Nigeria: The Silent Struggle - Hidden Tales of Aspiring Doctors

2 December 2023

Marked by trials that often go unnoticed, HENRY TYOHEMBA in this report delves into the journey of medical students, exploring the fortitude required to navigate the demanding terrain of their educationthat often lead some to quit.

Few years ago, a young individual named Mansur Akolade Ismaila found himself at a crossroads, grappling with the decision to step away from the medical school.

To Ismaila, the decision to drop out was not a rebellion, but rather a bold step towards carving a unique path that aligned more closely with his passion and ambitions.

"I was in the University of Ilorin, where I studied Medicine and Surgery for a total of 10 years, precisely between 2001 and 2011.

"I never wanted to become a medical doctor in the first place. While I was at the institution, the course was made unbearable, and I think unnecessarily difficult then.

"Tens of us were failing and repeating serially, and several colleagues were withdrawn in shocking circumstances; some at 500 level and even final year! I really never wanted to become a doctor... My heart was always somewhere else; in journalism or law," he was quoted saying.

As Ismaila voluntarily withdrew from the medical school and ventured into journalism, he graduated as one of the best students at the University of Lagos that year. The decision to drop out became a transformative journey, unlocking doors to a more holistic and personalised form of education.

The story of Ismaila is one out of a few struggling in silence, which sometimes ended up dropping out of medicine. In the demanding landscape of medical education, aspiring doctors embark on a journey filled with both intellectual triumphs and formidable challenges.

LEADERSHIP Weekend therefore, delves into the complexities and hurdles encountered on the path to becoming a physician, shedding light on the multifaceted challenges that shape the experiences of those dedicated to the noble pursuit of healing.

Our reporter also explored the insider's account of the reasons why some of them drop out from the medical schools, taking stocks of some ranging from limited resources, financial constraints, strikes and unrest, inadequate clinical exposure, limited residency opportunities, mismatched expectations, burn out and stress, among other issues.

LEADERSHIP further reports that as the challenges surmount for aspiring medical doctors, registered medical practitioners active in the field also have strict regulations guiding their operations.

A registered doctor is required to pay the appropriate practicing fee to renew his license for the ensuing year to avoid sanction. It is gathered that license renewal for less than 10 years is N10,000 while less than ten years cost over N20,000.

However, amid the concerns, failure of candidates to secure admissions in medical school remains another big challenge.

Data obtained from the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), revealed that out of over 1,256,494 candidates who applied for Medicine-related programmes in Nigerian public and private universities in three years, only 105,226 were admitted.

The figures were obtained from the statistics of admissions for 2019, 2020 and 2021.

The data also showed that in 2019, a total of 436,799 applied for 30,111 quotas for Medicine-related courses, however, 34,734 were admitted.

JAMB on its website however, explained that some of the factors responsible for the failure of some candidates to get admitted include, "wrong O' Level subject combination, low post-UTME scores, UTME combination deficiency, duplication of application, absence from post-UTME screening, mismatch of catchment institutions and absence of O' Level results."

However, aspiring medical doctors have identified financial struggles that often accompany the pursuit of a medical degree, burdened by tuition fees, living expenses, and the cost of essential resources, where many students find themselves navigating a delicate balancing act between academic commitments and financial constraints as one of the major issues medical students drop out.

Also, the pressure to excel in examinations and clinical assessments becomes a palpable force, testing not only their intellectual capacity but also their resilience, which they said is another big challenge.

One of the students, who is the national president, Nigerian Association of Science Student (NASS), Agbatemiro Raphael Akintomide, said some of the major challenges are high competition, academic pressure, inadequate resources, financial constraints and lack of guidance."

Speaking on measures to create a conducive environment for medical students, he said "There is need for increased funding and mentorship programmes.

"Scholarship opportunities should be made available for students studying medicine with an enhanced curriculum and public awareness campaigns."

A student in the department of Veterinary medicine, University of Agriculture Makurdi, who identified himself as Raphael said another issue revolves around mental health and burnout.

"The relentless demands of medical school, coupled with the emotional weight of patient interactions, create an environment ripe for stress and mental fatigue.

"The stigma surrounding mental health concerns in the medical field often leads students to silently grapple with anxiety and burnout. Unraveling these silent struggles is essential to fostering a supportive culture that prioritizes the well-being of future healthcare professionals.

"The initial passion that propels students into the medical field can sometimes meet the harsh reality of bureaucratic hurdles, demanding schedules, and ethical dilemmas.

"Addressing this dissonance is vital for nurturing a generation of doctors who can navigate the complexities of their profession with eyes wide open," he added.

Narrating his experience, a medical student of University of Abuja, Abdul, said several factors contribute to the challenges faced by medical students in Nigeria, leading to some not graduating.

"Medical education is known for its demanding curriculum, and some students may struggle to cope with the intense academic workload and pressure.

"Also, insufficient resources, including outdated infrastructure, inadequate library facilities, and a shortage of teaching staff, can hinder the quality of education in some medical schools, affecting students' ability to excel."

He further said periodic strikes and unrest within the Nigerian education system, including those affecting medical schools, disrupt academic calendars and prolong the time it takes for students to complete their programmes.

He added, "Some medical schools are facing challenges providing sufficient clinical exposure and practical training, limiting students' hands-on experience in real healthcare settings."

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