· ‘The Big Six’ pioneer doctors
Time flies, particularly when it’s spent purposefully. It was in April 30, 2016, when we celebrated the first matriculation ceremony of Accra College of Medicine (ACM) at the premises at Adjirigano. The event was both emotional and historic, and it reminded me of an article by K.B. Asante in which he said Dr Kwame Nkrumah called Charlie Easmon one afternoon and asked him to assemble a medical team to start the Ghana Medical School. “You can do it, you know,” said the visionary Osagyefo assuredly.
Soon enough, in October 1964, a group of 41 students started the preclinical training. The curriculum was taught mainly by surgeons and pathologists as part time lecturers. The rest is history, as they say.
The ACM Big Six
ACM started off in 2015 with 14 students: seven at level 100, and the other seven at level 200 out of which evolved today’s “Big Six” graduating medical pioneers, namely: Eva Vera A. Tetteyfio, Abdul Ganiyu Haruna, Ebenezer Darko Jectey, Faith Lovelyn Isu, Morenike O. M. Ademola, and Godfred Gyimah.
In congratulating the new doctors, the ACM council chairman, Professor Emeritus Stephen Adei, said, “Let your certificate be a tool to teach yourself to be a cutting-edge doctor or in two years you will be anachronistic. Second, let character, good work ethic, diligence, care and old fashioned love for God, family and country be your hallmarks.”
Mrs. Mary Chinery-Hesse, Chancellor of the University of Ghana, served as the keynote speaker and conferred the degrees on the new doctors.
The humble beginning
In her address at the congregation, the founder, Prof (Mrs) Afua Hesse, recalled ACM’s humble beginnings and said, “At the time, in 2014, there were only the 4 public medical schools which were not able to admit all the qualified students that were applying to them. This was compounded by my experiences during my 15 years at the Medical and Dental Council, which indicated that most of the training offered Ghanaian medical students in foreign universities especially in Eastern Europe and China was not the best as compared to our local training.”
Having identified the challenge, Prof Hesse said, “We decided on a division of labour. The family members in finance would do what they do best and find the finance needed whilst Prof Adukwei Hesse and myself, with our background in academia, medical education, and administration would deal with the academics.”
They decided to model ACM on the general North American medical school concept which has a central campus that houses the pre-clinical component of the training and uses existing hospitals as affiliated “Teaching hospitals”. The model enabled students with a wider range of clinical exposure than being confined to just one “Teaching hospital”. The model also included private hospitals meeting the requirements for our students to get exposure to the realities of private practice including management and hopefully the opportunities working in the private sector.
Prof Hesse recalled a comment from a student – after witnessing delivery at a private hospital and contrasting that to the public hospital: “Prof, I never knew it was possible for a woman to deliver without any pain!”
After going through the rounds of accreditation and affiliation visits and audits, Prof Hesse said, “we set up our governance structures which included a solid and experienced Council led by the indefatigable chairman, Professor Stephen Adei. I wish to thank Council for their advice and support since our first historic meeting in 2014, and our very first batch of students. Thanks to the parents, sponsors and guardians who trusted us without having yet seen any output. You are reaping the rewards today and we thank God as we equally rejoice with you.”
She added, “We need to believe and move on knowing that those who launched out to do new things, to experiment, to remedy problems, to find solutions, to pioneer, to achieve the impossible, to take great strides for mankind, have all been embracers of change.”
When classes started, students went through pre-clinicals, then the maiden white coat ceremony in October 2017 which ushered in the clinical years and the experiences at the Greater Accra Regional Hospital (The Ridge Hospital), Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Rabito Clinic, Medifem Women’s Hospital, Airport Women’s Hospital, C&J hospital, and Port Medical Centre. The experiences cemented for the students the appreciation of the medical entrepreneurship course.
Challenges in the private sector
In noting that the public sector has its own environment, culture, and mentality which are quite different from the private sector, she said, “The principles of the former do not sit comfortably with the latter so we had to adapt and change, modify, multitask, learn new roles and concepts etc. I remember the struggles to get a little leeway with some government concessions, but we learnt that any subsidy for education was only applicable to the public sector, not the private sector.”
She added, “In the beginning we could not get any benefits, until the current government gave us some tax relief during this term. Please government, private educational facilities are not the enemy. Please don’t treat us as such. We complement you though we have great vulnerabilities. For instance, during this pandemic, salaries for public sector educational staff never faltered but we in the private sector took a great hit, all for the public health good. We thank government for some support for some few students through the Scholarship Secretariat. More students need support please. It is certainly more cost effective supporting Ghanaian students to read medicine right here in GHANA than sending them outside!”
Prof Hesse lamented that “COVID-19 dealt us quite a blow as we were well into the beginning of the second Semester of the last academic year when everything came to a screeching halt. We had to have a break for 2 weeks to enable us regroup onto the online modality using Microsoft Teams, including tutoring staff, faculty and students and devising quality assurance and controls measures at the same time for this ‘new normal’.”