(VIA DR.Weyoms instagram)

A career in STEM: the need for mentors and sponsors

The enlightening story of a female doctor in Nigeria: Dr. Weyoms
di Weyinmi Orighoye
Tempo di lettura 5 min lettura
16 settembre 2022 Aggiornato alle 13:00

My name is Oritseweyinmi Orighoye, and popularly called Dr Weyoms.

I was born in Sokoto, Nigeria.

I serve different communities wearing a few hats with a foundation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

My interests are in community development, indigenous people, health inequalities, maternal and child health, young people and anything that promotes sustainable growth.

I grew up desiring to be either a medical doctor, a midwife, or a software engineer.

a teenager and realising I had a challenge with mathematics, I took out software engineering and focused on either medicine and midwifery and I felt the need to help women and children in the health space and beyond.

I was motivated by my family, both nuclear and extended, as I had aunts who were in STEM careers.

Reading a current affairs book for my common entrance examination to get into secondary school made me get to know who the now Late Professor Grace Alele Williams was.

She was from the same tribe as I am in Nigeria, but I never met her until about a few years ago when she was conferred a chieftaincy title in our Kingdom (The Warri Kingdom).

With the challenges of the Nigerian educational system, I did a pre-degree course hoping to study microbiology instead of midwifery or medicine.

It was difficult to get admission into the top Universities in Nigeria, and my father would say, «I don’t want you to be a nurse per se, you won’t get the respect the profession really deserves».

Here in Nigeria, there is a subtle discrimination within the health careers, and sometimes nurses are treated unfairly.

Despite these challenges, I wanted to be in STEM, so my parents got support and advice from their peers to explore studying Medicine in Ukraine. After my pre-degree course at a local University, I got an offer to study general medicine at Dnipropetrovsk State Medical Academy, Ukraine. I did my residency in academic paediatrics at Odessa National Medical University alongside a master’s degree.

Nigeria’s exodus of health workers leaving due to challenges with building a career made me take on a taught postgraduate degree in cccupational safety, health and wellbeing at The University of Salford, UK.

I wanted to explore alternative careers in medicine and looked for ways to diversify my skills but there was limited guidance in the form of mentorship.

As I did my postgraduate studies, my interests in environmental and public health grew giving me the opportunity to explore research in academia.

I returned home and whilst waiting for my licence to practise in Nigeria, I accepted a job in a non-governmental organisation to work in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria delivering water, sanitation and hygiene programs and appropriate technologies for development in schools and communities.

This helped me diversify my skills from just being the usual medical doctor assumed to only clerk patients and prescribe medicines to working with charities, NGOs, schools, and local government agencies. STEM may be classed as a men’s career, but it has not stopped me at all.

With the support from family, I have taken my interest in research to complete a PhD in rehabilitation and health sciences at Leeds Beckett University, doing research in public health nutrition with a focus on Nigeria.

There have been challenges such as taking on STEM roles that aren’t traditional for women, people sometimes finding it unique and useless at the same time. They come up with questions like, “Why not stick to a career in medicine that is beneficial to women with children?” “Why are you moving around as a woman, when would you settle down with a family?” .

When I did my viva and posted a photo on Twitter, someone asked why my husband would allow me a PhD? Rather than looking at the limitations, I choose to see the beautiful side of being in STEM and believe gender doesn’t count in my career.

The challenges I find with STEM are embedded in our daily interpretations of life. I see progress as people advocate for gender equality which gives room for a paradigm shift, better decision making and open door of opportunities, but we are not there yet. For example, as an international student during my PhD, I had to be mindful about childcare and if I’d wanted to have another child. If one lacks the support for raising a family in a different country, women might be discouraged and postpone raising a family during a critical stage of their career. They tend to consider family finance in a foreign country, support (family and friends), length of training like (MSc or PhD), availability of funding, career prospects, age and even risks associated with maternal health.

While I would not dwell so much on the above, I am very particular about African women and girls in STEM and the role of mentorship in their personal and professional development. Mentorship opportunities are limited in the STEM space for women and girls in African countries.

The old perception that women and girls are meant to stay in the kitchen is slowly dying but where are the mentors to support women and girls interested in STEM careers?

In recent year, we are seeing a rise in mentorship schemes, but they are not enough. As a young woman from an indigenous and minor tribe in Nigeria, mentors are limited in the coastal areas because whilst we see women thriving in their STEM careers (newspapers, TV, or social media), not all of them are accessible or available to younger women and girls. I had aunts in STEM, but they never really talked about their careers with me. I did not know their wins and struggles’, or if the path I am taking could be done differently.

One might ask, «Weyoms, you were supposed to ask them». How do I ask questions when the concept of mentorship was not embedded in my learning and development?

As a two-time global health mentor for Global Health Mentorships Program, it is essential for us to encourage African women who are in STEM to openly share about their careers.

We need more local based, blended (digital and face-to-face) mentorship programs for young girls and women that embedded in everyday learning and development.

My only challenge with digital mentorship programs is the cost of data for those in developing countries where data is expensive, but it should not stop us from effecting change.

Let us talk and show the next generation the alternative STEM careers and not be so focused on the traditional routes.

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