The 2022/2023 best graduating medical student at the Lagos State University, Dr Elile Okoka, tells FATTEH HAMID how having the right motivation, academic foundation, and hard work helped her to excel at the university
What comes to mind when you reflect on your recent academic feat at LASU?
I feel really happy and accomplished. It was a goal I set out for myself to accomplish. When I resumed school, my goal was always to be the best possible version of myself. So, I feel really happy and accomplished that I was able to achieve what I wanted to achieve and to be a topper in my class simply because my class was filled with excellence. In my class, everyone was a distinction student and I’m really happy and excited.
Was it clear to you that you were on track before you emerged as the best among your classmates?
I didn’t see it coming all along. We take four professional exams in medical school. In the first one, I had the maximum number of distinctions I could get, and in the second one, I had three but the way the management decides who becomes the best-graduating student in medical school is the total of a student’s scores and not the number of distinctions each student gets. So, I didn’t see it coming until the final results were out and I figured out that I would be the best. But in my penultimate year, which was my 500 level, I wasn’t so sure; it was the final results that made me sure.
Have you always been an excellent student right from your primary school days?
In primary school, I was above average but I never came first, second or third in primary school. When I got to secondary school, I moved to the top three but the turning point came when I was in SSS1 where I took first position which was the very first time it happened. In secondary school, I had a teacher who always motivated me to do more and I did and never looked back. I felt really motivated and held onto that position up until SSS3 when I also finished as the best-graduating pupil.
Would you say your childhood experience prepared you for excellence at the university?
Yes. I attended a very good primary school and was taught how to read, how to comprehend and all of that. Even at home, I had a very good support base that motivated me and taught me. My mum made sure that we did all our assignments, had them submitted and ensured that we didn’t lack proper monitoring. In our home, my academic activities were closely monitored by my parents. I think at that point, the right values started growing in me. I had a very solid childhood foundation that I was able to build on over the years.
Did you have a study pattern as a medical student at LASU?
I tried to read something every day, not necessarily reading but listening and watching something. I also paid attention in class. I’m not a typical bookworm, so you would not find me in the library reading for 24 hours, but I tried to read something every day. I think the most important thing for me was understanding and once I understood, it was easier. I took a lot of time to understand so that when it was time to read and commit a lot of things to memory, it became easier, especially when the exams were approaching; that was when I did a lot of reading. In fact, some people would say that I did a lot of reading in a short time but it was not like that. I actually spent a lot of time understanding which I find much better than reading. I did a lot of reading in a short time to commit things to memory.
Do you think that made you different from others?
I really do not know. As I said, we were all exceptional in my class. All I did was put in my best all the time and I’m grateful to be the best. I can’t pinpoint what I did differently that made me the best.
What was your most challenging point as an undergraduate?
That would be the COVID-19 period. We were at home for a long time, I think between March and October, and there were a lot of uncertainties. We had covered our syllabuses and we were just waiting for exams and it was tough. I had a lot of things to read and I just kept on reading. What helped me scale through was the fact that I had good friends and a supportive family who were with me because I felt stagnant but they encouraged me, telling me that we would soon resume and everything would be fine. I also motivated myself and kept reading something every day and preparing for the exams even though there was no certain date for it.
With what you faced, did you have any fears that you would not meet the target you set?
No, there was no point like that. After my professional exams, I knew that all that was left was to have a distinction in my clinical class and the lecturers who taught those courses were supportive by teaching us well. They were passionate about our success and gave us the tools that we needed. So, I felt that it was possible to have a distinction in those courses and I also put in my best. Glory be to God that the dream became a reality as I had a distinction in both courses, though I only needed one to get a distinction. So, at my 500 level, I already knew I was going to have honours in Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery because I had a distinction in Clinical Class.
Do you plan to repeat the feat in your next academic journey?
I’m not under pressure. I’m rather motivated because I’m a person who always ensures I put my best in anything I do. So, I’m not pressured. I don’t succumb to pressure, I motivate myself from within. I feel like I’m going to apply the same motivation and style to whatever my next educational sojourn is going to be. I plan to put in my best and with God on my side, I believe that I’m going to achieve far greater things than I have.
Which of the courses you took gave you a tough time?
That was Pharmacology. I didn’t do really well in my second in-course and I felt it was going to affect me, and that I might only get a pass because I had even given up on a distinction and was praying for a credit. The course was a bit challenging for me to understand; the curriculum was bulky and I always found myself a bit lost. However, I’m glad that I finally got a credit and not a pass. Funnily enough, my dream was not to get an MBBS distinction or honours; it was just to be the best version of myself. The minute I knew it was possible, I just continued doing my best to achieve it.
Studying Medicine at LASU was one of the best decisions I ever made. I enjoyed every moment, I enjoyed my stay. Studying Medicine was challenging but the Lagos State College of Medicine made it easy. The environment was conducive, the lecturers were encouraging; they taught well to understand, and the consultants and the entire management were all working together to make us the best professionals possible. Of course, there were times I felt like it was tough but I believe that’s life and nothing good comes easy. However, I’ll say the college is the best medical school in Africa and I’m happy I went there to study Medicine.
You said your classmates were exceptional. What kind of company did you keep?
My friends all did well. My roommate also had an MBBS honours with distinction. I’m happy that we were able to carry ourselves and motivate each other along the way. I selected my friends based on connections; I didn’t select friends because they were bookworms or first-class materials. I asked myself whether I had a connection with them and whether our values aligned. I like calm people, kind people, people who can motivate me and who I can motivate, not those who see everything as a competition. I like people who are focused in life. In all, I make friends with different kinds of people.
For someone who loves to read, did you have the time for other things, like social activities?
I held different positions while in medical school. I was a class senator. I was also a part of my class football team and was the head of planning for different programmes in medical school. I would say that I was an all-rounder as a medical student. I took part in different things. I volunteered for Rotary International through the Rotaract Club in school and attended school parties and a lot of other extracurricular activities.
My social life was very good. As I said earlier, my roommate who also had MBBS honours was a social director and we did almost everything together. We attended parties, birthdays, dinners, and eat-outs. I did a lot of things. For me, it was just to strike a balance between my academic and my social life and I was able to do that successfully.
How did you strike a balance?
I planned my time very well. When I woke up every day, I had a to-do list. When I knew that I had a social activity coming up, I made sure to read enough so that when the social activity started, I would not have a guilty conscience that I didn’t achieve what I was meant to achieve that day or I did not do what I was supposed to do. The most important thing for me was time. That was how I was able to balance everything that I got involved in. I managed my time and tried to adhere to it and that was what helped me.
Was studying in a public university something you always wanted?
For medical studies in Nigeria, the universities that have the experience and have the history are usually government-owned. For example, Lagos State College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, University of Ilorin, and others are schools that have the history, experience and facilities. So, for Medicine, I had always wanted such a university and I attended to the best.
I would describe my parents as comfortable. I’m grateful that they were able to support my dreams. Looking back at it, I didn’t have it all growing up. I remember being sent back home for school fees when I was in secondary school even though we were able to pay later. But we are comfortable, an average household where we support one another to achieve our dreams.
How did you and your parents receive the news of your academic achievement?
My parents were very happy. My mum was ecstatic and I feel like this is the time I can get anything I want and I’m happy I was able to make them proud. Everyone is happy and my parents are really happy. My siblings and everyone involved are very happy. As I said, I already knew I was going to have a distinction in my 500 level, so my mum already knew that but what made her happier was me topping my class as the best-graduating student.
Did you receive prizes at the university?
I received monetary gifts, stethoscopes and some other gifts. I also received recognition from my school and the College of Medicine, and some others that I’m very happy about.
As a medical doctor, do you have an area of focus in mind?
I haven’t decided on my speciality of interest yet, though I have some options; it could be internal medicine, paediatrics, or obstetrics and gynaecology. I have some options. I will make up my mind during my internship year because being a student and practising medicine are two different things, thus, I’m open-minded and I believe that in the next year, I will have it figured out.
Will you leave the country if you have the opportunity?
God will direct my steps. I will stay where God wants me to be. If I ever japa (leave Nigeria) however, you can be sure that I’ll definitely come back home to implement some of the skills I’ve learnt and to improve our Nigerian health care system.
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