Untold Stories of Medical School Setbacks: Moving on from Nursing to Public Health

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

In this interview article, Olabisi shares her story of moving on from her long-term dreams of studying to become a Nurse. She shares her views on the academic system in Nigeria and her experiences as a student in the Oyo State College of Nursing between 2017 and 2019, before leaving to study Public Health in the University.

MMC: Why did you enrol to study Nursing?

Olabisi: I chose Nursing because I love the profession and anything health related really. But I really wanted to be a Nurse, so I chose to study it. And that was why I kept trying on the course to get a Nursing degree. But, at the end of the day, it didn’t work for me. So, I had to divert into something else, but still within the health space.

MMC: Such burning passion. So, during those times in Nursing school, how was the experience for you? Did you enjoy it? Did you find the lectures interesting and activities intriguing or captivating?

Olabisi: I would say the only part I truly enjoyed in Nursing school were the friends I made and the good times we had. Because typically, the social life in most Nursing school is zero. The students are not real with each other, and everybody behave like they are in a competition.

Personally, I didn’t like how everything was being set up in Nursing school. Especially the foundation laid for nurses-in-training in terms of being unnecessarily competitive and toxic – even among themselves. A classic example is during the first year in school, where everybody is struggling to pass their post three-month and post six-month exams to avoid “weeding out”. During that period, you find that even friendships were not real. In fact, it was so bad that, when the results for the first three-month exams were released and some people couldn’t scale through, it broke a lot of friendships. Because those that couldn’t scale through felt slighted that their “friends” who scaled through knew someone, or some means through which they could have been helped but didn’t share with them.

After this, we had friends turn enemies because one scaled through, and the other did not. Simply because they believed that the person knows “a person” and that’s why they made it to the next level.

Another thing was that they took life too seriously and make academics hard (I don’t know if this happens in all school of nursing, but it was a thing in that particular school of Nursing I attended). For instance, they don’t give lecture slides to students but would rather give you handwritten notes to make you hand write all the notes – some notes could be as big as a whole textbook – deliberately making life difficult in this 21st century.

Although, they’d justify their acts by saying “when you write, you’re reading”, but I feel like that’s just layman’s mentality and a mediocre way of doing things. Because, instead of spending all that time handwriting writing, I could as well be spending it reading on my phone and assimilating it. Now, I’m not speaking for any other person, but I don’t really like writing, as I prefer reading and then jotting what I’ve read out. Simply because if a particular information is too much for me, or a book is looking too bulky, I won’t be able to pick anything out of it at a go. But if I’m able to see the slides, I can then easily read it, jot out important information and have my jotter.

To be honest, expecting us all to hand write that much is counterproductive. Because it gets to a point when you are just writing to catch up on all the multiple notes from various lecturers within their deadlines and you don’t actively read what you are writing any more. Plus, some of those notes where so much that it took days to completely write them, and you wouldn’t even have time for yourselves or other things. For me, at some point I made the decision to stop handwriting and photocopy peoples’ notes, even though this made them class me as the unserious type.

Even though it was a “School of Nursing” and not a “University”, located in the interior and “unexposed” part of Oyo state, this doesn’t mean that they should limit themselves or remain in a mediocre way of thinking or doing things. I wish they could change this and know that it’s okay to push lectures into slides with pictorial illustrations to make it fun to read and not all boring.

On interesting activities, the only activity close to that throughout the year that we had was the students’ nurses week. Even that had just one night as movie night for the fun part of it, every other thing about it was unintriguing, not captivating and too serious. Personally, I’m not even big on the activities – it’s okay if there’s not much activities – but the way they treat us students is what puts me off.

We were treated like secondary school students in a post-secondary education setting. Back then, we were not allowed to even step out of the school to buy essential stuff. And these were not even made available within the school premises. If you eventually made it out, you had to go far and some extreme places before you could get some things to buy. But I think it’s better now.

Just because we are student does not mean that we should not enjoy academics or education. I believe – as students – we all have the right to experience a nice, easy or friendly education environment. I really didn’t like that they were just too harsh and unfriendly towards their students.

Also, another experience that shocked me was the religious bias in the school community. Yes! the religious bias was so glaring with that constant “tackle” between the Muslims and Christians. In fact, for me, experiencing this in nursing school was the first time I actually got to really know that there was something called “religious bias”, as I’ve never experienced such before in my life. And about the lecturers, some lecturers were friendly, but most were not.

MMC: Interesting. Could you then share with us, when and how “the fall out” from the nursing school happened? In your own opinion what was the root cause? And were their other factors that contributed to the fall out?

Olabisi: Truth is, I really wanted to and strived to be a Nurse, but I ran out of options. I’d say, I was just a victim of circumstance. Because in my first attempt applying to Nursing school, we had over five thousand applicants and they were only going to train fifty. So obviously, I was one of the many “unlucky” not picked. What baffles me though is, why sell that much application forms to candidates when they know, they only have the capacity to train fifty people. I know this is Nigeria, but that makes the process of getting in as tedious as a cow trying to enter through a needle hole and the chances were really slim.

At some point initially, I also tried getting into the School of Nursing in LUTH and even the University of Lagos, but I couldn’t because the demand was high. Apparently – this was when I discovered that – Nursing is a very competitive course in Nigeria.

As regards my fallout from the school of nursing I eventually went to in Oyo state, I’d say it was due to the bad academic set up in the school. Then we had sets with over two hundred students admitted in the classes, and the school management knowing fully well that the nursing council would only permit for fifty to be fully trained and inducted.

Honestly, I believe it would have been better to just pick the intending fifty from the onset and not raise people’s expectation unnecessarily. Because people invest a lot into those admissions – paying school fees and other additional fees, buying uniforms and other school items – only to be informed that it’s “faux” until the three-month and six-month exams have been done without them being “cut off” or “weeded out”. Dashing every excitement and hopes that the admission might have given the student and his/her sponsors or guardians.

Although we have a lot of potentials and resources in Nigeria, we still have a long way to go when it comes to academia. We currently run a kind of harsh academic system that makes students and citizens feel like they don’t deserve to be educated. Our institutional system in Nigeria truncates the professional dream of students, as many of them are unable to study their dream course just because of the academic circumstance in this country.

For instance, after spending so much in the school of nursing and was eventually weeded out after several attempts at the exams between 2017-2019, I finally got an admission into a university. Initially, I applied to study nursing, but had to change my course due to financial shortcomings that could be traced back to all the prior wasted funds in school of nursing. This was the final straw that broke the camel’s back, because I had to choose between studying a course that cost less and was affordable for my parents at the time (which nursing was not) or not going to the university.

MMC: Wow, tough choice. So, while still in School of Nursing and you were going through the exams unsuccessfully, did the school at any point provide any support or counselling session to discuss with you or find out the cause of your fall out and possible ways to move forward?

Olabisi: The school of nursing did not have any counsellor or support system, they didn’t even care. They were also a bit biased and were not being honest. Truth is, we later heard that some people that were actually “weeded out”, were later called back. You wouldn’t imagine the dishonesty in our Nigerian educational system, but at the end, we all will be fine.

MMC: What is your take on schools giving some form of certification to people who leave nursing school after a certain time to compensate for their time?

Olabisi: To be candid, that might not be possible because certificates should be given to candidates or participants based on completion of the program enrolled for. If a candidate has not completed the program, then there’s no point giving a certificate. Because that’s like enhancing “half-baked” nurses, and I’m sure people wouldn’t want to hire “half-baked” nurses. The certificate is to know, show and ensure that an individual is certified to be a nurse. So, I think it will be impossible to give certificates to somebody who has not completed the course or who has not spent the required number of years needed to complete the course.

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

Olabisi: Earlier in life, if I was told that I would eventually study the course I studied, I would argue, because I always wanted nursing. But now, I am a public health practitioner and I ended up on this path when I couldn’t further my ambition into nursing anymore.

It was when I started public health – taking the different courses – that I realized that this is something I could do and would love to do as well. Public health focuses on the prevention and promotion of health among the general population. Basically, it’s preventive medicine for the masses, by preventing illnesses and helping to promote their health. This course’s objective made me fall in love and settle with it.

As a nurse, you became a clinician, but as a public health practitioner, beyond working in the clinic setting – not as a clinician though – you are going to attend to the health of the population. This means reaching out to multiple people and the entire population at a time. This gave me some form of new thrill and has since become my calling.

Also, public health is a very broad course that even clinicians – such as doctors and nurses – now study it at postgraduate level for their Masters and PhD. It is a very diversified course that is needed everywhere, so I love the course.

MMC: Thank you for your time and sharing your experiences with us. We hope to see you at the forefront of your newfound professional field and wish you all the very best in your future endeavours.

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