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Fresh medical students often run, faint during first encounter with corpses in anatomy lab – Prof Ajao

Professor Moyosore Ajao of University Of Ilorin (UNILORIN) has shared his experience through an interview on his 22-years-esperience in teaching anatomy in University.

The interview below was conducted by TUNDE OYEKOLA, a correspondent at PUNCH.

How long have you been teaching human anatomy?

I joined the University of Ilorin in October 2000 as a lecturer and since then I have been teaching and conducting research in anatomy. Before then, I was in medical practice and I worked with some private hospitals in Lagos, where I used to live.

Can you trace your path into how you discovered anatomy and decided it is an area where you would love to build a career?

I would say it dated back to the time when I was a medical student at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State. I was fortunate to have the biggest body – cadaver – to dissect at that time. So, there was never a day we went to practical class that my lab coat was not soaked with body fluids or fat and so on. That was when I got used to cadaver.

No doubt, I believed that I had a fair knowledge and understanding of anatomy. But after graduation, honestly, my intention was to train as a neurosurgeon. But I was influenced by a childhood friend, Professor R.F. Atata, who is at the University of Sokoto, and also a brother, Professor S. A. Kuranga, who is a former CMD (Chief Medical Director) of the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital. They who both encouraged me to go into anatomy because then and up till now we have dearth of qualified personnel in that field. Though, I protested, they were able to convince me.

So, I took consolation in the fact that I have a deep knowledge of the subject and today, I don’t have an iota of regret because it has given me an opportunity to discover the talent that I have in the subject and today I can look back and say to God be the glory.

In your years of studying and teaching anatomy, is there a particular part of the human body that you’ve always found fascinating?

(It is) the brain, which actually controls every part of the human body. Just imagine a human body without the brain! For all that human being has been able to create, with everything we have manufactured, including the telephone, computer and whatever, no one has been able to explore or use up to 10 per cent of their brain. The processes by which the brain relays information is quite fascinating.

The sad thing, however, is that if anything goes wrong with any part of the brain, the whole thing is completely destroyed. So, in terms of functionality, the brain is a very fascinating organ. That is why we say the whole human body is made up of billions of neurons or functional units of the nervous system.

A lot of people dread the sight of a dead body, not to talk of touching it. Can you recall what the experience was like for you at the beginning?

As I noted earlier, I got in touch with cadaver when I was in 200 Level in medical school. I remember that during our first encounter (with cadavers) in the medical school, we had a lady who fainted and there were some who cried.

The finding is that up till today, we have some students crying, fearing while some could not even touch dead bodies, but with time, they get accustomed to it.

My suggestion is that there should be a sort of pre-counselling before students are allowed to see and touch dead bodies.

It also has gender dimension because the females are more affected than the males because of their level of emotional and psychological balances.

I came to the conclusion that there is a need to actually do some counselling before students have access to cadaver as that will help prepare their minds. You can show them some films and other things to sensitise them. By the time you do this, it makes the environment friendlier by the time you get in there.  Because it is not one or two dead bodies that they are confronted with in the laboratory, the experience is usually very traumatic.

Based on your experience, do you counsel your students or what exactly do you do to prepare them for the encounter?

We counsel the students before introducing them to it (cadaver) and there are rules which they have to obey. One of such rules is that cameras are not allowed in the laboratory because the belief of anatomists is that those people (cadavers) were born better and had better naming ceremonies than us (anatomists) and that they just laid down their lives for students to become good citizens and have good training. Secondly, nobody must take any part of human body out of the dissection room. In fact, this has a serious implication because the university will rusticate that student and they would be prosecuted for trading in human parts. We don’t allow that. The students must also respect the dead and this is very important to us. Visitors and unauthorised persons are not allowed into the laboratory and when you come there, you must come with your lab coat. We have rules of engagement in our laboratory especially where the dead bodies are being kept.

What are some of the most remarkable reactions you’ve witnessed from students having their first contact with cadavers?

Some of them have fainted, some cry; some become hysteric; some are shocked, some run away but the interesting thing is that they come back and become very good doctors. Some are indifferent to the situation. It depends on the amount of counselling given to them to prepare their minds.

What is the typical reaction you get when you introduce yourself to people as an anatomist?

The truth is that many people don’t know anything about anatomy; they only see me as a medical doctor. When I tell them that I am a professor of anatomy, they usually ask: “Ewo tun niyen o? (What is that?).  At times, I try to get sarcastic and tell them: “Awa nba oku s’oro ni.” (We speak with the dead). And they will ask: Are you an extraordinary person or what? All that many people know is that anatomy is just an aspect of medicine and nothing more.

Apart from the physical structures that we all can see, are there differences between the male and female bodies that laymen do not know?

Yes, there are some differences between the male and female. For example, when you look at the bones, they are different. If you give me a bone, I can tell you whether it is that of a male or a female because of the shape and certain characteristics that it possesses. So, there are certain differences. Certain organs in female are either longer or bigger. Then, when you look at the genetic makeup, there is a difference; while the male’s are XY, the female is XX.

How important is the mastery of anatomy to the making of good medical doctors?

You cannot separate anatomy from medicine, they are inseparable. For you to be a good medical doctor, you need to have a proper understanding of the makeup of human body. You have to practise on it. If you don’t know where the liver is and someone is having liver problem, how do you want to go about it? If you don’t know where the heart is and someone is having a cardiac problem, how do you want to address it? So, we call anatomy the physics of medical science; that is the foundation. You can’t be a surgeon without understanding anatomy because that is where you start from. So, it (knowledge of anatomy) is going to shape you as a doctor.

READ ALSO: Nigerian Medical Student Shocked To See His Friend’s Body In Anatomy Class

Apart from lecturing, what are the other career opportunities open to anatomists?

In anatomy, we do embalmment services where bodies are preserved. In certain cultures, burials are not done immediately someone dies you have to preserve the body so that it will not decay. We also do reproductive assistance techniques. We have neuro-anatomy, which deals with the brain. We also have forensic anthropology. There are a lot of services that anatomists offer but people don’t know much about them.

How did you meet your wife?

I have two wives. I met the first when I was doing my HSC at the Kwara College of Technology. I was a year ahead of her. In those days we used to joke a lot; the girls would call us NFA, while we called ourselves FIFA; that was how we started and we later got married. I met the second one when I was a medical officer at the General Hospital, Offa. She was schooling at the Federal Polytechnic Offa. I went to deliver a public lecture there and I saw her and we later become husband and wife.

Did the fact that you are an anatomist discourage or matter to them when you met them?

No, it didn’t discourage any of them. They know I’m an anatomist but I don’t come home with dead bodies and I don’t behave strangely at home.

Are any of your children toeing your career path?

Interestingly, all my children are in sciences. One is in Medical Laboratory Science, one is in medicine and one is in anatomy. One of them has just entered the medical school while the baby of the house wants to read medicine like the father. All of them have something to do with anatomy.

Is there any legacy you are working towards leaving in the field of anatomy?

 I want to make people fishermen rather than give them fishes. As of today I have been able to make one professor. I have trained 10 PhD students in anatomy, over 30 master’s degree holders and well over 200 undergraduate students in Anatomy and I’m still counting. I want to be remembered as somebody who imparted knowledge to people.

Then, I want to be remembered for who I am, for speaking my mind on matters that I believe in. When I look back at my professional life, I want to be able to say Alhamudulilahi – to Allah be the glory – because he has been very merciful to me.

How do you unwind?

I love travelling and I have travelled to over 30 countries. When I was young, I used to play football and table tennis. I’m a retired referee. I don’t take alcohol and cigarettes. I’m a quiet person. If you don’t see me in the office or engaged in union activities, I will be at home with my wives and children who are my best friends.

READ ALSO:Final Year Student Expelled From UNILORIN After Caught Writing Exams For His 100 Level Girlfriend


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