By Yemisi Suleiman
Professor Mrs.Â Ibironke Akinsete is a Haematologist and an expert in the area of womenâ€™s health who has distinguished herself in her chosen career. She is a founding member of the Society for Women and AIDS in Africa, Nigeria (SWAAN) and served as its President till 2000. She is a Life Patron of SWAAN, former Chairperson; National Agency for the Control of AIDS and Presidential Adviser on HIV/AIDS. She is on the board of several companiesâ€™ organizations and NGOs.Â And currently the Chairman of Path Care Medical Laboratory, Lagos.
Let me take you back to when you chose your career; what really informed your choice of career?
I am a very inquisitive person. I always want to know how things work and while I was growing up, one of the things that fascinated me was biology. I wanted to know; not just the human body, but also of animals. I was fascinated by the human body, how itâ€™s made up, the physiology, the anatomy and so on and so forth.
So, I had to read Biology because, that is the only thing that had to do with the human body. But, may be I would have become an anthropologist or something because, I was also fascinated by evolution. How did human beings evolve? How did animals, reptiles and all the smaller creatures evolve? All that really fascinated me. And, I read books, went to the library and even went on field trips to know about them. So, medicine came naturally because, it was something that I enjoyed doing.
As a Haematologist, you first qualify as a medical doctor and then this is one of the specialties of a medical doctor. It has to do with the blood and how it is formed in the body.Â This is brieflyÂ Â what Haematology is all about, like the blood system and transfusion, the collection of blood, the screening of blood, everything that has to do with blood
A lot of people run away from blood. How come it got you fascinated?
It is fascinating because, without blood the human system can not work or function. Blood is life and because there is just no substitute, people have tried to manufacture artificial blood but it does not have the same properties and qualities of natural blood that the almighty God put in our body; nobody has been able to do that.
How long have you been in the medical profession?
I will be 72 in May. I qualified in a medical school aboard in 1963 and went on to do my post graduate (programme). After that, I came back to Nigeria and I have worked in Nigeria since 1968. First, at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, where I started as a lecturer and later became a professor. I retired in 2003 but I have had other assignments since then. I have been kept busy. I am now Chairman of PathCare Healthcare Medical Laboratory Centre.Â I am also a trustee of AIDS Prevention Initiative of Nigeria.Â I was also Chairman, National Action AIDS.
What were the challenges you were faced with in medical school?
Well, you know the challenges in education; one was the challenge of attending a medical school because, in medical schools, you will find out that there are a lot of men in the class and the rigorous five years. As a woman, you have to know the purpose why you came to school. (I kept telling myself) â€œI am here to learn. I am here for a purpose.â€
As a lady at that time, you have to prove that you can do well in the field of medicine. Thank God, in our class, the few women proved themselves. Then, after you graduate and begin to work, you still find the same thing. During my time, it was very difficult, because there were just few of us. But things are much better now.
Then, when you are working, you will find out that you are the only young woman amongst men. You have to prove that you are up to the task. As a woman, you donâ€™t argue on the basis that you are a woman, because you are there on equal basis. You are employed as a medical doctor, the man is employed as a medical doctor too. Your job is crucial.
As a woman, for you to really prove yourself, you have to work twice as much as the man and many women had to fight, as it were. I mean, things were strenuous in addition to being married and having children. You canâ€™t come to work and say you have issues at home that needed urgent attention. You were there to make the right decisions and have a good plan. You have to plan as a mother, as a wife and a career person. To me, a woman must be able to manage and coordinate her family life and her work life. And, of course, you need to have an understanding husband.
What would you say to young women that are looking to tow your career path?
Something that is emotionally engagingâ€¦, you must be committed to what you are doing. And, I will say to young people,Â there are many young women in medicine, and they are doing very well; not only in Nigeria, but all over the world. You will see that in many parts You will be comfortable; you will enjoy what you are doing, if you are dedicated, disciplined and you are committed.
I think, there is so much pleasure in helping people, so much pleasure in seeing that health is wealth for so many people. I think that this is what one gains. If I come again, I will do medicine. Some people do accountancy, banking, money is temporal as far as I am concerned.Â You can make medicine also a business; but (our main focus) is that patient; we are concerned about the patient that needs early diagnosis.