Nigerians Don’t Need to Study Medicine Abroad, Says Diejomaoh, PAMO University VC

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Prof. Michael Diejomaoh is a renowned obstetrician and gynaecologist who has traversed the world either training or teaching medicine. As a professor since 1982, he has trained and mentored many residents in obstetrics and gynaecology both in Nigeria and overseas. He has also been involved in administering and running postgraduate training programmes for the postgraduate medical colleges in Nigeria and West Africa, where he also held the highest faculty positions. Diejomaoh has vast experience in university administration spanning many years. Little wonder he was specially headhunted from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Kuwait University, Kuwait, to become the pioneer Vice-Chancellor of PAMO University of Medical Sciences, Port Harcourt, where he is currently putting the new institution on the world map. He speaks with Davidson Iriekpen on the progress the university has made in just four years of its existence

What makes Pamo University of Medical Sciences unique and a destination of choice for admission seekers and parents?

Pamo is a unique university. It’s a mono discipline university. It offers courses in medicine and medical sciences. This means that we train medical doctors on the one hand, and we are also training professionals who are new to medicine on the other hand. For example, we are training medical laboratory scientists, nursing scientists, radiographers, physiotherapists etc. These are all professionals hooked on various activities in healthcare.

They have got basic degrees in sciences linked to medical healthcare, e.g. biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology. So it’s mono-discipline, all medically related.

It’s unique that we don’t offer courses in other subject areas like arts and culture, engineering, social sciences, law, etc., that make up a big university. So, we are small in terms of courses, but we have been able to attract a lot of people who want to be in these medical-related areas.

It’s been four years since the inception of the university. What are some of the progress made so far?

The university has made tremendous progress in terms of academic development. It has also made progress in the area of infrastructure, staff recruitment and student admission. So these are the four areas we can look at. We can look at the growth of student population and staff recruitment, which is also in consonance with the growth of the student population. We can also look at the growth of physical facilities and improvement in the academic environment, which means recognition, successful accreditation, and progress in academic programmes.

What is the current student population of the university?

We started in 2018 with about 100 students. As of today, we have 520 students. That’s how far we’ve grown. And as I said, there are no other courses, except the few ones I mentioned earlier. And these courses could attract many more students. For example, we have grown most especially in what we call the MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery), which is for those who want to train to become doctors. That is where we have the highest student population. Next to this is nursing science, where we have quite a lot of applicants. Then following that is med-lab science. Then in the degree courses, we have pharmacology. Patronage is a little bit less, but it’s also increasing. It’s followed by chemistry, which has the lowest patronage. Radiography is still growing.

In Physiotherapy, which is an area of science that does exercises for patients who have undergone surgery after an injury, we are yet to receive applications from students.

And this course is a very good course, but for some reason, students don’t know about the course. I’m trying to push every year to get them interested. I’m certain that for the 2021/2022 admission year, we will admit more students for the physiotherapy programme. So right now, we started with 50 medical students that we admitted when we got approval from the National Universities Commission (NUC) in 2017/2018. As of 2019/2020, the Medical Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) increased our student enrolment limit to 100, meaning that we can now admit 100 students into medicine.

This type of achievement takes about 15 years for some universities that offer multi-courses. But we have achieved it in about three years. So we can now admit 100 students for medicine every year. We could admit about 50 for med-lab science, and we are yet to fill it up. Nursing was also increased from 50 to 75, and we are yet to fill it up. For radiography, 50 students have been approved for us. We are also yet to fill it up. Sadly, everybody wants to do medicine. That’s a major challenge.

How affordable are these courses at Pamo University?

Pamo University is in-between in terms of cost. Let me explain why these processes are expensive compared to other courses not science-related in other universities.

Take medicine, for example. Every course in medicine has to be backed up by laboratory training for the students. Right from the first year when they do courses in physics, chemistry, and biology at 100 level, to the other levels when they do anatomy, which involves them dissecting human beings, studying the body anatomy, and doing experiments to understand how the body and its chemistry works.

These things require expensive equipment and expensive chemicals. So this is one aspect of why the school fee has to be higher than the standard school fees for other disciplines. Also, students in private universities, such as Pamo, are accommodated continuously, year-round. They are fed. We take care of their laundry, mobility, and security. We provide a 24 hours power supply each day. Water supply is provided round the clock etc. All these amenities involve a lot of money to run. Then market inflation is, on the other hand, and yet we have to feed the students at a reasonable quality and quantity of food. Then we also provide books. Teachers who do the training are expected to be paid. You have to employ lecturers, and also a laboratory scientist to work with a lecturer, and then buy equipment. All these are added together to make medical courses expensive. Whereas there are other courses, you just employ a lecturer, and they are good to go.

Now at Pamo, we teach in what we call a multimedia system. We teach with electronic backup. Slides are projected on the screen. Discussions would be between the students and lecturers taking them. So the lecturer interface with students is also expensive. Also, we have a classroom environment that must be very hygienic, and they are fully air-conditioned. These are all why medicine as a course costs higher than other courses. However, we are not the most expensive medical-related university in the country. We are in-between. We are comparably affordable. And one thing about Pamo university is that there is no break in our system.

Even within the COVID-19 lockdown, we moved our classes online. So by the time they returned, they went on straight to the next part of their training and finished the year without any loss of time. So here, we guarantee uninterrupted training, good facilities and safety. we have enough measures here to ensure safety.

With the quality Pamo provides, what’s your advice to those travelling abroad to study medicine?

We can provide full medical training to all our students here at Pamo university. With Pamo, there is no need for any Nigerian to send their children overseas for training. They can equally receive that here in Pamo and even at a cheaper rate. Our ultimate plan, with time, is to have an elective period to expose our students to vaccine training in a short period of two to three months, rotating between the US and a partnering university. That way, students can see what we call modern equipment being applied.

Medicine is very technological. So this is the future for us. And for our students here to go abroad, it’s not necessary. Students abroad pay a lot more unless they are on a scholarship.

How updated are your curriculum and courses, and are they accredited?

By arrangement, we used to update our curriculum from time to time, using NUC approved curriculum. By the way, let me tell you that all our courses have been given full accreditation by NUC. Anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and pharmacology have all gotten full accreditation. Nursing science got a license up till 2026. Medicine has been accredited by the MDCN up to the final level, and so are other courses accredited by the related professional bodies.

So we are accredited by NUC on one side, then the professional bodies on the other side. So we update the programmes according to NUC directives. And if we find something that will improve our students, we add it. For example, our students started going to hospitals from the first year of training, so they could get early exposure to the care of patients in the hospital. That’s an innovation which not all medical schools in Nigeria are doing; they wait until they are in the clinical years. So here, at 100 levels, our students are already exposed to patient care; they learn all they need to learn about every department within the hospital environment and how they operate. So, our students are well equipped, and we are up to date as a university.

How have you been able to maintain your standards and policies from inception till now?

We have a student handbook. Our rules and regulations apply to all students. We update this every year according to the trends in the country. For instance, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we prepared a COVID-19 guideline along with their handbook. And we have not recorded any COVID-19 case in two years. As of now, we don’t allow parents to visit their children; just to avoid any COVID-19 infection, which could rapidly spread if a student is infected. So this is an innovative change according to the dictates of the times we are in.

So we do this annually. We remove what we think needs to be withdrawn and add what we think is necessary to be added. Then the books are also updated according to the training bodies, so we do this from time to time.

How equipped are your laboratories for learning and training?

As I said, there is a minimum level required by inspecting bodies. Whether it’s NUC or the MDCN, or other concerned bodies. These are the professional bodies that supervise the training of people in these areas. Our labs have to be up to standard to be approved by those bodies. So our labs are well equipped because those who came here have credited the institution to be better than other places they have been to. Whenever they come here, we ask them what they think, and they tell us that we are quite up-to-date in the different laboratories. Be it pharmacology, pathology, etc.. We are up to date. We are rated above the minimum requirements.

Nobody will enter your hostels and not be impressed to see the comfort you give students. How does this impact learning?

We thought, and we know that in developed countries of the world, when people are given facilities, they give them the best facility possible. So that is what we tried to provide. We tried to provide adequate bed space for the students. Not just adequate bed space but also adequate toilet facilities just as you’ve seen and adequate room facilities. There is good ventilation in the room plus fans in every part of the room. And the essence of all these is to make learning very comfortable for all students. When students live in a conducive environment, they perform better in their academics.

And the plan is to keep building more hostels as the student population increases. If not, we would have congestion. Once there is congestion, there is dissatisfaction, students would be feeling uncomfortable and restless, and that may affect their academic performance and learning. So we always make sure that we are ahead with the numbers so that the facility can cope with the numbers as student increases.

How about staffing?

In terms of staffing, we are rated high as well. NUC says a minimum of four staff per department, which must include professors, associate professor, to lecturer 1. We have more than that number in each of our departments. Also, at the lab, we have a chief technologist who knows about the lab, and he is assisted by a lab assistant. This we have in every laboratory of the institution. So we are quite well equipped.

Again, in anatomy, there are some places now in the world, they don’t dissect human bodies anymore. They just look at the slides of the dissection and use that to teach students, which is away from cutting human beings, because they use pictures to teach. This does not translate well because they need to see more than that. But here, we use real bodies and not pictures.

Where do you see Pamo University in the next four years?

In another four years, Pamo would have graduated their first set of medical doctors. Pamo would have expanded its university and hospital, and all its departments would be up and running with more staff in the hospital as well as in the university. We would have embraced more technology, more interaction between Pamo and other universities, both locally and internationally; more efforts would be made to take our students beyond the shores of Nigeria so as to expose them to advanced medical universities available to train students. And also, Pamo would be more involved in the area of research. So I expect the continuous growth of Pamo in all areas.