

Also, the role that support plays cannot be overemphasized. Some people didn’t have family support. That once the news came out they had failed, they knew that was the end of any support from their families – whether emotional, physical or financial.  Likewise, bonding with people “in your shoes” helps. Because if you are only around people who passed, to be candid, your paths and directions do not align anymore. And unless you actually catch up – which sometimes you actually don’t – you people are no longer on the same level, even if you are all still in the same class. This is because, at that stage where you have to “re–sit”, they are already thinking about other things that will take you a while to think about.  Plus, if you now “repeat”, they clearly are ahead of you, and might not be able to fully understand what you are going through. Mostly, all they will only give you is motivational speech, and it was not all the time I needed to hear that. Sometimes, I needed people to keep their “motivational speech” to themselves, because it became tautology and wasn’t helping me in any way.

It’s actually good to have people that know exactly what you are going through. And in med school, you would meet a lot of people like that – whether in your class or people that are ahead of you or people that have left. Because when I was transitioning, people transitioned to other departments after me. So, it wasn’t like after me, people stopped failing. It is a yearly thing and there would always be people failing and leaving med school. Therefore, forming a bond with the people you are going through this with, helps. Especially when you are not getting the support needed from your family, which makes it is much harder. This means, you have to be deliberate about what your next step would be; if you are going to stay in school, what you are transitioning to, what you are going to do and so on.

Honestly, it is a lot, and you can meet people who can only advise or actively reach out to help. But eventually, it all boils down to you – as a person – because we are all built differently. For instance, you could see two people going through the same thing – both failing med school and not getting support from anybody – and one person is genuinely smiling through it all, while the other person is not. You know, the “happy” person has that attitude of “it has happened, let us move on… even though we have to struggle through this, we are going to re–calculate and re-calibrate”, while the other person is overwhelmed by the same situation.

On giving a specific advice, I don’t know if I have any to give really. Because personally, I won’t say somebody’s advice worked for me. I am sure a lot of people gave lots of advice back then, telling me to “stay strong”, “there is life after failing” and so on. But apart from that, I don’t even remember their faces or whatever they had said to me. However, this might be an individualistic experience.

Hence, realistically, I would say; take a step back, take a break from everything, be in a different space, change to an environment that can enable you look at things in a different way, and that might be of help.

MMC: So back to you, how did you transition into psychology, did you find it easy?

Oluwaseun: During the holiday, I had interview sessions with the HOD, and when he saw my grades – like the others – he was as well surprised that I failed med school, because my grades were good. [Really, they translated to second class upper grade, and I still got kicked out of med school. So, although they looked like good scores, they meant nothing to me at the point. Looking back, this just goes to show that if someone can have this “good” grade and still fail med school, then clearly, they are smart enough to know what they are doing, but still got kicked out anyways]. This, they could not understand as well. But I gave an overview, they asked me some questions and told me they’d get back to me. Eventually, I got a notification that I have been accepted to study psychology and the next step was to get letters, transcript, and make payments. It was basically registering all-over again like a new intake.

Transitioning into Psychology was a totally different journey, but I was fine with it and happy to be there. Psychology is the study of the mental, emotional, and behavioural aspect of the human. Generally, it is also studying the human, but in a different direction from the med school. Moreso, this was easier for me in a way, since the background from medicine was already there. When they teach or discuss about things, I could easily relate. Also, after going through the intense pressure of covering a whole lot of materials – the size of textbooks – for each course in med school, it was a walk in the park reading for psychology. And I could read the psychology materials in different parts per semester.

The first time I got my psychology textbook to read for exams, I was surprised because it was so light like a jotter [I’d use to jot readings from a material in med school]. Likewise, in the exam, we had at most 100 objective questions to answer for 2 hours. This was as well surprising, because where I was coming from, you’d have about 300-500 questions in 2hr 30mins. Furthermore, within 30mins into the exam, I was done, and the examiners were asking if I had really gone through the questions; “yes of course, why not?” I would answer in my head. Hence, it was easy to adapt, because to be honest, I was coming from a place where everything was running so fast – at top speed.

MMC: Nice to hear there was some form of calm after the storm… Now in psychology, did everything just go smoothly as plan? or did you encounter any issues there as well?

Oluwaseun: One issue that was problematic for me after transitioning, was the “disillusion” I come with from med school that: I had become too old, plus just wanting my certificate – in psychology – to show for all the years I had spent in school. By then, I had spent about 5 years in and out of med school, and was about to embark on another 3 years to complete the psychology degree, since I’d be resuming from 200level again. So, I got in with that attitude of “I just wanted a certificate to show that I went to the university”.

On resuming to the psychology department then, all I did was show up for classes, write tests, write exams and move on to the next level. I wasn’t interested anymore; I didn’t make friends or mingle with my new classmates; I didn’t participate in anything – whether association’s or departmental – I didn’t care. Although I was friendly if I was put in a group with them, but honestly, I only participated in those groups because I had to, and not because I wanted to. I wasn’t interested in getting to know my classmates; I just wanted to get the degree. Moreover, I still had some form of ties with med school, since I was still living in the medical school hostel then, as I had not gotten hostel accommodation on the main campus in Akoka. In a way, I think these also affected whatever relationship I could have formed within my new department.

But regardless, it was nice, people were normal and we finished 200level. In 300level, I got hostel accommodation and met different set of people. Initially, it was a bit awkward coming back to live in school (where I started from and left to med school). Because I lived on the main campus five years before, and it was a bit weird explaining to people that I had been in med school then, but now I’m in another department. At that point really, I wasn’t interested in giving anybody my life’s story. I just wanted to be left alone. It did take a bit for me to familiarize myself with the environment because of my kind of person. Even from the very beginning, I had always been an indoor person; I didn’t know places in the school. So, moving away and coming back, I still did not know places and I also didn’t make friends. Hence, there was nobody to randomly call me to take me out to places.

In all, the only friends I had then, were the people I transitioned with. Apart from them, I was just cordial with others. Also, the roommates I got then were friendly enough, but as time went by, we were all on totally different momentum(s). Because we were in different levels, with different back stories. Plus, they were so energetic and there was me – feeling old – which was really funny and delusional. Because I got into school very early and spent my late teen years in med school, so upon switching to psychology, I was not with people that were older than I was, neither was I the oldest in my class.

Infact, there were people in my class that were my age mates, so I was able to fit right in with that age group. At most, I was a year or two older than some of them. Moreso, it was not like the age gap was a contributory factor to my disinterest. But part of the reasons I was not interested in making friends was that, even though I was young, I felt old at that point, and I just wanted to be done with school.

MMC: Looking back now, do you think going to study psychology was worth it?

Oluwaseun: I don’t regret going to psychology, because it actually helped me – to a large extent – gain my confidence back. Struggling with failure in med school made me think I didn’t know anything, but coming to psychology and passing well (eventually graduating with second class upper), boosted my crushed self-confidence. I mean, what I was getting an “A” for in psychology, in med school – with the same brain, and even more efforts – I was getting failed for. Beyond helping me reassure myself that I knew stuff, it also helped me see people differently and relate with them differently.

Psychology itself, shaped the way I see people and relate with them. So, I am glad that I made that switch and did not go back to the faculty of science.

MMC: In your new field now, do you think your education and training time in psychology and medical school has a role to play in your successes there? 

Oluwaseun: Right now, I work as a Human Capital consultant in one of the big fours. And I can say, I am totally using the knowledge and expertise from my psychology degree, coupled with the little training I had in med school. Albeit, not the technical aspect from med school, but the experience itself has shaped the way I take in my environment, the way I relate with people, the way I assimilate things, the way I acquire knowledge, and so many more. I’d say, I don’t think I will ever regret that part of my life because it has largely shaped who I am today.

But now, I am doing something totally different, and I am much happier in this line. Also, the intense training from med school – where we had to cover a lot of courses within a short timeline – is definitely applicable to what I am doing at the moment. For instance, most times I have deadlines to meet within short periods, that pressure training I got has helped me to manage these well.

MMC: Exhilarating indeed. On a separate note, 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?

Oluwaseun: On schools giving some form of certification; oh, definitely! I think it would be a wonderful thing. Perhaps, an associate degree or diploma, something to show that you have done some courses. I think they do something of sort overseas – I am not sure now – where you get some sort of certificate to show that you have done courses in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and the likes. It as well goes to show for the effort you put in at the beginning and that you spent three to four years in medical school. Which ideally, is the whole span for taking a regular course in tertiary institutions. So yes, it should be considered.

MMC: It has truly been an enlightening time listening to your story. What are your final thoughts?

Oluwaseun: First, for people who find themselves at this crossroad – that is, they’ve gotten their results and are thinking of what next to do or thinking of how to get out of the “disappointment” – take a step back, take some time off [it doesn’t matter how long it is, at this point, nobody is rushing you. But also, you don’t want to take off “too long” and start getting the feeling that you should have been doing something during that time off]. Use that time off to reflect and think carefully on what you really want to do next and where you want to go.

Because this is your time to do exactly what you want. I mean, you already tried one thing – to become a doctor, which probably is your lifelong dream – and you can see it is not working out. So, it’s time to cast your net wide, ask yourself honestly – if you still want to be a doctor. If your answer is “yes”, that means you have to start all over. But if you see that it is not what you want, then it’s time to reflect and retrace your steps. Also, you are able to critically assess your weak and strong points.

In my case, when I was adamant on not going back to faculty of science, it was because I didn’t really like sciences. But because I could read about things, pass the courses and move to the next class; it just seemed easy to do. However, at the end, it wasn’t something I was excited about, I was just able to pass it. So, if you are at that junction, it’s time to find out what you are really good at. For me, I am very good at reading books and changing to psychology really helped me build that part of me. Because there were a lot of books and so many interesting studies to read, and you get to watch interesting documentaries as well. Even though I don’t think our educational system really aligns with all of that, but you get a second chance to do what you really want. You have failed the first time, so there is nothing stopping you now. You can’t say “what if I try this and it doesn’t work out”, I mean, you already tried something, and it didn’t work out. So first, think about what you want to do and just go for it.

Thank you very much for reaching out to me and sharing my story. It was a good time reflecting while on this inspiring project and I am excited to be part of it. And hopefully, these helps to change the outcomes for other people in this situation.

Editor’s note:
This interview was initiated and conducted by Medical Mirror Correspondent, Dr Mary O. Agoyi.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. This is so relatable. I’m going through this right now. I’ve sat for the first MB and I already know what my result will be like. I don’t think I have a passion for this course, I’m just here.

    • Editor

      Dear Bolaji,
      We do hope you get the best of you.
      If you need to speak to a career counsellor, you can reach out.


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