In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, president of the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students (PANS), University of Uyo (UNIUYO) chapter, Mfonobong Akwaowo, recounts his journey into Pharmacy and explains what can be done to improve pharmacy education in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Can you tell us why you chose to study Pharmacy?
Pharmacy to me is a dream realised and a goal accomplished. I am fortunate to have a retired nurse, who presently runs a patent medicine store, as a mother, and whenever she arrives home beaming with happiness, I ask myself, what kind of profession gives one such a feeling of fulfillment? I later discovered that the joy she derived from meeting people’s health needs had been responsible for her happiness. Moreover, growing up into adulthood had exposed me to the belief that the pharmacy profession would make me a complete health professional; so I decided to follow the same path.
I can therefore say that Pharmacy had always stood first in my heart. In fact, on the two occasions that I wrote JAMB, it was Pharmacy I chose.
What were your motivations for contesting for the post of PANS president?
Life has always taught me that to make a change, one cannot simply stand and be pointing at things to be done; rather, one must take the initiative by setting the pace, bringing the change by being that very change. So, I wasn’t surprised when the wave of leadership swept me off in my second year, as I did serve as chief-of-staff (COS) to the then deputy speaker, while I became the speaker in my fourth year.
On getting to my final year, having obtained a lot of insight and experience on the responsibilities and requirements of PANS leadership, I knew that by taking the mantle of leadership, I could bring about a revolutionary change. And so I vied for the post of president; and by the grace of God, I emerged winner.
What have been your achievements and challenges, so far?
We have achieved quite a lot of things that, while reminiscing, it gives me so much joy that we have contributed our quota to making PANS-UNIUYO a greater brand.
We began by sanitising the faculty environment – knowing that a cleaner learning environment, leads to proper learning. We also organised tutorials on several courses, which have assisted our colleagues tremendously.
Also, we played a perfect role as an intermediary body between lecturers and students, leading to a better relationship; and learning was enhanced. Moreover, in order to encourage academic excellence, we gave out awards to the best individuals in each class to boost students’ morale.
In addition, within the University community, we were involved in several competitions, and we came out tops in some cases. Politically, we conquered within the school as we went out as one unit and got the offices of the school’s SUG’s vice president and senate president respectively.
Outside of school, we partnered with the Trinity Healthcare Foundation to organise a hepatitis awareness, screening and vaccination campaign. This was our way of giving back to society.
We led a delegation of students to the last PANS National Convention at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State, where we won almost every competition we took part in, including the elections for the office of the IPSF-contact person in Nigeria. We won the football competition, as well as the “Face Of Pharmacy”.
We also led the highest number of delegates to the last Afro-Symposium that took place in Lagos, and two of our students won individual awards.
To also impact our students, we partnered IPSF to organise a programme tagged “Leadership-In-Training”, where over 80 students were duly certified. These and many others were our achievements.
Talking about our challenges, we had difficulties bringing in partners and sponsors for our events, as we had a limited number of pharmacists coming to our aid. No pharmaceutical company supported us. Their support would have assisted us to achieve greater things than what we achieved.
Another challenge was that we faced a huge burden attending this year’s convention. We have never had a means of transporting ourselves to events. It is our desire that this can be tackled. I will, at this point, thank Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi, the publisher of Pharmanews, for his support during our Health Week. I also thank the leadership of PSN-YPG National, for their kind gesture.
The present Faculty of Pharmacy, UNIUYO, took off in 1990 as a department in the Faculty of Science. Over the years, what would you say are the challenges facing pharmacy education in the school, and how can they be surmounted?
As a faculty that has been on for the past 19 years, I think our challenges begin with the fact that we are using a curriculum that is very cumbersome and gives the feeling that the programme here is a burden. There are situations in which we report to school by 8 am and leave by 6 pm – with only an hour break – almost on a daily basis, and it leaves us unprepared for the next school day.
Students here get less motivated and encouraged to excel in their academics because, together with the cluttered schedule, we have no incentives to help boost students’ morale. This could have been surmounted if we had a strong old students alumni here, coming back to donate and help raise funds to handle some of these challenges.
Also, we request that the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) look into the issue of disharmonious academic curriculum to help train better pharmacists.
What would you say are the challenges associated with studying Pharmacy here in the south-south, compared to those studying in other regions of the country?
To be specific, I will say that the main challenge in this region is the fact that we have very limited places to do Industrial Attachment. Except for the community practice that is densely distributed, other areas of practice are almost not found or limited.
Also, while there are some social welfare packages for students from other regions to help motivate and enhance their academic performance, we have few or none here.
If you had the honour of changing some things about pharmacy education in UNIUYO, what would they be?
I would work on the curriculum first, as it does not expose us to the latest trends and the dynamic nature of the profession. I will also bring about a complete change in the infrastructures here, probably improve on what we have on the ground. Then I would fully equip the laboratories with new and modern apparatus needed to make practical work fun-filled. I would also equip the resource centre with current books and reference materials, as well as equip it with ICT tools, so as to put us in line with the current trends in the profession.
After your graduation from pharmacy school, which area of practice, would you consider and why?
I am a lover of the legislature, and so have a strong affinity for the regulatory areas of the profession, such as the PCN, NAFDAC, NDLEA, and the likes. Also, public health is another aspect of the profession that I have a likeness for.
Where do you see PANS, UNIUYO, by the time you will be leaving office as president?
PANS, UNIUYO has always been a brand; today, I am glad to say that it has grown into a bigger and greater brand. When leaving office I know it would have become one of the schools of pharmacy where so many great minds and pharmacists that will run the profession in the future will be linked to. Greatness awaits her.