Doctors’ Strike: Medical Students Anxious Over Practising In Nigeria

As Nigerian doctors and the government battle with yet another strike, medical students are weighing their options and deciding if practising in the country is a good call.

In light of the ongoing strike by Nigeria’s resident doctors, some medical students are reassessing their decision to practise in the country. They attribute their uncertainty to the regular strikes and various issues the medical sector is fraught with. 

In a survey conducted by HumAngle of 115 medical students, 85.2 per cent stated that they would emigrate abroad to practise, with some noting that they are already taking active steps towards implementing their plans. 

According to the students, the profession’s climate is uncertain in Nigeria and there seems to be no end in sight. Some respondents noted that it would be a huge gamble to trust that things would get better. 

Nigeria’s resident doctors went on strike again in August over irregularities in the payment of salaries to the house officers. This is the fourth time since the COVID-19 pandemic started and one of the many recent strikes across the Nigerian medical sector. 

The resident doctors are seeking an upward review of the hazard allowance to 50 per cent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers and payment of the outstanding Covid-19 inducement allowance, especially in state-owned-tertiary institutions.

The doctors are also calling for the abolishment of the exorbitant bench fees being paid by their members in all training institutions across the country.

Following laid examples? 

Eze Francis was excited when he gained admission to study Medicine at the University of Ilorin, but he told HumAngle that his passion has dwindled year after year. 

“The passion I came with to medical school has dissipated. I will try to push it to the end but practicing in Nigeria after medical school looks discouraging. After seven years, this is all we get. Merely thinking about it, kills the vibe to read,” Francis, who is in his fifth year, said. 

He is not alone. When asked why she wants to emigrate after medical school, Bisola Adeoye said “the economic and financial rewards are not commensurate with the physical, emotional, and mental hardship that the practice of Medicine places on one in Nigeria. Also, patients’ acknowledgement of your sacrifice appears to be nonexistent these days.”

Adeoye added that, like some of her colleagues, she is bothered by the constant industrial actions of seniors in the profession and does not look forward to joining the train after the stress of medical school. 

“It is easier to practise medicine when you have all the tools. In Nigeria, our skills are under-utilized, yet we are overworked. The current doctors are not well taken care of. You see them striking every time. Looking at the lives of doctors abroad and the compensation they get, you will realise that it is not best to stay in Nigeria and practise. Everyone is moving.”

In most Nigerian universities, medical students spend an average of six to seven years before their medical induction into the profession. Induction day, to most of them, is synonymous to freedom from all the medical wars they have fought and won. It is a day all medical students look forward to.

After the stress of studying, these students told HumAngle, they look forward to getting the right psychological and financial compensation for their hard work. 

Bashira Yusuf, a 500-level medical student angrily asked, “A whole me, five thousand naira for hazard fee?”

“I have to deal with the possibilities of getting infected with HIV, COVID-19 amongst others. The lifestyle is not appealing for me at all,” she said. 

For Bimbo Lawal, she is afraid that she has to deal with the toxicity that is brewing in the medical space. “I might be performing below standard and expectations. Secondly, I cannot survive in a place where my input will be way more than the gains and rewards; and I would not get the basic things I deserve as a doctor,” she said.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development states that Nigeria is one of the three leading African countries where physicians leave for foreign jobs. This development has led to a drop in the quality of healthcare service due to the absence of skilled personnel.

With Nigeria’s population at about 200 million, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the ratio of doctors per patient remains 1:5,000 as against the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation of 1:600. It is also a normal occurrence that doctors work more than 48 hours at a stretch in contrast with the average work hours per week of 40-48 hours as stated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). 

Mental health concerns for medical students

The spike in emigration of Nigerian medical doctors has not only affected the health system but poses a huge challenge for medical students. 

Faruk Bilau, a research enthusiast and medical student spoke about how the current happenings in the Nigerian health sector affects him.

“Sometimes, it poses this mental challenge that you are going through all of this rigour and the health sector doesn’t care or make all your struggles in medical school worth it. The profession is gradually depreciating. As a medical student who is keen on leadership, it also poses a challenge where I am forced to think about what could be done to circumvent these issues,” he said.

Being a medical student automatically predisposes one to voluminous reading materials, physical and emotional stress and, for some, financial struggles. With the different challenges that come with being a medical student, they also have to cope with the fear of what their future holds as more medical doctors emigrate from the country.

Sururat Nasir, a 600-level medical student said medicine “is a mixture of things because it has afforded me the avenue for growth, social interactions and time management.”

Holding out hope

In the survey carried out by HumAngle, 14.8 per cent chose to stay back in Nigeria after medical school. For some of them, it is important to stay back and fix the system. As Jacob Emordi, a 500-level medical student puts it: “Because we can’t all leave. I believe it will get better even though we can’t say when.” 

Glory Effiong, a 400-level medical student still hopes that things will get better for good and hopes to contribute positively to the Nigerian health sector.

Some other respondents noted that they would like to stay back in Nigeria for other reasons including proximity to family and strong faith in the beautiful change Nigeria might experience. 


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