[Opinion] Why Would Anyone Want To Become A Doctor?

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The news about a medical doctor who abandoned medicine to become an oil pipeline thief may have cast a pall on the prestige of what is supposed to be a noble profession. But a seeming loss of the prestige of medicine did not start today.

You may have heard it before that many doctors regret reading medicine. For me, it was during my secondary school days. I had told a neighbour who was a doctor, who further endeared me to the profession, that I would want to read medicine, and I thought he would have been pleased. But I was taken aback when he said I should instead go into engineering or even banking like my dad. He said medicine was not worth the trouble. I felt his advice was suspicious. I also recall a visit to our family doctor then. When I told him my ambition, he said, “Why medicine? Since I got into medical school I have not rested, even till now.” In my young mind, I just concluded that some people would say anything to make sure others don’t become like them.

I got into medicine anyway. I remember always waking up with a start. The only thought was how to scale anatomy, physiology and biochemistry. I thought it strange when other students from other departments made a face when I told them I studied late in the cadaver room. We dissected with our bare hands, and from there to the cafeteria. Reading was not by choice. It was a race against time. Twenty four hours was not enough, so you found yourself borrowing from the next day and accruing deficits.

Well, I passed somehow and got into the clinical class. Just when I thought the hurdle had been reduced, without congratulating us, the Dean, Clinical Sciences in introducing us to the clinic said: “If you think you have made it, you are wrong. This is the time to decide whether you should continue the journey―or to voluntarily withdraw!” This is despite those who were withdrawn. And despite those who became psychiatric.

Though a teacher of mine boasted about the study of medicine: “It has never been easy, and it will never be easy,” many doctors do not want their children to be doctors. A 2007 survey by Merritt, Hawkins indicated that 57 per cent of 1,175 doctors questioned would not recommend the field to their children. Another teacher of mine said his son was “crazy enough to become a doctor.”

With the coming of the Information Age, doctors have been demystified. The awe is for software scientists, and those who can give us breathtaking electronic gadgets. And that is where smart kids now go into, and of course, sports and music. Perhaps, Bill Gates or the late Steve Jobs would not have been popular if they were doctors.

Never known before, there is now unemployment in the profession. After medical school, you have to do the compulsory one-year internship. There are fewer accredited places for internship than the number of medical graduates. Even those with accreditation lack the funds to absorb. So you find fresh doctors staying more than a year, even up to two years to get placement. And by the Medical and Dental Council law, if you do not do the internship within two years of graduating, you have to write a council exam. Even after the compulsory National Youth Service Corps scheme, doctors still look for work. Many doctors who want to become specialists, have passed their primaries, but cannot get anywhere to do their residency programme. I know some who have given up on that dream after many years of attending fruitless interviews. The majority of doctors, many with primaries, are doing one locum or the other in a private hospital where they are paid as low as N60, 000 per month.

There are other disincentives. In the US, doctors face malpractice regularly. And many have stopped practising.  Yet, the majority of lawsuits brought are frivolous. In more than 91 per cent of cases, the defendants won. And only six per cent of all lawsuits go to trial. Those that are not thrown out are settled amicably. In Nigeria, it is catching on. Of course, doctors who make gross inexcusable mistakes are liable, as those who are unqualified. When a patient dies here, and the hospital remains the best place to, there must be something the doctor should have done he did not do. As doctors, we took an oath, yes, but the oath did not say we will save everybody. Even Jesus did not save everybody. There was still a son of perdition.

The typical scenario in Nigeria is that the patient has taken all sorts of self-medication including traditional concoction, and when organs have damaged they are rushed into the hospital for the doctor to perform a miracle. Children are brought in chronically ill-looking, very anaemic and needing blood transfusion because the parents’ neighbours told them it is “teething”. When you tell a woman she will have an elective caesarian section because she risks a uterine rupture from a previous caesarian section, she will say “I reject it”. Many laboratory investigations cannot be done because there are no reagents. There are many diagnostic tools that Nigerian doctors only read about in textbooks. Many patients are also poor and cannot do investigations when it is available and cannot buy their medications. So your medical knowledge hangs in the air.

There are still other frustrations of daily clinical life. In most government hospitals, the crowd stretches the capacity of the hospital. In seeing a patient, a doctor is making the most of the 15 or so minutes he has to be with the patient, but the patients outside grumble that you are taking a long time. But when they themselves get inside the surgery, they don’t want to leave. Some patients complain that their doctor does not listen. But it is not so. As New York Times health columnist, Danielle Ofri, puts it, “Sometimes, it feels as though my brain is juggling so many competing details, that one stray request from a patient—even one that is quite relevant—might send the delicately balanced three-ring circus tumbling down.” She calculated the number of thoughts a primary care doctor juggles to do a satisfactory job, and tabulated 550. She said doctors keep pushing so many balls into the air and that there is no doubt a few will fall. As it stands, it seems that doctors will simply have to continue this impossible mental high-wire act, juggling dozens of clinical issues in their brains, panicking about dropping a critical one. The resultant neuronal overload will continue to present a distracted air to their patients that may be interpreted as they not listening, or perhaps not caring.

Ofri, adds that when her computer becomes overloaded, it simply crashes. Usually, she reboots in a fury, angry about all her lost work. However, she views her computer with a tinge of envy. It has the luxury of being able to crash, and of a reassuring, omniscient hand to press the reboot button. Physicians are permitted no such extravagance.

There are still other things to ponder on. The retirement age of professors is now 70. Yet, critically speaking, doctors do more for the people. How about increasing their retirement age to 70 also? It pains me when doctors go on strike. But how about removing doctors from the civil service structure and creating something different that covers all doctors in government and the private settings? How about empowering many other hospitals, including the private ones to do internship and residency training? How about increasing the budget that goes to health? Wait a minute. Where is the National Health Bill?

I can’t deny that sometimes, I feel if I had not been a doctor life would have been much easier. I do not have to do calls. My sleep will not have to be interrupted by distress telephone calls. I do not have to leave my wife in a dash. I am condemned to have more than my own fair share of grieving, for every patient that dies in my unit is somehow connected to me. Gasp, and needle pricks!

But, I also shudder at what it would mean for patients if doctors walked away from medicine because of the frustrations. I still marvel at discovering the wonder of the human body. The honour of being trusted by my patient to give them advice, the gratitude the elderly ones especially show when helping them through their illness, their prayers and blessings. These things will remain unchanging. When I look at all these – I still consider myself lucky and privileged to be placed to look after God’s creation.

•Dr. Odoemena, medical practitioner

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23 Comments

  • You’ve said it all.somtimes I ask myself why I didn’t just study french in school but then am awed by the human body there’s no invention like it . Being fulfilled makes it a bit easy I guess.

  • This is a Very exciting piece…
    Interestingly this same issue mentioned applies to every one that has had a taste of this prestigious field via learning or practice. A lot of Medical Practitioners are frustrated at the fact that the people might appreciate them and see them as prestigious but the government don’t even put them as priority.
    That’s why as a budding intern advocate for and fight for the place of health care in the Nation,like every other department it must thrive!…The health is the nations wealth but we ignore.
    Finally I’m of the school of thought that not all doctors must practice in the ward even in the field of medicine there are different calling,find your place and you shall be forever Satisfied. :-)

  • This is an interesting piece. I pray God gives you People(doctors) the courage and strength you need. Nice 1 relent not on your good deeds, count it as though you are working for God. Thankz

  • Nice write up Dr.Odoemena. Could this be Dr David Odoemena? The problem is,there is no system in our dear country that is running fine.
    But among the healthcare professionals,the case of the medicals is still ok. What about the paramedics?
    Nowadays,people no longer have the passion for studying medicine. If this trend continues,in few decades to come,the healthcare system will crash.
    I just pray our leaders do something to avert this.

    God bless nigeria!
    God bless Healthcare profession!

  • its a pity that the right things are not done in the country. it will be more frustrating if medical doctors continue to do the work of other health professionals. doctors in nigeria head hospitals, perform the duties of medical laboratory scientists, midwifes n other paramedics. Doctors in nigeria are crashing the health sector. should the national health bill come to stay, the nations health system will finally crash. Every profession has its hurdles. Doctors should endeavour to save life other than engaging in activities that will destroy the already failed system.

  • It really is not easy to be a doctor anywhere, however in Nigeria, doctors are the bane of the healthcare sector. They have become inordinately arrogant, greedy for power and position. Their main goal has always been to relegate Other healthcare professionals to the background. This is further demonstrated in the content and provisions of healthcare bill drafted by doctors!

  • Nice one doctors.Please continue the good work.The Lord is your strength.There will soon be a turn around of things in this country.

  • This problem will continue until doctors realise that they should not be every where.Doctors do the jobs of pharmacists,nurses,lab technicians,radiologists,medical researchers,lecturers,etc.focus on clinicals!give others space!

  • Thanks so much for writing this article. When I was a medical student, I had no idea what I was getting into. Now I fear I may have wasted my life doing something that brings me little joy and even less satisfaction. I am trying to get out of clinical medicine when at the point of finishing residency. I have actively discouraged my first son from taking science subjects so that he does not even dream of reading medicine.

  • almost every Dr once in a while feel down about the profession he is into but remember the job is satisfying because you help a lot directly

  • Well, thank you so much for the write up….. We are the future generation of this profession, i believe we can make a change, discouraging this profession will only increase the problem, it can’t help it…. We will make a change.

  • It is only paramedics (who are jealous of doctors & inordinately seek relevance) that are unappreciative of medical doctors & blindly critical of doctors’ leadership role in the health team. So it is obvious from where capper okpadi & alex are talking from: bad belle paramedics!

  • Tanx Dr. Frnds always thk twince in choosin ur course of study pls..it rili hlps. Dnt u mind ur parents bcus mny parents 2day wud lky dea sons nd daug. 2 bcum a Dr. Dnt rili knw y..may God hlp us in our various course of study..ijn

  • DOCTORS IN NIGERIA ARE HORRIBLE!!!! LIKE SOME ONE SAID, THIS PROBLEM WILL CONTINUE UNTIL DOCTORS FACE CLINICALS AND LEAVE HOSPITAL ADMINISTRATION, INTRUDING INTO OTHER PROFESSIONALS JOB…most of the Doctors trained in nigeria are killers..that is why the elite fly abroad. they know the truth!!! even a rich doctor will not take treatment from his collegaues in nigeria

  • Good talk.With the way things are going,a patient will walk into the consulting room and find out that his doctor is not on seat,when he or she tries to find out where the doctor’s at,he will be told that the doctor has left,I mean left the profession,to do something that he will be better appreciated and respect.

  • To be honest despite all challenges we face  still dnt regret studying medicine. wonder which course  would have studied if not medicine.

  • What kind of a confusion is this? No wonder he giggled when he learnt i was applying for medicine and the Old Man is bent on Medcine. And am in already, What do i do?

  • What kind of a confusion is this? No wonder he giggled when he learnt i was applying for medicine and the Old Man is bent on Medicine. And am in already, What do i do?

  • I used to be indicated this website by means of the step-brother. We are don’t confident if it post is definitely written via your ex seeing that nobody realize these detailed approximately the challenge. You’re outstanding! Thanks!

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