At least eight out of every 10 doctors currently working in Nigeria are "personally considering work opportunities abroad," a new survey released in Abuja on Thursday has found.
The finding cuts across junior-, mid- and senior-level doctors, most of them with more than 10 years of practice, in both public and private hospitals, said the survey by NOIPolls in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch.
America and Britain are top destinations for doctors leaving Nigeria, worsening the brain drain that flushes Nigeria's finest trained to hospitals abroad.
Up to six in 10 Nigerian doctors are registered to write medical exams in either the UK or the US; the remaining four are registered for practice exams in Canada, Australia and Dubai.
Major reasons for doctors seeking work abroad is high taxes and deductions from their salary, low work satisfaction, and poor salaries and emoluments.
Respondents who participated also cited poor relationship among colleagues, inadequate opportunities for career progress, poor infrastructure, poor treatment by government and insecurity as reasons forcing doctors out of the country.
Nigeria has 72,000 doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, but only 35,000 practise in the country.
Hundreds trained in medical colleges outside Nigeria sit for MDCN's practice exam each year to enable them practise in Nigeria, but more than half of them failed the test this year.
"I think fewer people are coming in than are going out every year, so it doesn't balance out at all," said Dr Ifeanyi Nsofor, health communications advisor for Nigeria Health Watch which partnered on the survey.
"Based on the NARD figures that 2,500 are leaving by September this year, I'm not sure we have corresponding numbers coming, so it really doesn't balance out."
The country needs 303,333 doctors to cater to its present population, and will require 10,605 new doctors each year to maintain coverage.
"Only at this level can we expect good quality care that is not compromised by errors occasioned by fatigued and overworked doctors," said Dr Bell Ihua, chief executive officer of NOIPolls.
Among the 2,500 going out are those yet to complete residency training and set to enter the medical workforce.
"Even the ones in training are just waiting for the day they finish to get out," said Dr Chiedozie Achonwa, a past president of NARD.
"Before now, if you leave, you are a sellout. Now if you stay, you are a sellout," said Abimbola Olajide, leader of NARD's northern caucus.
"With what's happening in the country, there no reason why you wouldn't want to leave."
The brain drain is costing Nigeria specialists as well: 73% of those seeking work abroad are doctors at senior level, with more than a decade of practice.
"We sent specialists for training abroad, now we are leaving them hanging," said Dr Akeem Lawal, chemical pathologist at National Hospital, Abuja.
Gbemisola Peter-Ayeni, a doctor working Open Health Nigeria, said the rigours of medical training and inadequate infrastructure during housemanship toughened Nigerian doctors and made them stronger but they stepped into a labour market that didn't offer commensurate reward for patriotism.
"Even if you are patriotic to the country, you have dependants-parents you need to send money home to. They sent you to school, and it isn't adding up," she said.
"Why would I stay back when my mates abroad were not even that good back in school? The rigours of training makes Nigerian doctors good.