THE National Universities Commission (NUC) recently stirred the hornet’s nest with its announcement that prospective medical students will henceforth spend a minimum of 10-11 years in the university for the programme. The Executive Secretary of the commission, Prof. Julius Okojie, dropped the hint in a lecture entitled “Development of Medical Education: Prospects and Challenges”, which he delivered at the matriculation and inauguration ceremony of the University of Medical Sciences, Ondo, Ondo State.
The NUC boss, who was represented at the occasion by the Deputy Executive Secretary of the Commission, Prof. Chiedu Mafiana, explained that the move became imperative to enable the students “mature psychologically” for the profession. He also pointed out that the 2015 document for the training of medical students made provision for students to spend four years studying basic sciences after which they would proceed to the medical school to spend another seven years. He, however, added that “the new benchmark still retains the fundamental learning objectives that seek to achieve national development goals as well as sustainable development goals.”
Regardless of the envisaged advantages the new policy will have on our medical education, we do not subscribe to the elongation of the duration of medical studies in the country on the premise given by the NUC boss. Our view is that the NUC missed the point. The rationale for undue elongation of medical studies makes no sense at all. It will make the study of medicine unduly prolonged and expensive. This is very bad in a country like Nigeria that has a very poor doctor/patient ratio.
This policy will pose an economic challenge to ordinary citizens who want to study medicine but may not be able to afford the cost of so many years of study. It may also be a disincentive to the study of medicine, especially for girls.
Even for those Nigerians who can afford the cost of an 11-year programme, it will make more sense for them to travel out and study the course abroad. If they take this option, it will lead to capital flight to the detriment of our local medical schools.
We do not see any redeeming feature in this initiative. This is more so as no empirical study has been conducted to confirm that doctors who were trained in Nigeria are “psychologically immature.”
Instead of this wild goose chase on elongation of the nation’s medical training programme, the NUC should focus on addressing the many problems that have been identified to be plaguing medical training in the country. These include the dearth of training facilities and the acute shortage of spaces for housemanship. The NUC can also look into the provision of appropriate medical equipment and other learning requirements. There is no way the new policy will address the huge gap in doctor/patient ratio. It can only worsen the problem.
Rather than dwelling on how to extend the duration of medical studies in the country, the government should, as a matter of priority, address the numerous problems that are impinging on the quality of medical education such as lack of manpower. It is the rot in the education system that is affecting the training of medical doctors. It has nothing to do with the number of years spent in medical school. Nigeria should stop chasing shadows and face reality. The medical curriculum can be reviewed to reflect our present medical needs. The noticeable fall in the standard of medical education is not necessarily because students are immature or do not spend enough years in medical schools.
It is public knowledge that our doctors that have gone abroad either for further studies or employment have not been found deficient. Instead, they have been commended for their sterling performance.
The number of years spent in medical school differs from one country to another. But on the average, medical students spend between six and eight years on the programme in Europe and America. At present, the duration of medical education in the country is six years and it should remain so. It is almost the same thing in most African countries.
It is five years in Kenya, and six years in Ghana, Sudan and South Africa. The 11-year proposition for medical education in the country is ill-advised and clearly out of place. It should be jettisoned.