Becoming a Doctor in Zambia : A Noble Calling or Not?

You are the straight A student, the smartest in your class and you feel this inclination to become a doctor because society tells us that the smartest students go on to be doctors, lawyers or engineers. In Zambia many students choose a career path based on the rules society has set or the pressure put on them by family members.

Becoming a Doctor in Zambia : A Noble Calling or Not?
Medical Consultation | nursingschoolsnear me | flickr


There are many good reasons to study medicine as they are bad reasons. People who study medicine with the right motives in mind can never imagine themselves in another profession. To study medicine you must want more than anything to help others, you must be willing to work extremely long hours knowing it will all be worth it when you see a patient regain their good health or a patients’ family thanks you for helping to heal their loved one.  Unfortunately, in Zambia examples exist of doctors not effectively fulfilling the demands of their role.

It is common knowledge especially for those who cannot afford to go to private paid hospitals that staff tend to treat their patients with disrespect and minimal care. The Zambian healthcare system lacks a mode of monitoring patient opinions and therefore there are a limited number of studies that have measured patient satisfaction. A study of maternity care in Lusaka found that although 89% of women rated the care they received as “good” or “very good”, 21% were scolded at, shouted at and generally treated badly during delivery. In another survey majority of patients were not satisfied with the quality of care they received for sexually transmitted diseases at an urban health centre. In a third study that was conducted across three districts, lower satisfaction ratings were found in peri-urban areas which suggests that patient satisfaction varies by facility type and location.

Becoming a Doctor in Zambia : A Noble Calling or Not?
University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka | Andres Monroy Hernandez | flickr


Research in other developing countries has demonstrated that patient satisfaction can be increased through provider attitudes and respectfulness, technical provider ability , wait time, drug availability, facility appearance and patient expectations.

In another example of medical staff not taking their roles and responsibilities seriously, in July 2017 the government raised concerns that some public health institutions have the same medical staff as private ones. It is fairly common to find medical personnel who are on the governments pay roll working in private hospitals and clinics at the same time. An unfortunate issue is that some of these individuals give priority to temporary engagements with private facilities at the expense of their role in a state owned institution. This is unprofessional and an abuse of the state’s time and resources. The government has urged that these doctors should remember that that apart from their profession being a source of livelihood it is a noble calling that requires one’s full commitment.

Medicine is a calling and not a glorified profession but a commitment between you and your patients to oversee their care personally. It means a life time of learning, exposure to human emotions at their best and at their worst. Medicine is understanding the fine line that exists between hope and truth especially when there is bad news to be delivered. It is understanding that one day you will be the only thing standing between a patient and the moment death rears its head.

Many individuals get into medicine for the money because there in this misconception that doctors make enormous amounts of money straight out of medical school. Have you ever realised that the really wealthy doctors are well above the age of 45 and have been training for many years after medical school? It takes a long period of time for one to  attain  full registration as a medical doctor in Zambia. After high school, one attends 7 years of medical school. 4 of these are in a classroom setting and the remaining 3  are in the hospital setting. After 7 years of medical school you are required to sit for the Health Practitioners Council of Zambia (HPCZ) licensure exam. If you pass the exam you are required to do a paid internship programme for 18 months. Only after this are you given a full license to practice with minimal supervision. If you decide to specialise in a particular field it is more years of studying and learning.

The road to becoming a great doctor is long and demanding and money should not be your main driving force, you will ultimately be disappointed, lose your motivation to work and your patients will suffer for it.

Prestige may be another reason one may pursue a career in medicine. You desperately want that “Dr” before your name, your parents will be so proud because they can finally tell the world that their child is a big shot doctor and you will be the talk of the neighbourhood. Becoming a physician does give one some immediate prestige, but prestige would mean nothing if the daily work was poor executed.

Last but not least one may go to medical school for the medical drama disillusionment. Everybody wants the looks of Dr. McDreamy, the talent of Dr Christina Yang and the ingenious nature of Dr Gregory House. Medical dramas are fictitious and create an unrealistic expectation of the lifestyle of doctors.

Becoming a Doctor in Zambia : A Noble Calling or Not?
Greys Anatomy Doctors | Danielle Belton | flickr


Some would argue that your motive to study medicine is not nearly as important as long as you do your job. By this thinking, the patient may not care about your motives behind getting into medicine as long as they get the help they need. This line of thought does not take into consideration that people with a passion for their job will always go the extra mile for patients, this sets the exceptional doctors apart from the mediocre ones. The exceptional doctors have better bedside manner and generally make patients more comfortable. When patients are comfortable they will trust you and you are more likely to derive information from them  with regard  to their history or social lifestyle and how it  links to their illness. Lack of passion and wrong motives have contributed to the bad quality of healthcare delivered to Zambians. Healthcare professionals are not going the required extra mile and this leaves patients dissatisfied, anxious, scared and worried.

Medicine is an amazing and fulfilling career but your motives for choosing this career path will decide if you rock or suck at being a doctor. Think long and hard about this decision. You cannot afford to get into this for the wrong reasons, the stakes are much higher, the stakes are human lives.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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