The "power" of doctors and what we do with it…


We as doctors, have power, enormous power in the Nigerian context.

The power is bestowed on us by difficult entry qualifications into medical schools that admit only the best from across the country, a longer student career than any other course in university, and many more years of career development. While colleagues who study 4-year courses in universities, and who are lucky to get jobs in the lucrative banking or petroleum sectors drive around in newly acquired cars, medical students battle through one exam after another only to graduate and face even more exams. However, at the end of it, in the sociocultural context of a developing country like ours, we do have the power and status. It is power we pledge most solemnly to use in the best interests of our patients. The ethical imperatives of our profession insists that we always put the interests of our patients first. If this is not sacrosanct then we must be in the wrong profession.

With this power, comes a lot of responsibility. 

How does the above fit with the regular strikes among doctors in Nigeria, and how often have these strikes been in fighting for the interests of the patients we have vowed to protect. As a doctor – to go on strike must be an absolute last resort…an absolute last resort. A weapon when used – should bring the society alive shouting and screaming. What could possibly be worse than for a doctor, to in good faith, deny his patient the right of life, to withhold the oxygen, the pain relief, the blood, the anaesthesia, the surgery…and to walk away? 

Well…not so in my country. We have gone on strike so often that hardly anyone bats an eyelid. It is with great pain that we read again in the papers that the National Association of Resident Doctors of Nigeria (NARD) are going ong strike. Why have they decided to abandon the very patients they swore to protect above everything else? Why have they come to this very difficult decision….well hold your breath!

…for non-implementation of a special budgetary allocation for residency training, issue of relativity of salary in health sector and non-implementation of the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (COMSS).

The timing of this cannot have been worse. This is at a time the Minister of Health has not been appointed and the whole country is anxious about the direction of travel of critical issues in our health sector. What of the vows these resident doctors made most solemnly just a few years ago at graduation?

This is an example of how much the Ministry of Health is in need of bold and courageous leadership.

Bold and courageous…

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

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