Time with Dr. John Ahenkorah
Dr. John Ahenkorah
Just last week, the UGMSA Editorial Board had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. John Ahenkorah, the head of the department of Anatomy and a student patron.
Here’s the interview with Dr. Ahenkorah:
UGMSA Editorial Board(UEB): While looking for a figure to do a feature on, your name came up several times so we deemed it necessary to see you and to know, who really is Dr. Ahenkorah? We would like to know to begin with, what is the journey that brought Dr. Ahenkorah here today?
Dr. John Ahenkorah(DJA): That’s a very long one. A very long journey. I started from the UCC, did Biological Science and in addition to that I have a diploma in education. Prof. Tagoe, who is the former Vice Chancellor and the former head of the department, decided to pilot something: taking the best university students from all over Ghana, selecting them and seeing whether they can do anatomy. He started a program called M.Phil Human Anatomy with the idea of grooming these people. So he selected about five names after first degree and groomed us up. Some left, but I stayed behind, being a product of the course. I did a PhD in University of Leceister in the United Kingdom. I was given the option to stay but I decided to come back. So that’s how the tortuous journey began. I’ve heard some confusion that Dr. Ahenkorah is a Medical Doctor, Dr. Ahenkorah is a gynecologist and all of that is not true. My background is a Science but I did Human Anatomy M. Phil and then a PhD in Infections, Immunity and Inflammation and then I came back.
UEB: Dr, Ahenkorah, what inspired your choice of the Anatomy speciality?
DJA: I think I have already mentioned that. After my science background, Prof. Tagoe decided to pilot something and it worked actually and it was the first time having people coming from non-medical background jumping into Anatomy to see whether it would work.
UEB: So how difficult was the program and what were the challenges?
DJA: It was tough because in those days, Prof. Tagoe was teaching us. So much information. And he was the type that you have to pass at a certain level -65 and above- anything below and you’d have to write the paper again so that was tough. We did some Biochemistry as well. Prof. Asante-Poku was teaching us with a lot of details.
UEB: You were taught by some of these lecturers, but now you’re working with them in the same department. How does it feel like to be in the same department with your lecturers?
DJA: In fact they work under me now. I’ll tell you a story that happened one day. Prof. Tagoe came to me one time and I think I was giving a lecture in the MB2 class and he came and spied on me and didn’t say a word. After the class, he came up to me and said “I can now go back and sleep!” Do you get what that means? It means he has trained somebody who can now take over from him, and he is happy. Again, when I was Acting Head of Department(Prof. Addae had travelled), he asked me what he was to teach the M.Phil class and it was weird because I was now telling Professor Tagoe, the former Vice Chancellor, my mentor, that he should teach this or that topic. It was weird. It doesn’t sit well, right? So that’s the kind of feeling. But that is how things are supposed to be now.
UEB: Moving on, do you have any fond moments or memories as a lecturer?
DJA: Wow. The moments are many. There is one time that I think I had just been employed as a lecturer. That was way back in 2004. And I was sent to teach at Tech and the first assignment was to teach bones. I went to the Head of department, Professor Baidoo and said that in Korle-Bu, we don’t teach bones, we just give the bones to the student and they are supposed to learn it by themselves, so how am I supposed to teach the ‘humerus’ for example. It is not done. But then that was my assignment so I had to prepare lecture notes on bones. I can remember that episode, March 2004. Another one was recent, here, I can’t remember the exact year. I had asked a student a question and a student looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know.’ Oh, it turned up something in me. ‘If you don’t know then stand up,’ I said. Of course, that was what Prof. Engman did to us. The guy stood up and shook his head and said ‘I don’t know.’ So I said ‘If you don’t know then you have to keep standing.’ Looking back, I realize it wasn’t the right way to deal with things; but of course this was a young lecturer,exuding with anatomy and giving everything out and this was a student trying to pull my legs a little bit, but I think I wasn’t patient enough. But then we learn from our mistakes, right? Moving on, my teaching methodology changed and my relationship with students has changed for the better.
UEB: We know that Dr. Ahenkorah is very involved with the activities of students, especially MOMIC. He is the patron of MOMIC. We would like you to discuss your role as MOMIC patron. The highs and lows and what inspired your decision to be the MOMIC patron.
DJA: Let me correct that one, the MOMIC patron was actually Prof. Addae. I happened to deal with students because of my position as Student Tutor in the hostel. But with my relation with students with respect to MOMIC, there’s one guy who actually mimicked me some years ago and is actually a doctor now. The guy just looks like me, an exact photocopy, so his classmates chose him to mimic me. And he did it so well that I stood up and clapped for him and I gave him money. When it comes to MOMIC I see it as fun and enjoying. If I’m around I’ll definitely be there.
UEB: Thank you Dr. Ahenkorah, so moving on to the next question, we would like to know if you’re involved in any social work or activities? We heard that you have a football club…
DJA: You heard about that? Well, I don’t have a club.
UEB: So what about the Unity Cup organized?
DJA: The Unity Cup was something between the level 300s and 1st clinicals. I saw as a senior tutor that there was a disconnect. That when you finished Basic Sciences, it was as if there was no connection with the Basic Sciences students. I didn’t think it was right. So that connection is what led to the Unity Cup, just to bridge the gap between clinical phase and the Basic Sciences.
UEB: Any social work?
DJA: I am much more involved in childhood cancers. And that is an aspect of me that I actually feel emotional about. Because my kid was born in the UK and had Wilm’s tumor. Wilm’s tumor is a childhood cancer that affects the kidneys. So when I came back from the UK, I was involved with childhood cancers in Ghana. I have been working with Professor Lorna in Pedics. So when it comes to childhood cancers in Ghana, you would hear my name all over the radio and TV. That’s my passion.
UEB: We would like to know about your extracurricular activities or what you like to do in your past time
DJA: After teaching and dissecting bodies and taking in the formalin and all that, Dr Ahenkorah likes going for morning walks. Some people have seen me jogging around. Apart from that I like watching football and my favorite team is Chelsea of course . Some call them the “women’s club “but they are the best team in the UK, whatever other people think. But then, something that people don’t know is that Dr. Ahenkorah is a very good drummer. I play the set of drums. I used to play in church but now I’m old. There’s something connected with music here, maybe you need to research on that. Dr. Adutwum is also a choirmaster and plays all the instruments- base guitar, drums. I am only good on drums.
UEB: Any new challenges since your new position as Head of the Anatomy department?
DJA: Oh, it has only been a few months. We are in November isn’t it? I began 2nd October and so far so good. I have a fantastic team here. I mean, it’s amazing to have friends who support you. We are like a family. And I am blessed to have all these professors still around. Prof. Tagoe is there, Prof. Lawson, Prof. Addae, Dr. Dennis, so you can imagine. The teaching aspect is being well taken care of and that’s a nice feeling, because I don’t have to struggle. I come to my office and enjoy my day.
UEB: Okay, so what is the vision that you have set for the anatomy department?
DJA: We want to make this place a center, and that the first place you think of when you think of anatomy is here. And you can attest to that. You can ask your friends in other medical schools. What you get here in terms of anatomy is much more than what your colleagues being trained outside get. I teach Tech (KNUST) and examine the medical school in Cape Coast as an external examiner in Anatomy and I have taught at Ho before. This is going to be the center of Anatomy in the country. It is a huge vision.
UEB: That is a huge vision, so what are the steps that you are leading the department to take?
DJA: I will tell you this, we have started the Anatomical Society of Ghana. We’ve had 2 conferences already-2017 and 2018- and I am the chair of this current committee. And then I am the Vice President African Society of morphology (subregional society) and we met in Côte d’Ivoire. And this year, just the 24th of October, I was made a fellow of the West African College of Morphology. All these are calculated steps to make sure that we can achieve all these dreams I am talking about. These are steps that we have taken. We are also training a lot more M.Phil students, who can go out and get PhDs and come back to help the department to reach where we want to reach in terms of Human Resource and Manpower. Did you know that the commercial mortuary is under Anatomy department? We aim to expand it, so a lot of plans. All written down.
UEB: We hope all those plans come to fruition. Our last question is that we would like to know if you have any advice for us as medical students and as student doctors?
DJA: It is interesting; I would like advise you to choose your friends. I am where I am because of friends. I can speak for myself, it has worked for me. Coming here, it was a friend of mine who saw the opportunity and said ‘You can do it!’ so I went for it. If you don’t select your friends well, you are going to go into bad company and you cannot achieve your dream. As a medical doctor you are going to work in teams. You can’t work alone. Make sure you are friendly.There are people who are too full of themselves, but I think life is more than that. Make sure you select your friends. It’s as simple as that.
UEB: Thank you Dr. Ahenkorah, any final message for us?
DJA: Study, study, study. Make sure you study. You are here first of all to achieve your dream. I have seen students go outside those dreams, doing extra curricular activities. That doesn’t help. You know, it saddens my heart to see a student repeat a year or fail a module just because the person is not focused. If you allow certain things to come before the achievement of your dreams, you may mess up. Let’s focus and study. Finish and finish well. And you would be proud of yourself that you came to the medical school.
UEB: Thank you very much Dr. Ahenkorah.