Prior to getting into medical school, I nursed dreams of becoming either a Paediatrician or a cardiothoracic surgeon. My lean perspective would start to broaden sometime in 400 level when I heard a classmate talk about her interest in Public Health specialisation. I found it fascinating and unconventional. Going through my clinical rotations in the last two years of medical school would further open me up to the diverse options that abound in Medicine.
As the exposure in medical school can be limited, and the experience during housemanship and the years preceding specialist training more or less streamlined, I thought to pick the brains of doctors in select specialities to provide broader insight into what lives in their chosen field holds for young and upcoming doctors.
Today’s post sheds light on the lives of three public health physicians – where they work, the experience and exposure that have shaped their lives thus far, and valuable advice for those considering public health. The goal of this is to help younger medics make an informed decision.
Dr. Okwu-Dike, G.
- A resident doctor in Community Medicine, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, Kaduna state, Nigeria.
I loved all that Community Medicine represented from my foremost contact with it and made the decision to specialize in it as early as my fourth or fifth year in medical school.
For me, the challenges with choosing to specialize in Community Medicine is getting a residency placement. Also, there is a wrong perception by other doctors that Community Medicine is for lazy/unintelligent doctors. You see, many people do not know much about the speciality.
I love that I get to be helpful to the less privileged communities, and also get the opportunity to work with internationally recognized health bodies.
If I were not specializing in Community Medicine, I would have specialized in Paediatrics or Radiology. I haven’t thought about what I could have been outside Medicine.
Dr. Ibiso, B.
- A resident doctor in Community Medicine, University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria.
My decision to specialize in Community Medicine predates my entry into medical school.
My mum is a public health nurse, and she inspired me from an early age. Through her, I came to appreciate preventive medicine, and following my national youth service, I proceeded to acquire a masters in occupational health.
The challenges of specializing in Community Medicine is more societal than anything else in our environment. We are yet to appreciate preventive medicine. Most of us pay attention to our health only when we develop symptoms. And our teaching hospitals where most training is undergone are largely focused on curative services; they do not patronize research and studies, and partnership with foreign organizations like the CDC, USAID and the WHO are almost nonexistent.
The benefits of specializing in Community Medicine are overwhelming, and its prospects wide. It starts at the community and state levels where preventive physicians are needed and ascends to the national and international levels where health promotion is becoming an integral aspect of health care.
I considered Family Medicine and Psychiatry after graduation, but after due consideration, I decided to stick with what I loved.
- Dental Surgeon; Public Health Communicator; Adjunct Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR); Founder, Linka.ng
Growing up in Itire, a town in Lagos, Nigeria exposed me to some things my colleagues in medical school may not have seen because, for what it is worth, most persons who come to study Medicine are well-off. Sometime in my fourth year, three women who lived in my neighbourhood died in the same year. All of them were pregnancy-related deaths. A peculiar thing about all three was their decision to use formal health service late. They preferred alternative sources of healthcare like traditional birth attendants and religious houses. One of them died from complications of pre-eclampsia; she was asked to be admitted, but declined and chose to go home and return later. Unfortunately for her, she died at home.
I noticed a disconnect between the medical community and the people. People showed up late when everything had wrong at the community level. It was a puzzle for me and I wanted to understand what informed their decision to present late. My decision to do a Masters of Public Health program was borne out of my search for an alternative avenue to discuss health. Residency did not feel good enough an approach for me because of the apparent gap in the relationship between health practitioners and the general public.
I developed an interest in health communications in the second semester of my public health masters program. The all-inclusive perspective on health gave me an entirely different idea. I went on to do my post-graduate diploma in Communications at Pan-Atlantic University. Transitioning from public health to communications was one of the toughest decisions I have had to make, and because I didn’t want to go back to residency as a public health physician, I had to find new ways to survive. It was a difficult task creating a niche in communications. That took me to LinkedIn as a tool to showcase one’s expertise and help them consolidate their position as a person of value in the value chain. I did a lot of internship in population health, community engagement and volunteering. I showcased these on LinkedIn and it earned me popularity causing me to be invited for much more.
Fewer people would believe you if you are doing something that a lot of people aren’t doing. I wanted to combine my degrees in public health and communications and have done so. Don’t be afraid to travel the road less travelled whether it’s medical law, health insurance or health economics. It may be tough as it would require you to map your unique path, but it pays off in the long run. I can testify to this. Human beings are resistant to change so you may not be believed initially. Stay resilient, hardworking and showcase yourself brilliantly – no one will do it for you. In the end, you will be making an impact, doing something you love, and making money while at it.
As can be deduced from our featured doctors, the challenges with choosing to specialise in community medicine are more societal than anything else. A consultant once shared with me, ‘If you are not concerned about approval from your colleagues, then you can comfortably specialize in Community Medicine.’ There is no one-size-fits-it-all path to success. Thankfully, there are role models to emulate and you can be one to someone else too.
Feel free to share your thoughts and leave your replies or any question you may have in the comments. Until the next feature.
PS: Would you love to feature in the upcoming series or know someone who you think will make a great contributor? Please, leave me a message here. Specialities include Pathology, ENT, Ophthalmology, Radiology and Anaesthesia.