The case for specialised medical universities – Part 4
Recently, the Bayelsa State government has established the Bayelsa Medical University and the appointment of the Governing Council, Vice-Chancellor and the primary university administrators. In 2017, the Senate has also approved the Federal University of Health Sciences, Otukpo, but this is yet to take off. On another note, I recently had a conversation with Governor Nassir El-Rufai, during which he promised to establish a medical university in Kaduna State in the not too distant future.
Thus, a relevant question is: why the sudden interest in the establishment of Specialized Medical Universities in Nigeria? Many reasons may explain this trend. First, is the proven success of UNIMED – the first specialized medical universities in Nigeria. The experiment revealed that with the right leadership and support, a lot could be achieved in developing the Natural Sciences, Basic Medical Sciences and some of the professional programs within a short period. The NUC approved UNIMED in April 2015, and the first cohort of students was able to enroll by January 9, 2016.
Since then, we have recorded critical successes that include 1) NUC accreditation of the first cohort of Medical, Dentistry, Biochemistry, Anatomy and Physiology programs, and 2) accreditation of the second cohort of Medical and Dentistry programs by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN). The accreditation of our Pathology and Pharmacology programs by the MDCN is pending. We anticipate graduating our first cohort of Anatomy, Physiology, and Biochemistry students by December 2019. Most significantly, we are on track to graduate our first set of students in December 2019 and our first medical doctors and dentists by late 2020.
Indeed, based on the resounding success of UNIMED, I am aware that the NUC has been promoting specialized medical universities to various stakeholders in the country. I will not be surprised if the medical schools housed in the traditional universities are in the minority very soon.
The second reason, which is apparent from the exceptional performance of UNIMED, is that having medical schools as part of full-fledged traditional universities have hitherto not proven to be effective. The failure is because many of our traditional universities consistently grapple with lack of resources and funding to support their academic programs. Given that medical and health sciences programs are capital intensive, traditional Universities in Nigeria are often unable to provide adequate resources needed to launch and operate a world-class medical school. Based on my academic experience at Obafemi Awolowo University and the University of Benin, I can unequivocally confirm that the annual budgetary allocations to the conventional universities do not adequately fund the medical schools.
There was an attempt in the past to solve this challenge with the recommendation by the MDCN that universities should consider establishing independently administered Colleges of Medicine as a way to partly decentralize power and garner additional resources for the medical schools. To date, of all the Colleges of Medicine in Nigeria, perhaps only the universities of Ibadan and Lagos have been able to address this concern realistically and purposefully.
The third reason why specialized medical universities have become very important and epic in the country is the high demand for medical and allied health professionals in the country. Many reports suggest that the number of doctors, dentists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and bachelor’s degree-prepared nurses in the country are just not adequate to deal with the increasing population growth and the high burden of disease in the country.
The rising wave of external migration of medical and allied health professionals seeking greener pastures in more developed countries further compounds the problem. Furthermore, some critically needed health professionals such as physical and occupational therapists, medical engineers, psychotherapists, and others are just not adequately produced in the country. Indeed, some of the disciplines are on the verge of extinct due to the mass emigration of the professionals.
Universities of Medical and Health Sciences have an excellent chance to train the critically needed health professionals as they will have flexibilities for creative program expansion. The shortage of critical health professionals due to migration has become more chronic in recent years. For example, more than 5,000 Nigerian trained medical doctors have migrated to the USA. Similarly, Nigeria has produced more than 3,000 physiotherapists in our universities, but less than 700 are currently practicing in the country. For a leading country in Africa such as Nigeria, the mass exodus of our health professionals to other countries is dangerous to the development of our healthcare system.
Advantages and disadvantages of specialized medical universities
Currently, traditional universities in Nigeria are restricted by the NUC and the MDCN in the number of students each academic program, including Medicine and Dentistry, can admit. NUC attributes the restriction to inadequate facilities and the limited number of lecturers available to teach medical and health-related courses in those universities. With adequate physical and human resources, specialized medical universities will be well-positioned to admit more students into various academic programs. A case in point is the dedicated Women Medical University in Tokyo, Japan, which enrolls 500 students each year, and ditto for specialized universities in Egypt and South Africa. With the increasing pre-eminence of medical universities in the country’s educational landscape, the well-funded institutions will soon be able to admit 300 medical students annually.
The inter-professional educational model used by UNIMED and other medical universities around the world provides a unique opportunity to educate all health professionals in tandem. This approach promotes collaboration and a better understanding, among the students and faculty, the roles and responsibilities of the members of the health care team. The inter-professional model of educating healthcare professionals has the potential to reduce the current intra-and inter-professional rivalry among health professionals in the country. Therefore, it is worth the investment for other medical schools in Nigeria to explore this global best practice of educating healthcare professions.
With the advantages so far discussed, there are potential drawbacks in specialized medical university education. The absence of other non-medical professional programs on campus may limit the educational exposure and skills of students in medical universities. For example, traditional universities have lecturers and students in Faculties of Law, Social Sciences and Agriculture, with which medical and health sciences students and lecturers in conventional medical schools often interact during their training. The out of class interaction enables the medical students to gain life-long experiences and friendships which can serve them well after graduation. However, a purposeful and deliberate design of the medical universities’ curriculum that provides leadership and community engagement activities would reduce this drawback as a substantive weakness.
To be continued tomorrow.
•Being a keynote address delivered by Prof. Okonofua, Vice-Chancellor, University of Medical Sciences (UNIMED), Ondo State at the Seventh Prof. Sofoluwe Memorial Lecture, organised by the Alumni Association of the University of Lagos recently.
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