Q & A with Dr Chiemezie Ibe

Amanosi F. Agbugui
300-level Medicine & Surgery
University of Port Harcourt

Can you please introduce yourself to us?
My name is Ibe Chiemezie Chukwuma. I’m a medical doctor, rapper, a spoken word artist and a public health advocate.

Can you give a brief backstory on what it was like growing up and what made you choose Medicine?
I grew up travelling a whole lot. Out of 36 states, I would say I’ve been to about 30. I lived in a lot of places at different times in my life — it was really exciting. I come from a monogamous family. Four children. My elder brother is a doctor. My sister is also a doctor. Growing up, I was that child that loved to learn and explore; I was quite inquisitive. I just tried a whole lot of things, and I had parents who were supportive. How did I get to do medicine? Well, it was influenced by family. You know, back then when you’re a bright kid coming first in class, everybody starts suggesting that “You’ll be a good doctor”. My father and elder brother also passively sowed the idea.

But something happened when I tried to get into University after secondary school. It took three JAMB attempts before I eventually got medicine. It struck me after the first failed attempt that this was what I really wanted to do. So, I took JAMB a second time, didn’t get it, went back a third time and eventually got medicine. Getting to medical school has been an amazing experience until now, and I don’t regret it.

Third time’s the charm, as they say. Very inspiring.
If I hadn’t gotten it the third time, I would still go a fourth time. That’s how badly I wanted it.

Wow. Thank goodness you got it then. Your medical school experience. Can you tell us about it? The highs and lows.
It was amazing — mainly highs though, I can’t really picture any lows. That was because I had an amazing support system. I was a member of FECAMDS (Federation of Catholic Medical & Dental Students) as a student and the way it’s structured, you have senior colleagues willing to help you every step of the way and friends who support you beyond academics. Although I had some moments where the tension built up, it was an amazing experience altogether.

First year, there was a lot of running around for things like Chemistry classes. Then, the exams were taken and our class was cut in half. Year 2 was a whole new experience because that’s when we started learning Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry. I didn’t find it that difficult though, because even before school started, my senior colleagues had already given me the basics so I had no problem adapting.  By the time I got to third year, it was time for our first professional exam and at that time, someone I know told me I could be sent out of medical school by third year, so I wanted to prove the person wrong. I passed and eventually got a distinction.

Fourth year came along: pharmacology and pathology. I had amazing friends. I had a study group. I had study partners and senior colleagues to guide me. As a result, I was able to pull through my preclinical and clinical classes almost effortlessly. That’s basically my medical school story.

Seems like you had a really strong support system; not many people can say that today. There are a lot of lone wanderers in medical school.
Well, on the subject of loners in medical school, the thing is you’d be denying yourself the huge network that you could tap into in the future.  Also, there are a lot of exams you have to read for, and there are things you could get from discussions, so why isolate yourself and deny yourself the opportunity of an amazing network and knowledge?

Thank you for that. How did you get the idea to intertwine music and medicine?
Like I said earlier on, I explored a lot as a child, and my parents were supportive. My mum is a composer, and she would sing songs to us when I was younger. My elder brother was a huge fan of Tupac, Busta Rhymes and DMX, so I grew up in an environment that was quite musical. In secondary school, I had a classmate who used to write amazing poems, and he taught me how to write poems. So I began writing poems about love, life and anything that appealed to me. Then, I started putting them in rhymes, rhythms and beats.

In University, I was in a poetry group called “Word Phantoms” in the UNIPORT English department where we had poetry and music shows every month. I was the only medical student there at the time. While doing all this, I didn’t know that I was building myself and honing my skills. 

When I started doing my housemanship, I started seeing some cases, hypertension, for instance, very often. I saw a woman with breast cancer who came in very late, and there was nothing that could have been done for her. That woman eventually died and I got very hurt. I felt people should know about diseases — how to stay healthy, preventive medicine — and they should also be taught about it in a way they can relate with it. 

Music is a universal language. There are songs whose lyrics you don’t understand but just know it’s good music. I mean, a lot of us dance to “Despacito” and we don’t even know what it’s about. So, I thought to myself, “If I can use music to teach people about this, I’m sure they can adopt healthy lifestyles”.

 Is there anyone in the medical field that inspired you to do this?
A lot of my teachers inspired me to express and be myself in whatever form I could. UNIPORT is a very liberal environment. I had my teachers in O and G (Obstetrics & Gynaecology) who supported me and were like “Oh you’re doing well”. During NMA events, they usually called me to come and perform; I once performed at “Hotel Presidential”. All those people inspired me by teaching me medicine and also letting me express myself in whatever form without being judged.

Most Nigerian universities aren’t exactly known for being “convenient” for medical students to practice their hobby. What advice would you give a medical student that wants to follow their passion?
I always say there are 24 hours in a day. If you sleep for 7 hours, you still have 17 which I’m sure you’re not going to use for only study. Make out time for leisure. My advice to anyone that wants to pursue their passion is that while you’re at it, always remember that your medicine should be sound, so, properly manage your time for your academics. I never had a resit and, even at that, I was involved in political activities. I was the financial secretary of PUMSA (Port Harcourt University Medical Students Association). I was also the academic coordinator in FECAMDS, organizing tutorials, and in class, I was still doing okay.

If you’re not doing well academically, then there’s no way you can push your passion. Properly manage your time, be in class, and learn what you’re supposed to learn but also make out time for your leisure.

You mentioned earlier you got a distinction. In what subject please?

A Distinction in Biochemistry! I think that has to be the least enjoyable subject for most preclinical students.
*laughs* I believe BCH came naturally to me; I really liked it and I found it easy. And apart from that, I had a study group and we always broke it down to the most basic level. I also called my senior colleagues ahead of time to ask them how the exam was written, because there are two important things:

  1. Knowing the “stuff”
  2. Knowing how to present it for maximum marks

That made it less difficult and it just happened.

Okay. What brought about the name ‘Stardoc’?
Well I am a star and I am also a doctor *laughs*. However, there is a story behind it.

Please, let’s hear it.
It was actually my classmates. Back then, I was one of the best football strikers in UNIPORT *smiles* and I was doing a lot of things and doing them well. So, my friends began calling me ‘Starboy’. Whenever I scored a goal, they’d shout, “Starboy! Starboy!”. After writing my final exams, I was like “I think we can change it. I mean, I’m no longer a boy; I’m now a doc so…”

You didn’t want Wizkid to come for you
*Laughs*. No, we’re two different people. So, that’s the story of how ‘Stardoc’ came to be.

And what a lovely story it is. You are currently doing your residency in Nigeria. To be honest, the average Nigerian student knows more about residency pathways to become a doctor abroad than to become one in Nigeria. Do you think that’s a problem and can you briefly tell us about the pathway to becoming a resident here?
Well, firstly, I can’t blame those more interested in the pathway to residency abroad than the pathway here. Just know what you are interested in and that’s perfectly fine. I don’t blame anyone. I mean, at some point you have to make your own decision and be able to bear the outcome.

After NYSC, unless you’re at the age of 30 and you get an exemption, you write your primaries. Once you pass, you send in applications to various hospitals in the country: teaching hospitals, general hospitals and, I think, some private hospitals.

If accepted, you become a junior resident. After 2-3 years, you take another exam and become a senior resident, if successful. Then, after some time, you take another exam and become a Consultant. That’s the pathway in simple terms.

How are you able to fit music making into your residency training? What is your typical day like?
It depends on the posting I’m doing. Typically, in the hospital, I’m seeing patients and after seeing them, I could have a discussion with my consultant on cases. Once that’s done, I go back home, if I’m not on call. Otherwise, I stay back till the next day, and I have to study as well. 

But the truth is music gives me joy. I love to make music, play sports, hang out with people, and it doesn’t take me time to make music. It could take me about an hour or less to write some lyrics. And like I said, there are 24 hours in a day; if I take out an hour to make music, I don’t think I’m hurting anybody. I recorded my latest song, Ndi Igbo, in about 20 minutes. One weekend, I was at home, drove down to the studio, recorded it and the producer sent it to me later. When it was time to make the video, I called my colleague (the other guy in the video). Work closes at 4, so we managed to reach the venue for the video by 4:15; we shot it there, and by 5 o’ clock, we were done. Then, a few days later, the video was out.

It all boils down to time management and your love for what you do. I believe if you really love something, you’ll make out time for it.

Seems like you’ve really mastered the art of time management.
It’s extremely important. The key to everything.

Noted. Have you encountered any challenges in residency so far?
I would say it’s been an amazing ride so far. I’m 3 months into residency and so far so good. But one thing that breaks my heart is that a number of patients come into the emergency very late. People don’t take care of their health; they only come in when it’s critical and at that stage, there’s little or nothing that can be done. I come for call today, there’s a diabetic emergency/stroke; I come for call another day, diabetic emergency; I come back a third day, diabetic emergency. It just tells me that people are totally unaware. The level of medical ignorance is so high. I want to see people go home healthy and not every day, same thing, different faces. It’s very heartbreaking. It’s either the medical practitioners aren’t doing enough to educate people to stay healthy or the people themselves aren’t making enough of an effort to stay healthy. 

That’s why I do what I do. I try hard to educate people, and I think if more people used the means at their disposal to educate people, then we’ll have a healthier society.

I agree Public health is very important and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen in the hospital?
I would say when someone is brought into the emergency unconscious and you are called to attend. You know what to do and the person soon regains consciousness. It looks like magic. I find that quite interesting, being able to institute therapy and watch your patients get back on their feet.

Do you have any mentors?
Yes, I do. My number 1 mentor is my elder brother, Dr. Obinna Ibe. He’s given me a lot of guidance in medical school, post medical school and in my entertainment business. Apart from him, I have a great number of senior colleagues I get guidance from at every point in time, and I attribute that to UNIPORT, where I trained, FECAMDS, PUMSA and every other place I’ve been to. If I need help, I know who to call. That’s it for me about mentorship.

You were recently named one of the “Beating Corona heroes” by “The Future Project Africa”. How were you able to go round communities and do what you did? It couldn’t have been easy especially in places where people still don’t believe in the virus. How were you able to tackle that?
The first thing I did was use music to spread awareness about the virus — I put out like two different songs on the virus. Then, I teamed up with my former classmates; we came together and made an educational video about it. It just so happened that a TV network, CGTN, picked up one of my videos about corona. CGTN, which has millions of viewers across the world, made a story of it reaching a great number of people whom I wouldn’t have been able to reach on my own.

But before the Corona outbreak began, I had thought about what I could do to help secondary schools in my community as I was doing my youth service and as a corper, you are encouraged to do community service. So, I picked a secondary school in my area and decided to educate them about the importance of hand washing. I was thinking about Lassa fever and other diseases that can be prevented by hand washing. Then came the corona outbreak and there was a scarcity of facemasks. I was given the go-ahead by the head of service to acquire and distribute after I informed them of the problem, so I did. They were impressed.

I simply wanted to see everybody healthy, because the thing about Corona, or any infectious disease for that matter, is if one person is not safe, nobody is safe; it’s not enough for me to protect only myself. That was it. I saw a need and was passionate about helping out; I didn’t know people were watching. And then it happened that I was nominated as a “Beating Corona Hero”. It’s amazing and it’s heart-warming and just affirms the fact that what I’m doing is good. 

It seems you’re really passionate about Nigeria.
I am, but it’s sad that every day, the country breaks my heart. Nigeria is a very beautiful place. It’s quite sad that we have leaders who have decided to make it a place that isn’t so conducive. I want to help out — that’s why I still keep trying, even in my small niche. The country keeps trying to break our hearts and the hearts of other young people but we keep doing what we’re doing. There’s no other place to call home.

That’s true. Knowing what you know now, would you rather have done your residency abroad?
Well, like I said earlier on, I don’t blame anyone who chooses to leave the country to pursue greener pastures. I’m going to be very blunt though. A lot of people who are doing their residency in Nigeria are planning to leave. That’s the truth, the brain drain is massive. Everyday, people are handing in their resignation letters, and unless something is done about it, more people are going to leave and I’m not exempted.

I like your honesty.
It’s the truth. How much is a doctor’s salary? What is the work schedule like? Do I have the materials to work with? The question is, this love for the country, just how long can one maintain it? It doesn’t cost the average Nigerian doctor much to leave the country. You just have to sit down, read and pass exams. You might even take a loan. It’s just a matter of time. Any doctor that sets their mind to leave Nigeria is usually gone in three years.

That’s why I said this country keeps breaking hearts. There are people that really want to stay back and contribute, but a lot of people would rather go where they can secure a future for themselves. I call on our leaders, and even fellow Nigerians, to make the country better so that the best brains will have reasons to stay back. My parents are in Nigeria. At this stage in their lives, they can’t possibly relocate; they’d rather just visit places and come back. I don’t want to see them once in a year or once in three years. I want to be able to see them when I want to see them, but even they ask me, “What’s up? Are you not going to go like other people?” *laughs*

Unless something is done, the best brains will continue to leave. That’s my answer to the question?

The exodus of doctors is really serious but all we have is hope.

Concerning residency, what advice would you give a Nigerian medical student that wants to do their residency in Nigeria especially those in final year?
Well, first, know what you want for yourself. Whether you want to stay in the country or stay abroad, pursue it with all that you got. Identify the part of your medicine that you’re strongest at and take your exams. No matter where you choose to do it, pursue it with all that is in you.

You’re an internal medicine resident. Why did you choose Internal Medicine?
Going through medical school, I never imagined I’d choose Internal Medicine. I started considering it during my house job. Then I was in endocrinology seeing Diabetic patients. We had an amazing preventive medicine regimen that our patients followed. Those that came in were appropriately attended to and, when discharged, were properly counselled and followed up. 

That’s why I chose Internal Medicine, and it also gives me time to talk about health education. Who better to talk about diabetes if not a diabetes specialist? This is the place for me. 

That’s lovely. Was work-life balance a big factor in your decision?
Yes, it was. 

Concerning medical education, would you say that the Nigerian system has done its best, all things considered? Would you say things like ASUU strikes had an adverse effect on your medical education?
During my time, we had a strike of six months. I thought that was the highest they could go, but it seems you guys have taken the crown from us. Medical education should be continuous — it shouldn’t be stopped for any reason. A lot of people will keep their books aside, clinical work would be halted. But, with time, people will pick up. We are a very resilient people. We’ll get it right eventually.

Does it have an adverse effect though? Yes, it does.

Any future plans concerning your musical career?
Of course the plan is to make it big — as big as can possibly be so that I can reach out to more people and spread the message of healthy living. That’s it. If I can do that, then I would have lived a much fulfilled life.

In your next life, if there is a next life, would you still choose to be a doctor?
101 percent. I don’t see myself doing anything else.

 Do you have any advice for medical students?
My advice is this: as a medical student, you shouldn’t let Medicine kill your dream or talent. Continue to explore that talent even as a doctor.

P. S.
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Pendical Admin

PENDICAL an educational weblog creates a platform for medical personnel/practitioners including medical students to share inspiring stories, lifestyles, and resources for medical personnel/practitioners or anyone aspiring to be a physician thereby encouraging and promoting diversity in lifestyle, mindset, thoughts and experience among medical personnel and medical students. PENDICAL started out, like many realities, a dream. It is a weblog whose contributors are medical personnel. In a most profound way, medicine and health meet art in the realm of writing. What we seek to achieve cannot be summarized into bullet points, but if through the pieces herein someone’s path is more illuminated or another is inspired to reach beyond its ‘limits’, if doubts are cleared from this mind or the spirit of another are lifted after a long day, PENDICAL would have served well in the line of duty. Our core values are creativity, excellence, truth, and passion.

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