A few weeks ago, the alumni of a single graduating set from the College of Medicine of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu, the 1995 class, pulled together N20m which they had raised to support their alma mater, to mark the occasion of their 20th anniversary of graduating. (Full disclosure- our co-founder and former curator Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu is a member of this class.)
There are many challenges with medical education in Nigeria, and not all of these can be solved with money, but it is still amazing what N20m can do. With this amount, the 1995 class renovated a dilapidated lecture hall at the Ituku Ozalla campus, changing the leaking roof and ceiling boards, replacing broken windows, changing faulty electrical connections, replacing fans, repainting the entire building in and out, and installing an overhead water tank so that the toilets in the building can be flushed. In addition, a new 40KVA solar power system was installed in the student’s hostel, enough to power streetlights from the hostel to the classroom.
Apart from the improvements in infrastructure, members of the class practising in Nigeria and overseas held mentoring sessions with current medical students, offering advice in several aspects of the profession. Their advice ranged from the responsibility that comes with becoming a doctor, specialisation choices, the business side of practice, and achieving a work/life balance after graduation. The College of Medicine held a special faculty board meeting for the visiting set, and the faculty expressed appreciation for the incredible contribution they had made to the school. The returning alumni promised to stay engaged with the College, but requested the Faculty to protect their investments and stay committed to the work of shaping excellent medical personnel.
Our teaching hospitals have frequently been in the news recently, often as a result of yet another strike, another case of alleged negligence or as a result of battles over accreditation. At the heart of almost all the problems these institutions face are resources. With tertiary education still virtually free in Federal Government owned medical colleges, with available resources dwindling, and with the clear likelihood that these circumstances are unlikely to change any time soon, we are faced with some hard decisions in the Nigerian health education sector.
A survey published about ten years ago showed that about 50% of doctors that graduated from the College of Medicine of the University of Nigeria were practising outside the country ten years after graduation. The factors driving immigration are many and varied and are outside the scope of this piece. Nevertheless, most people would agree that those who make it into medical schools are often a selection of some of the very best that our country has to offer. Twenty years after graduation, many people in this particular set have gone on to major achievements in Nigeria and abroad, and they felt that this was the appropriate time to give something back to the place which helped forge their first official steps into a career in medicine.
While there are definitely immediate benefits in terms of infrastructure and support to the current medical students, the biggest potential game-changer may be the re-engagement of the alumni in the affairs of the College. To a large extent, what alumni do with their lives helps to define the stature of an institution, and many of these achievements were built on the strong foundation received in medical school. The big question is whether it is possible for these institutions to continue to flourish without the engagement of its alumni.
Alumni of Nigeria’s Colleges of Medicine are leaving their mark on society all over the world, and the College of Medicine, University of Lagos lists just a few of their accomplished alumni on their Alumni registration page. Yet, there has never really been sufficient active engagement of these critical stakeholders in the development of the colleges. There have been other initiatives by alumni of the Ibadan and Ife medical schools, for instance, but more needs to be done to re-engage the alumni. Even with this example from Enugu, the initiative came almost completely from the graduates and not the College. There is no alumni office or officer at the College, there is very little engagement and almost no initiative. This has to change.
There are limits to what a single graduating set can achieve, but there is the potential for this initiative to inspire other sets that graduated from Enugu, or indeed all the graduates of medical schools from all over the country into action. Imagine what a force for good that could be, for the colleges and the country. Yes, Nigeria is often a constant struggle for survival for doctors, working in both the public and private sectors, but it does provide a great sense of satisfaction for those that are able to give back to institutions that have given so much.
The involvement of alumni in supporting and providing contributions voluntarily to their university is important for maintaining and expanding a university’s development, and is especially the case for the Colleges of Medicine, nursing schools and other schools for training allied health professionals. The role that these alumni can play, not just in financial terms, but in mentoring and supporting students, is one that ought to be exploited further. By not establishing channels that can facilitate closer ties between the alumni, the students and staff, the universities are missing out on the resources, support and engagement of one of their biggest potential partners.
Perhaps there are models that already exist of alumni working to support the hospitals and colleges where they were trained, pockets of good practice in alumni engagement- if that is the case, we would love to hear about them.
We were heartened to read of the initiative in Enugu and look forward to receiving stories of other graduating sets of alumni in the health sector across the country writing to share their stories about what they are doing to support their alma mater. Please include this in the comments section below, or send us information on twitter @nighealthwatch. We will share this using the hashtag #alumnigive