“Out with the old, in with the new.”
This is quite a common phrase which literally means ‘to move forward’.
However, an anonymous person once said, “In moving forward, one must not forget the past.” Learning from the past allows you to plan well for the future and take better actions: Sankofa.
Let’s take a cue from our heritage as a body-the UGMSA, shall we?
The “long and dangerous” march to medical graduation in Ghana had already seen its fair share of ups and downs, as has been the case time immemorial of any human endeavor in its budding stage.
The first class began with a batch of 51 young Ghanaians who had their vision of seeking medical education overseas (as was the obliged norm, unlike in our days) somewhat modified and redefined as they were enrolled into the University of Ghana, with the understanding that the US Government at the time would soon sign a Memorandum of Understanding with their Ghanaian counterpart for the establishment of a Medical School – the first of its kind in the country.
However, this MoU never came to fruition, leaving the Ghana Government to establish the Ghana Medical School and stock it with minimum manpower and equipment, all with the help of the taxpayer of whom we are and ought to be eternally grateful even till date.
The benevolence of the staff of the day, of course served as a propeller in materializing this agenda. Mind you these members of staff were all foreign trained. Of course, this process wasn’t met without problems, and of course, these problems were there to stay unless the students had something to say- which they did: Change!
But change from what?
Change from the American-styled Pre-Med programme to “getting straight to the point” Med programme. Change from a shadow of a scholarship grant to one that befit its name. Change in how the Ministry of Health dealt with postgraduates/alums of the association ( for once a UGMSA member, always a UGMSA member). Mind you also, the name was Ghana Medical School. However, since it was under the auspices of the University of Ghana, time impressed on it a de facto name, University of Ghana Medical School (UGMS), before formalities deemed it so. Hence, its student association would be the UGMSA.
The actions that brought about the “change” the students sought were consistent and tireless, respectful and without malice, but forceful and without fear or intimidation from the powers that be. From protests and sit-downs to “baby strikes” and endless hours of meetings with authorities, these crop of pioneer Ghanaian medical students- our association’s founding fathers were indeed a good force to be reckoned with.
Results of the ‘Change’?
The premed programme which included the studying of English Language and Economics was compressed from the traditional 4years to 2years, and ultimately to a single year (which happens to be the first year). In addition, only universally important subjects that pertain to the medic in the discharge of his or her duties like the above were maintained and even modified to only contain requisite concepts a person short of an ace in those subjects would need. The Scholarship grant was increased from 40pounds a year to 100pounds a year, although this has invariably changed in our time to reflect the country’s current economic condition. Last but definitely not the least, the Ministry of Health, over the years, has taken multiple steps at addressing the postgraduate crisis of poor working conditions and inadequate health facilities and postgraduate training opportunities. This feat, though not a mere feat in its regard (as there’s still quite a way to go), is an achievement impossible to achieve without the efforts of the other relevant stakeholders, primarily the Ghana Medical Association and its continuous ”fight for doctors”.
Now, the working conditions for doctors are better than previously were; the health facilities are more in number; and the postgraduate training opportunities in the country have ballooned from zero to a lot. Fastrack the clock and we have 7 medical schools currently in the country ,with more in the pipeline, and a Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons that handles postgraduates’ training in the various specialties of medicine and surgery together with at least 4 of the 7 medical schools(of which UGMS is undoubtedly part).
Indeed, the hard work of our predecessors has paid off astronomically.
And to think all these began with the can-do spirit of a few shy and docile medical students and staff of the association/fraternity. It is then an undeniable fact that we the current budding members of the association definitely have a lot to learn and be thankful for. We, definitely must not relent but press on towards the goal of our heroes- placing medicine and medical education at the forefront of decision making and making it student centered enough to fall in line with best practices. Because once, the medical student owns the knowledge, there’s no telling what the doctor can do.
“In moving forward, one must not forget the past”- Anonymous. Are we in line with this?
Written By: Jeremy Obeng-Adiyiah, Class of 2022.
REFERENCE: Editorial, Ghana Med J. (1969), 8:72. First Graduates of Ghana Medical School.