“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness,
and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.
Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot
be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime”
Maybe Mr Mark was after- all bemused by the calibre of people who lived around the time he stated those words. We may however agree that when the average Nigerian medical student is weighed, assessed and critically examined on the scale of exposure and experience about international happenings, we most likely would be having a reading close to zero- if not negative. There seems to be a lot of progress in the outside world of which Nigerian medical students have either knowingly or unknowingly been shut out from on the lame excuse that ‘medical school affords no time for frivolities, politics and extracurricular skills acquisition.’ A perfect way to address this inept circumstance is to examine how much the Nigerian medical student stands to gain from travelling to conferences, assemblies, symposiums and wherever opportunities for training outside the confines of their immediate milieu abounds. Travelling for a medical student should be for skill acquisition; lifelong network building; fostering accessibility to global opportunities, and possibility of clinching a life-changing one; as well as treating the eyes and mind to epiphanic tourist sites. So how really necessary is travelling to the Nigerian medical student?
Far more than just fulfilling the requirements of a curriculum is the ecstasy of doing more in life to properly define excellence(1). A lot of Nigerian medical students can relate to how frustrating it feels when they decide to pickup an abandoned inborn or learned skill, only to shove it back in the closet at the very thought of, ‘hey, I’m in medical school’ ! And so what? You’ve always been in medical school, yet you do not know how to write a CV or simple resumé. Your presentation skills are typical of a toddler trying so hard to memorize bisyllabic words. The mere sight of onlooking pairs of eyes- on even familiar faces, make you jitter like a king who has lost the trust of his subordinates. By travelling for seminars and conferences, you can learn skills needed for both personal and professional development. You would fast learn how to overcome stage fright as you are exposed to situations where everyone’s contribution counts. You may also pick up some foreign language skills, administrative skills and several other soft skills that the medical curriculum starves you of. Of note is presentation skills: oral or poster-like, and the rare opportunity for those fascinated about surgery to learn invaluable surgical skills.
After skill acquisition comes networking. There is probably nothing more refreshing than meeting with possible future career partners at a conference. It comes with a sense of common purpose, heightened drive to meet up with expectations, and a conviction that you are not lost in your career choice afterall. By travelling, and if by any chance you would be making a presentation of your research work also, a research partner is usually inevitable. Another twist to the storyline here is that several inspirational medical professors or high achievers, that you have always daydreamed of having as mentors may just be staring at you in the face if you strike a conversation with them: you would usually need to prepare some smart introductory sentences and then flow with the tide afterwards. Networking as it were may also take a leap of faith into getting you a significant other as a life partner, as it is not unusual.
Also, travelling exposes you first-hand to several opportunities; in the form of scholarships, paid internships, project or travel grants, fellowships and fully funded sponsorship of a ravishing experience at gatherings such as the World Health Assembly of the WHO. A lot of Nigerian medical students are oblivious of these opportunities because they lack adequate international coverage and links which could easily be made by travelling.
While relishing or drooling at the impossible dynamics of mother nature is nothing close to unfair, we may yet want to appreciate that it is an opportunity that travelling affords its loyalists. The Pyramids of Egypt at Giza, the Statue of Liberty, the Tour Eiffel tower in Paris, the mount Everest, the Burj Al Arab in the UAE and so much more are the many epiphanic tourist sites that many Nigerian medical students are sacrificing for a barely 50 by 50 cm reading table in the confines of a mosquito-colonised, beg-bug infested , and poorly lit room adjacent to a local market or busy city centre.
In conclusion, several factors tend to pose a threat to travelling as a Nigerian medical student, the most striking being the unavailability of funds alongside paucity of sponsorships. However, if the cost benefit analysis of travelling is done with unbiased and long term oriented tools, the benefits of it by far beat the cost. You are less likely to burnout from career frustration, feel less capable of doing things, and be lacking in basic life skills if you embark on impacting trips. I must quickly state here that mere travelling wouldn’t place you on the spot light of a promising career or experience, just like perceiving perfumes in a trail of wind would not make you smell nice. Of utmost importance is what and who sticks to you after your travel.
1. Bonilla-Velez J, Small M, Urrutia R, Lomberk G. The Enduring Value of Research in Medical Education. Int J Med Students. 2017 Jan-Apr;5(1): 37-44.