In this exclusive interview, Abideen Opeyemi Salami, president, Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students (PANS), University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, lends his voice to the persistent call by pharmacy students in the country for a review or total overhauling of the pharmacy curriculum. The 500-Level and Ogun State-born scholar, also speaks on his foray into PANS politics, the achievement as well as the challenges of his administration, and as well as the causes of failure in schools across the country. Excerpts:
At what point did you join PANS politics and what inspired this?
Ever since I came into UNILAG, I have always found myself in one activity or the other for the benefit of PANS. I served as PANS senator in my 200 Level days. I also served as the assistant general secretary of PANS in my 300 Level. And I was the vice president of PANS in my 400 Level. For the purpose of continuity and progress, I decided to take the bold step to help steer UNILAG Pharmacy to greater heights as a body. And as God would have it, here I am today, as the current PANS president.
I’ve been serving PANS all through my progrmme, for the betterment of our noble profession. Through all this, I was a member of the PANS Public Health Team, an arm of the association; as well as the faculty football team and other committees.
I strongly believe that to bring about the significant change one wants in an organisation or platform, one needs to be actively involved to effect the change. I had always aspired to facilitate an atmosphere where confidence will be significantly instilled in student-pharmacists. This prompted me to vie for the position, so as to effect the desired change I had always wanted.
Can you tell us some of your achievements and challenges so far?
We’ve been able to record quite a number of achievements since we assumed office. We have had health outreaches to secondary schools in Lagos – which featured health talks, career talks and the inauguration of a health club called The Health Enthusiast (THE).
We also had an outreach to Mushin markets in Lagos, where a series of tests were conducted and health talks were delivered. We have also had the biggest “freshers orientation week”. Also, after many years of absence at the National Convention, I led delegates to the last PANS National Pharmacoposium at Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State.
We still have several planned projects that will be executed before the expiration of this administration. These include Pharmacy Week, Professionals Symposium, the Face of Pharmacy, SDG Outreach, inter-school debate competition and workshops on digital skills.
However, our major challenge has been funding. This has hindered us from executing some projects. Still, we’re “cooking” something and we appreciate our benefactors who have supported us till this moment.
Another challenge is striking a balance between academic work and administrative duties. it has not been easy travelling around, having lengthy meetings and still working to get good grades.
If you had the honour of changing some things about pharmacy education in Nigeria, what would they be?
If I had the honour of changing anything in pharmacy education, it would be the pharmacy curriculum. The training and courses should be geared towards proffering answers to 21st century problems. Any part which not currently relevant in practice will be removed. I believe this will reduce the extremely bulky nature of pharmacy education and focus more on relevant parts of the practice, thereby grooming young pharmacists with adequate problem-solving skills.
Pharmacy education has come a long way in Nigeria. However, the training is not devoid of challenges. Some of these include inadequate facilities, such as laboratories. For most of the second-generation faculties, the facilities were designed to accommodate few students. However, the number of students is on a steady rise, and there is hardly a corresponding expansion and upgrade of these facilities. Students are thus faced with the challenge of sharing limited training physical resources. This, in my opinion, has a major negative impact on the efficiency of pharmacy training.
Also, there is so much to study but so little time. The training is almost always done in a hurry. I think it’s time the faculties of pharmacy should be converted into colleges of pharmacy so that the academic calendar will be autonomously decided by the colleges and made uniform across all colleges of pharmacy in the country. This will help to accommodate the peculiar needs of the pharmacy training.
There are speculations that highhandedness, anxiety and fear are the factors fuelling mass failures in pharmacy schools. How true are these claims?
Let me use the School Of Pharmacy, UNILAG, as a case study. The issue of mass failure is a serious one that any pharmacy student can relate to. Basically, I believe that one major contributing factor to this issue is the mental/psychological state of the student. From my experience, I have come to realise that majority of pharmacy students already have the belief that Pharmacy is very difficult and that examination success is always not guaranteed, no matter how hard you prepare.
With this mindset, students eventually spend a long time studying, with very little confidence required to write well in an exam. Students end up getting tense before and during examinations, which is always counterproductive.
I also believe that some lecturers contribute to this problem. Some of them try to make students see that failure is inevitable, and that the slightest error can earn one a carryover. If lecturers can help students to see that Pharmacy is not as difficult as they presume and that with adequate hard work, success is certain, students will get the adequate psychological boost needed to come out with flying colours in any examination.
Although there may be other contributing factors, I believe that if the psychological state of the students is well catered for, by helping them overcome emotional and psychological trauma, the issue of mass failure will be drastically reduced.
What can you say about Pharmanews, especially as the news medium celebrated its 43rd anniversary recently?
Pharmanews has set the pace as Nigeria’s leading health journal. Pharmanews has served as the link connecting the different arms of the profession, without leaving any behind. The journal also helps young pharmacy students in PANS chapters across the country to see what promises and potentials lie ahead in the profession and to be explored.
Kudos must also be given to the educational role that Pharmanews has played in keeping pharmacy students, health professionals and the general public in the know concerning relevant health issues.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of studying Pharmacy in a school like UNILAG, especially in a densely populated city like Lagos?
The University of Lagos is the “university of first choice,” and the nation’s pride. And, as we speak, it’s still the same. The academic standard is top-notch, with a relatable and global staff. Lagos makes things happen. Lagos is glam; if you are not in Lagos, you are not in Nigeria. We can conclude that this is the social panegyrics of the ever bubbling and bustling city.
Also, having many pharmaceutical companies and the health sector in Lagos makes UNILAG to be more prominent than other universities in Nigeria and it exposes us to job opportunities. UNILAG is an institution that demonstrates equilibrium between academic and social life (Eko for show). You can be a bookworm if you want, or a party rider as a pharmacy student. But I know that, in UNILAG, you can study and catch fun at the same time.
Regarding the strikes by universities lecturers to protest at various times, are there measures that can be taken to solve this challenge without strike actions?
This is a question that can be best answered by the lecturers. When students have agitations they want to iron out with the school authorities, we have different measures they have put in place. Some end up being effective and some are not. But one thing that unifies all is that while taking those measures, all we want is to ensure that those that can give us what we want know that we mean business.
This is the same thing that we see when lecturers engage in strike actions. This is why I would still say that the best persons to say if there are other measures to take without strike actions are lecturers themselves.