The proposal by the National Universities Commission (NUC) to make prospective medical students spend 11 years in medical school raises fundamental questions about the problem of medical training but certainly doesn’t explain how the length of time spent can solve the problems.
Prof. Julius Okojie Executive Secretary Nigeria Universities Commission (NUC)
While the NUC has the authority to regulate standards as it affects university education, the issue of length of time to be spent by medical students is beyond its capacity to decide alone; the universities, the Nigeria Medical Association, Nigeria Medical and Dental Council and other stakeholders must be involved. Any new time frame beyond what obtains at present must be based on well-articulated cogent reasons that are in the national interest.
The Executive Secretary of the NUC, Prof. Julius Okojie made the disclosure while delivering a lecture at the matriculation and inauguration of the University of Medical Sciences in Ondo State. In the lecture titled, “Development of Medical Education: Prospects and Challenges,” Okojie said the move became imperative in order to enable students to mature psychologically for the profession. He said 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.
Okojie, however, noted that the new benchmark still retained the fundamental learning objectives that seek to achieve national development goals as well as a sustainable development goal. To start with, the 11-year proposal is a typical Nigerian approach to issues. When there is a challenge, the solution is starting a new education system. How many education systems have been toyed with since independence and yet the problems remain unsolved?
What is wrong with the existing system of medical education? What is the basis for the new proposal and how was the new time frame arrived at? Has the environment of training been considered or changed? What about the resources available, including equipment? Maturity alone may not be enough reason for prolonging medical training. A well-structured education system takes the issue of maturity from the foundation level. Worldwide, the official age for starting primary school is six. To enable appropriate psychological maturity of a student at all stages.
Nigerian doctors trained in Nigeria are practicing all over the world and may have excelled for the simple reason that they are working in conducive environments where what it takes to practice the profession, well equipped medical facilities are available.
A new curriculum must take into account the content of instruction and the facilities. There is need for strategic study for people going into medicine. It is wrong to just stipulate 11 years probably, just to copy what obtains in other jurisdictions. The American system requires medical students to hold a first degree prior to medical training. That is different from the proposition that medical students would henceforth spend four years studying basic sciences before proceeding for the medical education programme.
Under the current five or six-year duration as the case may be for entrance and direct entry students, the real content can be done in two years. What is important is to determine how long it will take to adequately cover the content. Teaching availability is crucial. The spate of strikes by university teachers does not augur well for the system and many medical students already spend upwards of 10 years to complete their programme. If 11 years is imposed without addressing the inadequacies in the system, students may end up spending up to 15 years.
Certainly, a new medical studies curriculum should begin to lay emphasis on research and discoveries in aspects of traditional medicine as well as diseases that are peculiar to the Nigerian environment. There are diseases here that are endemic to this environment – malaria, Lassa fever and Ebola fever, among others. These diseases need to be studied more deeply to unravel their epidemiology and cure. The natural raw materials to treat endemic diseases are not yet exploited. Part of the medical training should therefore, involve research on how to develop the materials to treat diseases. For this, funding the medical institutions is crucial for a well-rounded medical training.