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Maryam Shehu Yakubu shares her secondment experience at University College London (UK) from SCORE foundation (Nigeria)

92 Days A Visitor

My name is Maryam Shehu, a Consultant Paediatrician, specialising in Haematology.

During the month of May 2023, I was given the opportunity by ARISE, Africa Research and Innovative Initiative for Sickle cell Education, to be a part of their exchange programme which terminated in August.

It was an opportunity to spend three months in the great city of London, learning, contributing to research and working under the supervision of some of the best minds in haematology.

I am back now and as I sit in the comfort of my home in the serene city of Jos, Nigeria, a place that the late emeritus Prof of history, Ali Mazrui, reportedly described as “the garden of Eden in decay,” I am reminded of my unforgettable London journey.

My secondment work was on work-packages 3 and 6 (WP 3&6)- Neuro-cognitive Screening using the TCD Machine, and Training and Support for Clinical Research respectively. I worked under the supervision of Prof. Fenella Kirkam, a great Paediatric Neurologist with the University College Hospital London, and a fantastic human being.

She took me along to observe and learn the act of performing a TCD on sickle cell patients in the UCH and the Whittington Hospital London. She ensured I was comfortable as part of her team, and her humility was a lesson by itself. I remembered how I struggled with her to allow me carry the TCD machine which in my opinion was a bit heavy for a women her age, but she would always say it was good for her as a form of exercise. I further learnt the art of patiently waiting for my patients even when they don’t keep to the timing of their appointments.

I attended two very important courses; Introduction to Meta-analysis and Introduction to Biostatistics with R with CASC, UCL, London to help me understand and navigate my way around writing a systematic review and meta-analysis. Although they cost a fortune my supervisor paid to ensure that I got the best training for this form of research writing so I could develop my capacity for clinical research. She also bought me books to help facilitate my learning on systematic review using R.

I also attended the Sickle Cell Clinic in Evelina London Hospital, which is the children’s hospital in Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Trust (GSTT) with Dr Samah Babiker as the lead. We had seminars and short discussions on patients scheduled for each clinic and outlined the lines of management for challenging cases.

The other interesting aspect of my secondment was the various on-line, virtual and physical seminars, courses and tutorials that were available for one to attend. The gene therapy, stem cell transplant paediatric services, pain managemnt in SCD, North England haemoglobinopathy clinical education, Haematology lunch-time sessions, Sickle cell sharing events, to mention but a few, were just some of the interesting moments that made my secondment very memorable.

Apart from the educational aspect of my secondment, the other showpiece I experienced was the organized transport system in London, especially the buses. Everything about their operation came as a shock to me; from the way they never missed a stop or scheduled time to the way everyone knew where to stay, when they got on. The elderly had a section, there was an entrance for those in need of wheel chairs for movement and even heavily pregnant women knew where to go. It was all made as convenient as possible for everybody. I had to take at least two buses every day before reaching my destination yet it was no trouble at all.  I didn’t struggle to get seats because it was a double decker and I always got to town at the same time everyday. It was simple; if you were not at the bus stop at the set time, the bus would leave. It did not wait for commuters or a full bus like those in my country before they set sail and that saved me from getting to work and classes late.

The buses there felt like a whole new world to me. It was like stepping into wonderland, and I was Alice. The buses were refreshing and usually clean and though they were all red in colour when I arrived in May, before I left in August, some had changed their colours due to advertisement for movies, events and the rest of that. The sheer organisation was something to behold.

It was actually what I enjoyed most about London, those buses. They created a space where everyone respected each other, the young giving up seats to the old irrespective of if they arrived first, and everyone friendly and minding their business. It was so comfortable that I made more progress working on my projects than I did anywhere else. I remembered once seeing a family of four walk in: A grandma, a mum, dad and their sick child which from my observation seemed to be suffering from cerebral-palsy and yet there was a way for her to be rolled into the bus with ease.

I have always wanted to read Medicine because I had lost two brothers to Sickle Cell and wanted to see how I may help prevent or at least lesson the horrific pains and fatalities associated with the disease. Going to London to attend this course was a welcome development and an experience I would always cherish.

I specially want to thank Prof. Baba Inusa, Prof. Fenella Kirkham, Mrs. Sati Santa, Dr. Wale Atoyebi, Mrs Bola Ojo, Miss Tijani olawale and all the members of the ARISE team for the opportunity given to me.

God bless you all.