Professor Enobong Ikpeme is a paediatric nephrologist at the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. The Bible recorded that the scroll eaten by Prophet Jeremiah, on which God’s message was written burnt like fire in his bones such that he could not hold back delivering the message. In some sense, the passion to become a medical doctor also burnt in the bones of Prof Ikpeme right from childhood. Ikpeme, a lady with a track record of distinctions, who sits on the board of the Tertiary Education Tax Fund (TETFUND), was the first woman to contest for the position of Chief Medical Director (CMD) of UUTH out of 13 men. Sunday Sun recently spoke with her, about her career and other related issues.
What were the underlying factors that propelled you to where you are today as a professor?
To the glory of God, I have achieved a lot to the glory of God as a professor of Paediatrics. I would not say I saw anybody to emulate but because I love being a doctor and a teacher. I came to the academics when it was impossible sometime in my life but I had to defy all odds to follow my passion for teaching and that landed me to where I am today.
So tell us about the young girl that grew up to become a seasoned professor?
I was born so many years ago to Chief Aniema Ubom and Mrs Udo Ubom. As I was told, I was born in Aba, Abia State because my mother worked as a clerical officer in a private company while my father was in Enugu as chief accountant in the then Eastern Region after they just got married and moved to Enugu. My growing up years was in Enugu. When the war broke out, fortunately being a senior civil servant, my father was drafted into the Biafran army and my mother necessarily brought us back to the village in Cross River State. As a child, I could remember that Nigerian soldiers raided our home every single day. I also remember losing my big sister who was one year older than me while we were in the village; subsequently, we went over to my mum’s village and stayed till the end of the civil war and fortunately my father came back alive. I had a year of primary education and then, post-war, I did the rest of my primary education in Calabar where we lived as my father got another job. So I remember that my ambition to become a medical doctor was birthed during those primary school days not that I saw any female doctor to emulate. Something was just in my brain that I was going to be a medical doctor, so I finished with distinction in my First School Leaving Certificate examination, came to Etinam Institute which was the first foremost secondary schools at that time and finished with distinctions as well. I did my Advanced Levels and got good grades to gain me admission into the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan. What challenged me was the fact that people I mixed with were few females who had no such tall ambition. During my secondary school days, anytime I mentioned that I would be a medical doctor, it was met with a lot of sarcasm, so I kept my personal ambition to myself at my age then. Fortunately I knew what I needed to do as a science student and God heard my prayer and got me admitted into the premier university, to study Medicine. I graduated and got married immediately after the national youth service before the residency training and worked with Dr. Banigo in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. When I finished my residency training, I was not able to penetrate into the University of Port-Harcourt for obvious reasons, but could get a job in their General Hospital because they needed a consultant to train their house officers and set the place. I had to stay for eight years, post my fellowship call before I got a university appointment. I worked in the Braithwaite Hospital in Port Harcourt until University of Uyo had a medical school and they poached us from different places. It was a challenge because I lived all my adult life in Port Harcourt with my home there. It became a challenge to come over to Uyo. However, because I had the passion, I pulled down every obstacle; took the appointment and started coming to Uyo from Port Harcourt and subsequently relocated. I am very happy I did because I am fulfilled, career wise. I am a doctor and a teacher, which are my passions. I couldn’t have asked for more. So I have been in Uyo; I rose from being Lecturer 1 in November 2005, to senior lecturer, associate professor and to a professor in good time in October 2015.
What were your own contributions towards to scholarship and to become a professor?
To become a professor involves a lot of research and publication of scientific articles. It was not just hard work, but a lot of balance and this decade was a very tough time in my life because at this point in time, I have children in the university that needed to be taken care of. So emotionally, financially, family life and work challenges were there but God’s grace and mercy saw me through. With all the challenges, both the home and career paths grew and none suffered. It took a lot of hard work to overcome. Like on a Saturday, I would come out in the morning and sit in my office till the evening. The home challenges happened when we were doing residency and my children were very young. Then, we were reading, passing examinations, doing school run, homework and making sure the home front did not suffer. So, it was not an easy ride. The ultimate is passionate determination to achieve a goal and I was not in the wrong career. Most times, when people are in the wrong career, there is no push, but when one is in the right career, it is easier to achieve set target.
How did you come on the board of TETFUND?
Before we got to TETFUND, since I started working with the university, I had been head of my department for two terms before I was appointed as Acting Dean of Faculty for two terms. From the feedback I got, we achieved a lot then and in the West African College of Physicians where I belong, I served as the Nigerian Chapter Treasurer. It is the college that trains post-graduate specialists and we are 13 chapters in the West Africa sub-region. According to them, I did well. I did not run for an election to become the College Treasurer, the position I am still holding. In the medical women guild, I have been treasurer and president at different times. I have also held positions in the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA). So recently, I just got an appointment from the blues to be a board member of the TETFUND. We were inaugurated on August 8th, 2019.
What is your normal day like as a professor, wife and mother? How do you achieve balance?
The toughest moment is not now, rather it was when I was a young resident doctor, during which I had to contend with pregnancy, breast feeding and running a home. That was when the balance was so important. I try to mentor the young ones to have a balance. What helped me during those years was the ability to organise myself. I used to cook eight different types of food in one day and three different kinds of stew. I made sure that at any point in time, we had enough food in the freezer. I buy enough foodstuffs in the house and extra filled gas cylinder. I made sure the home did not lack anything that would distract me because there were days I would go to work for 48 hours without getting home. So nothing would be missing and it was the days of househelps who warmed the food and fed the children when mother was not there. The balance became my responsibility and I made sure I achieved it. Again, you have to balance Christian life to make sure that church and fellowship were not left out because they were actually the bedrock. On a typical day I would be on call, set the home and be active and attentive on both sides.
Has there been a challenging issue or bad experience along the line as a doctor?
For a doctor, the challenge I would say as a nephrologist is that most of my patients have financial constraints and cannot afford the treatments. That is the regret I have. That you see a child you can help and treat, but the parents cannot afford the treatment. The next thing, they sign against medical advice and take the child away. That child may die because of financial constraint.
Somehow, tradition is still holding firm on women from this part of the country unlike their counterparts in the West. Why?
I will not remove culture and tradition from it. Comparatively, the women from the South West are more exposed. Then again, their culture helps them to be exposed and outspoken unlike ours.
What about male chauvinism in your career?
Male dominance! Of course, it happens every day. Recently, I contested for the position of Chief Medical Director (CMD) of UUTH. Among the fourteen of us, I was the only female and I felt the unspoken tension of the game.
Is the position meant for men alone?
No, but they think it is just theirs. You do not really blame them because the women do not come out at all. I think I am about the first female that has wanted to become a CMD of a federal teaching hospital. I know about the woman at the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, Imo State, sometime and saw the tons and tons of issues which I am sure were not unrelated to the fact that she was a female. When I came out, some people were asking, will you be able to cope? My motivation was that the other 13 men were not better than me, if anything. We were and are colleagues. Whatever degrees and opportunities they had, I have, and even have better at some point because I am a professor. So when the position became vacant, men applied and I also applied. Why not? At least, I was top three, even though I did not become the CMD, my name got to somewhere in Aso Rock. I am glad I did my best because it is a political position. It was not intellectually based, if it was I am sure I would have been chosen because I am a professor.