Dr. Ibrahim Olaoye, who emerged as the best-graduating student from the Faculty of Dentistry, College of Medicine, Lagos State University, tells Abdullateef Fowewe how he overcame the challenges he faced
What does emerging as the best-graduating student in the Faculty of Dentistry at the College of Medicine mean to you?
I am Dr Ibrahim Olaoye. The best-graduating student of the Faculty of Dentistry at Lagos State University College of Medicine with a record-breaking 12 distinctions. Contrary to popular belief, it is bittersweet. People often presume it was easy or that luck played a role. They would say things like I never had any problems. However, it required a great deal from me. For every exam or assignment, I had to be the best or one of the best. The constant pressure and burden took a toll on me personally and in my relationships. Just imagine, throughout the seven and a half years, we had approximately 70 exams and assignments, and in each one, I was constantly striving for excellence. But in the end, there was this enormous sense of relief!
How did your parents react when they heard the news?
I was extremely happy, but my parents didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of my accomplishment. I had to tell them again that their son had broken all the records. They were very excited and proud of me in the end.
At what point did you see the possibility of graduating with excellent results?
As early as my third year, I started playfully being referred to as the best-graduating student. By the time I reached my fifth year, it was highly unlikely for me not to graduate as the best among my classmates.
Did your upbringing play a significant role in preparing you to excel at the university?
Absolutely! Achieving excellence in any field requires great effort. You must be competitive and have a mindset of excellence, which I developed from my upbringing and life experiences as I grew older. I take my self-development journey very seriously, constantly striving to improve and never settling. I work diligently to identify my weaknesses and strengths, focusing on enhancing my strengths and suppressing my weaknesses. For instance, one of my weaknesses is being a slow reader, which can be a disadvantage in medical school where there are large volumes of materials to cover. However, I utilise my rapid understanding ability to overcome this weakness, among other strategies.
Growing up, my daddy always emphasised the importance of doing things well if they were worth doing at all. This principle of excellence greatly influenced me and played a significant role in my upbringing.
What was the most challenging aspect of your undergraduate experience?
I would say the clinical exams. It is all well and good to study extensively for clinical exams, but anything can happen and you cannot predict the specific case you will be given. For example, you may be asked to perform a tooth extraction on a patient while being evaluated by an external examiner. What if the tooth breaks? There are numerous unpredictable variables in these situations.
Which of the courses you took proved to be challenging?
Singling out a particular course is difficult since I excelled in almost all of them with 12 distinctions. However, there are courses that I may not have enjoyed as much as others, but I strived to maintain consistency throughout.
Did you have any fears about not meeting the general expectations, considering that your classmates thought you would emerge as the best in your third year at the university?
Certainly, I was extremely worried because if you fail the clinical exams, it doesn’t matter how well you did in the written part, you fail everything. In my mind, it felt like failing after all the years of pain and struggles.
As a medical student at LASUCOM who was a slow reader, did you have a study routine?
Having a pattern or routine is always necessary, especially in medical school as it is a long and challenging journey. A routine helps to minimise the need for excessive thinking and planning; you simply follow it. Over time, my study patterns changed in response to the different approaches required for various classes.
Do you plan to replicate that in your future academic endeavours?
Well, it depends. I will plan to adapt it according to the requirements.
As a medical student who needed to study hard, did you have time for other activities, like socialising?
I did manage to make time for leisure activities, as it is crucial for maintaining consistency in the long run. However, I am primarily introverted, so my idea of a good time differs from most. I occasionally go out, but I prefer staying indoors and binge-watching anime.
You speak passionately about Dentistry. What inspired you to study the course?
Initially, it was circumstantial. However, I eventually realised that Dentistry, to me, represents the ultimate expression of the sciences, which is what makes it fascinating. In addition to studying Medicine and Surgery, you have to complete courses that usually take four to five years in just a few months, such as Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, and Pharmacology. In my opinion, this course combines various disciplines such as engineering, material science, rheology, and visual and creative art, making it the closest to getting comprehensive knowledge.
With all that, did you not experience exam anxiety?
Yes, I did experience exam anxiety, but I managed to overcome it by being overly prepared. Before taking exams, I followed a routine that involved taking deep breaths for about five minutes to calm my mind. Then, I began with the word, bismillah and with prayers. I believed that praying before an exam would make me rely on God for questions I couldn’t answer, rather than solely relying on my thinking and analysis. After the exam, I prayed again.
Do you have any favourite courses?
I don’t really have specific favourite courses because I needed to excel in all of them to achieve my goals. Each course had its advantages and disadvantages. Although oral and maxillofacial surgery is the most interesting to me; it also tends to be the most stressful. Restorative dentistry is enjoyable as well, although certain aspects may not be as pleasurable as others. I have always had an affinity for oral pathology, as I enjoy the field of pathology in general. However, one downside is that it doesn’t involve a lot of hands-on skills, so I don’t have a particularly favourite aspect.
You said you bagged 12 distinctions. What were the awards or prizes you received at the university?
Yes, I received some during our induction ceremony, and others are pending at the convocation. I also received several awards throughout my academic journey and in other areas. I received the Vice Chancellor’s Scholar Award in 2017. I received the highest score in the first professional Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery/Bachelor of Dental Surgery examination awarded by the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria on August 16, 2019, as well as the highest score in the second professional BDS examination awarded by the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria on August 16, 2019. I also came in as the first runner-up in the tweezers quiz competition organised by the Lagos State University Association of Dental Students on November 22, 2019. I also achieved the highest score in the fourth professional BDS examination, awarded by the Muslim Students’ Association of Nigeria on August 6, 2022, and I was awarded the highest score in the third professional BDS examination by the Lagos State University Association of Dental Students on November 25, 2022.
Also, I received the Lagos State University Association of Dental Students Award of Service as the Vice President on November 25, 2022, also the Lagos State University College of Medicine Award of Service as the Vice President of Lagos State University Association of Dental Students on December 14, 2022. I bagged the Lagos State University College of Medicine Award for the Best Graduating Student BDS on August 2023, and the Lagos State University Association of Dental Students Award for the Best Graduating Student on August 2023.
What are the important lessons that students can learn from you, considering that not everyone in your class graduated with a distinction?
Students can be inspired by my determination, tenacity, strong work ethic, foresight, depth of thinking, and self-awareness. As for my classmates, I cannot provide a specific answer because they are truly exceptional individuals. I consistently express my admiration for their skills and accomplishments, and I am unable to pinpoint the exact reasons why they did not all bag distinctions.
How are you mentoring younger students or prospective medical students?
I have a lot of experience speaking to students and it is something I am very passionate about. As the former vice president of my department association, student welfare is a priority for me. When I talk to students, I always emphasise the importance of focusing on their strengths and working on improving their weaknesses. In life, consistency holds great significance. It does not mean giving 100 per cent effort every single day, as that is not always feasible. Instead, I believe consistency is about striving to give around 60 to 70 per cent effort consistently daily. I also stress the importance of managing one’s willpower. Contrary to popular belief, willpower is not unlimited. The more tasks and responsibilities that rely on it, the less energy and willpower remain for studying and other important activities. It is crucial to prioritise and determine what one truly wants to excel in academically. But I must also mention that achieving academic excellence requires significant sacrifices.
In medical school, anyone can fail. Some fail due to the lack of seriousness, but for the majority, I believe the system is not tailored to their strengths. However, it is worth noting that getting into medical school in the first place indicates exceptional abilities.
What was your most memorable experience at LASUCOM?
The period of junior operative techniques stands out as my most memorable time. The camaraderie and unity among my classmates during that period were remarkable. We functioned as a team, like a well-coordinated machine, working together towards a common objective. Another was after my second professional exam; I got three distinctions out of three, which added up to a total of six distinctions at that point. This incredible accomplishment filled me with an indescribable sense of joy and confidence. Previously, I had always had doubts about my abilities, despite knowing that I was talented. However, after that moment, I had a deep conviction that I would surpass expectations and set new records. Additionally, as the vice president of a student association, the day the association successfully organised its health week was remarkable. The academic symposium, which fell under my jurisdiction, was particularly outstanding. It was filled with innovative ideas for overcoming challenges, and I felt an immense sense of pride and gratitude towards my team.
Since you graduated, what have you been engaged in?
I have been involved in statistical analysis for research, although it has been challenging due to starting my internship just two days after my induction.
What is the career prospect in dentistry?
In the field of dentistry, job security is not as much of a concern compared to other specialities. However, it remains a daunting reality for many. Nigeria as a country needs to shift its focus from consumption to creation, which I firmly believe will address numerous issues, including job availability.
I would have felt extremely disappointed if I had graduated with an excellent grade as I had set high aspirations for myself. I had been working towards earning the highest grade point average possible since my university years. Receiving distinctions was the final achievement I had calculated and strived for.
There were times I considered giving up, but when I looked at all the sacrifices I had to make, it didn’t seem worth it. However, in the end, it was worth it. Everyone in medical school experiences a love-hate relationship with academic work. It demands so much from you and continues to demand more. You start to question yourself in the 400 level when you see your classmates who completed four-year courses already starting their lives, while you are only halfway through, and COVID-19 still added more than a year to it.
As a young dentist, how do you plan to enhance your skills and make a difference in the sector?
I am already on a path to achieve those goals. Dentistry places great emphasis on practical skills, so I am striving to gain as much hands-on experience as possible during my training. In addition, it is crucial to raise awareness about oral health. I believe this is the most significant impact one can have in the field. Furthermore, I aim to learn advanced procedures and directly apply them to benefit the people of Nigeria.