·Advice from the renowned Prof Clifford Nii Boi Tagoe.
The second matriculation of the Accra College of Medicine (ACM) was emotional and prescient! From the dais, watching the swearing-in of the young men and women braving the challenges of studying modern medicine to add to the noble stock of practicing medical doctors in Ghana, brought me tears of joy. The occasion reminded me of two specific episodes in my childhood.
Living in the same compound house at Amakom, Kumasi – at the dawn of Ghana’s Independence in 1957 – was an old woman who called her dog, “Yareɛ ɛya” [From Twi, “Sickness hurts”]. The residents often hosted relatives from the surrounding villages. Some brought with them an array of agonising diseases and colourful worms: tape worms, round worms, hook worms. Creative local medicines and other concoctions were applied, in vain.
It was horrifying watching the children, especially, wiggle and scream in pain as the protruding worms in the legs were wound on twigs and dragged out till they snapped; the remaining piece of the worm ejected back into the holes where they had infected. It was gruesome! Needless to say, professional medical attention was either in short supply or discounted. As one may surmise, in that superstitious setting, opportunistic spiritualists, prophets, and mallams filled the void, inciting a blame game of witches and ghostly enemies, and in the process destroying families with insidious gossip.
Even earlier before then, I remembered playing football in primary class one in Tutuka (in the Obuasi Adansi district) when a boy fell, crashing badly on the ground. In the fall, he must have broken a bone in his arm or twisted it out of joint. He was carried to the mines hospital where anaesthesia was administered on him. He never came around. His name was George. He died a needless death! The mother wailed and wailed: the community joined in her agony!
Those ghastly memories – and the need for modern medical care – filled my mind at the first matriculation of ACM, and also at the second matriculation (26th November, 2016).
Prof Tagoe speaks
In his keynote address, to pass on the baton of his decades of experiences in the medical field, Prof Clifford Nii Boi Tagoe (an old boy of St Augustine’s College, Cape Coast) said, “for some years now medical schools in Ghana have been under a lot of pressure to train more doctors, with the view to improving the doctor to population ratio in the country. We have come a long way since the days of Dr. Benjamin Quartey-Papafio, the first Ghanaian (or Gold Coaster, if you like) to qualify as a doctor in western medicine in 1886.”
Prof Tagoe recalled that “In the early part of the 20th century, doctors were trained in trickles abroad. From a doctor to population ratio of 1:40,000 in 1923 when the Gold Coast Hospital – now Korle Bu Teaching Hospital – was opened by Governor Guggisberg, the figure has now reached 1:10,000 in 2015 (WHO World Health Statistics, 2015). This is a far cry from the desired 1:5,000.” Prof Tagoe, a respected medical educator with over 30 years of experience, served as Dean, University of Ghana Medical School; and the Provost of the College of Health Sciences.
Role of technology
Recounting his memories, Prof Tagoe advised, “In our days, it was all chalk board for lectures. If one was lucky, there may be an epidiascope which helped project diagrams from books, or transparencies also for projection using an overhead projector. Now you have the Internet, PowerPoint, animation, your ever-present mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter and many Apps, all of which can help you in the learning process, and even the “Anatomage” (the virtual dissection table) while all we had were the slabs and their cadavers.”
Prof Tagoe recollected that “from our first day in the dissection room and our encounter with those who had offered their bodies for our training, one of our classmates never slept with the lights off throughout medical school. Whether the new technology will help you learn and understand, or will be a distraction, will depend on how you utilise it.”
Sacrificial discomfort for success
Dr Afua Hesse – a medical practitioner and educator of repute (from Wesley Girls High School, Cape Coast) – serves as the president of ACM co-founded with her husband Dr Adukwei Hesse (from Achimota School, Accra). In advising the fresh students, she said, “You have a great role to play. This demands a clear vision on your part: A sacrificial discomfort for success in a new world of your own making. There will be many temptations especially because of free internet availability and the lure of social media. Resist these temptations and stay focused … Here at the Accra College of Medicine, you will be challenged to move out of your traditional comfort zones into new territories and break new grounds. Your minds will be stretched; your horizons will be broadened; your spirits will be sharpened; your conscience renewed and your hearts set ablaze.”
If Fidel Castro, with Cuba’s scanty natural resources, could inspire the island to educate medical doctors in such large numbers, what stops Ghana? Why must Africa’s leaders leave their nations’ hospitals to seek better medical attention in foreign countries? Why not save such huge costs in foreign exchange to improve the medical facilities at home? Ghana is blessed by the foresight and selflessness of the medical warriors who understand that the great use of life is to spend it wisely for something that will outlast one’s own life. Ayekoo: Accra College of Medicine! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Website: http://www.acm.edu.gh