Nigerian Doctors: The Exodus Will Be Televised

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), for a country to have enough doctors for its population, there should be one doctor to 600 persons. However, the ratio in Nigeria is 1:4000, meaning one doctor is to cater for no fewer than 4000 persons.1 It goes without saying that Nigeria is grossly short of doctors. For Nigeria’s population, about 237,000 medical doctors will be needed.

The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria puts the total number of doctors currently working in Nigeria at 35,000. Although, just over 60,000 doctors have been registered with the council and have at one time or another been eligible to practice in the country, almost half of these doctors have migrated to foreign countries, died, switched to other professions, or retired.

Nigerian Doctors: The Exodus Will Be Televised

This begs the question: how does Nigeria attempt to meet up with the WHO’s recommendation? The answer should be simple – train more doctors. Well, not quite! Assuming no doctor was to leave Nigeria, die, switch careers, or retire, it will take 100 years to train the number of doctors the country needs.2 That’s a very long time to wait.

While we may come to terms that Nigeria may never, or at least not anytime soon, achieve the WHO’s recommended doctor-patient ratio of 1:600. How can the nation curb the shrinking number of this endangered species? The answer is far beyond the scope of this article. But let us for a minute think about the exodus and what drives it.

A lot of Nigerians, not just doctors, have the urge to leave the country in search of greener pastures. Is the country so difficult and intolerable that the best escape is to escape? For majority of the middle class, yes! Is there even anything like the middle class in Nigeria? While resisting the urge to make this a political article, I will not attempt to answer that. Instead, I will focus on what prompts the Nigerian doctor’s great escape; job dissatisfaction and poor pay.

A lot of qualified doctors simply cannot get into specialty training. Some cannot even get jobs at all. Those lucky enough to get jobs end up working long hours in private or government owned hospitals for very little pay. Even those in specialty training are frustrated with the structure of the training program itself and the pay of course.

Despite the government trying to regulate the payment structure for doctors, it hasn’t quite worked out well across state-run hospitals. A doctor at a private hospital earns as low as ₦80k a month and may have to shuttle between two or three jobs to make ends meet. Doctors at government owned hospitals earn between ₦195k to ₦220k before tax and other deductions, while their counterparts at state-owned hospitals earn about ₦150k. Consultants, who are the most senior, earn between ₦500k to ₦800k monthly.3

Now, compare this to the average pay of a specialty training doctor in say, the United Kingdom, who earns between £2,500 to £3,900 per month.4 Or the locum doctor who earns £60 hourly. Convert that to Nigerian Naira (₦) at the current exchange rate and you’ll understand why it’s in the Nigerian doctor’s best interest to escape to the United Kingdom where he’ll earn a lot more and lead a better life. But it’s not about money, is it?

Until the dissatisfaction and low pay is addressed, a lot of Nigerian doctors will migrate in search of greener pastures and at some point, the exodus will be televised.



Kanayo Onyeka

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