I KNOW HOW TO HANDLE MEN BECAUSE I WAS THE ONLY GIRL IN MY MEDICAL CLASS OF 27 STUDENTS - Mrs. Majekodunmi, professor of ophthalmology
Mrs. Ajesola Majekodunmi, a professor of ophthalmology, shares the story of her life and her journey in the medical profession with SAM AWOYINFA
What was growing up like?
My parents hailed from Sagamu. While my mother was a teacher, my father was an administrator with Nigerian Railway Corporation. I attended Methodist Girls School, Sagamu and Methodist Girls High School. In those days we were only expose to only one science subject, and that was biology. I made up my mind that I was going to read medicine since I came from family of seasoned native healers. I used to help my grandparents to write down the formula for different native medications. From there, I toyed with the idea of going for medicine.
But at that time it was a challenge going to Methodist girls High School and thing of pursuing medicine in the University. How did you surmount this hurdle?
Then, students normally spent six years in the secondary school, but I had an advantage because I crossed to secondary school in Standard Four. Luckily for me, the Ashley commission advised that girls should be given opportunity of having science education. On that basis, they started science courses for females at the then Nigeria College of Science and Technology, Enugu. I applied and because I was qualified, I gained admission there that was where we were prepared for science courses of study professional science based courses. Many of us who attended that course went into either teaching of science subjects or went to study medicine or pharmacy.
Having done that, I came into College of Medicine, University of Lagos. They were about taking off in 1962. I gained admission to the University of Ibadan to read medicine, but the late Prof. Oritsejolomi Thomas and Prof. Doseko were the provost and deputy provost of the new College of Medicine, which they were starting in Lagos. They came to my parents and told them that being the only girl qualified and given scholarship by the Federal Government at that time to read medicine. I should come to the University of Lagos so they argued that if you would get MBBS, Ibadan you could as well get MBBS, Lagos. So, I decided to tome to University of Lagos.
Does it mean you gained more than one admission?
Yes, in those days you get so many admissions and then you choose the one you liked. In fact, I gained admission to the University of Ibadan, University of Lagos and I was awarded a Federal Government Scholarship to go to Trinity College, Dublin. I also had scholarship to go to Germany and the University of London. In my days, we were not many, so one you were brilliant you had so many scholarships waiting. So, I settled for the University of Lagos.
How many were you in that medicine class of 1962?
We were 28 in the class, initially, two of us were females, me and one Pakistani lady. After the first term, she said she could no more cope and she withdrew, I learnt she eventually read law. So, for a long time, I was the only girl in the class, and that really helped me a lot. It prepared me for the future. It gave me the confidence to know how to handle boys and how to handle men. Again, I learnt a lot from my classmates. Everyone was friendly.
Can you compare the type of education you had with what obtains today in our universities?
There is no basis for comparison. You can?t compare it at all. In my own time, we had scholarships; we were not many in the class. Like I told you, we were 28 in the class. We had lectures that were committed. Apart from that, this saying of ?your pay packet not being able to take you home? did not arise. Doctors were well paid; there was money for research. They were in the upper strata of the society. But gradually, things began to deteriorate. Academicians were to longer well pay. I remember in the medical school, all of us were on scholarship. And the late Sardauna brought some students from the North to come and join our class. I could remember Dr. Dalhatu Tafida was one of them. We were kept in the hostel. We were served three-course meals every day. You ordered what you were going to eat tomorrow today. You ordered what you were going to eat tomorrow today. The food was good. Every evening we took our meal wearing our academic gowns. This was to make it look like formal occasion. We were served soup, main course and sweet. Then, the teachers were contented. But these days, it is a different ball game. How can a teacher who is underpaid or who is not paid at all, think? We had accommodation, lecturers too. But today students? hostels are overcrowded. Some are squatters. This did not happen during our time.
What are the anomalies you noticed in the current admission system to the universities?
Well, I can only talk about admission relating to medicine. In those days, before the advent of JAMB, you must pass your HSC, and then you apply to the medical school or university of your choice and you are invited for an interview. The fact that you passed you ?A? level did not automatically guarantee you admission. It must be ascertained that you could cope with the academic work. Before you were admitted to study medicine, you must be physically fit. You could not be a hunch-back and be admitted to study medicine. Someone with a physical challenge did not stand a chance of being admitted to study medicine. But these days, since people only apply though purchase of forms and affixing their passport photographs, even the blind could be admitted. Recently, I read in the papers that a student with one hand who wanted to study medicine was rejected by a university in my days, such a candidate would have been discovered at the interview stage. Again, the students were serious with their studies. These days some students don?t even know why they are in the university. Some of them can?t speak and write good English.
What does it cost to be an ophthalmologist in Nigeria?
When I qualified I was lucky I had in-service training. After I had completed my course in medicine, I went to study ophthalmology. Form LUTH, I was given a scholarship to go ophthalmology because of my grandmother: she had cataract and had to be operated upon at the General Hospital. After the successful operation, my granny could see clearly. This was a person I led by hand to the hospital. I was so thrilled. It was like making the blind to see. So, I went to the chosen few. But he never knew I was in the fourth year in the medical school. There and then, I made up my mind to study the course. In my own days, if you want to do ophthalmology, after tour houseman job, and after working as a senior house officer, you have no travel abroad to go and specialize. But now, we have started our own post graduate training in Nigeria.
Tell us about your husband and how you met him.
My husband is also a doctor. He is Dr. Sunday A. Majekudunmi. He is from Abeokuta and he studied medicine abroad. We met when I had qualified. He came to me and said he saw me at the party hosted by one of my cousins, who was an air hostess. He later got details about me. And one day he came looking for me at LUTH. The he told me he studied abroad and that he was not to have been married. I told him to let me into all his escapades while studying abroad. He was shocked. He said there and then that he made up his mind to marry me because he said there and then that he made up his mind to marry me because he said, ?This one is very daring,? Today, the marriage has clocked 40 years and we are blessed with three boys.
You have just set Up Ajesola Solarin Majekodunmi Foundation. What informed this decision?
The foundation was founded in the realization that it is essential to provide financial assistance to realization that it is essential to provide financial assistance to gifted female students pursuing courses leading to professional careers like accountancy, architecture, engineering, medicine, law, and journalism. I had made up my mind that someday I would set up a foundation to help such students. This foundation would cover the six geo-political zones of the country, and the screening and selection process will be transparent. I believe if girls are given opportunity, they can excel.