By Paul JOHN
I wonder if there is any professional appellation or title that has been abused in Nigeria more than the title ‘doctor’. From the herbalists who sell their ‘NAFDAC approved’ herbal concoctions on our streets and market places to the quack ‘doctors’ who impersonate medical doctors, everywhere in the country, one is confronted with a barrage of ‘doctors’ who treat all forms of ailments. A greater number of Nigerians believe that anybody answering “doctor”, at least within the health sector, is a medical doctor more than those who are truly knowledgeable about the professional and ethical dynamics leading to someone being conferred with the title of a medical doctor.
In an interesting fictionalised scenario, in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, one encounters a situation where a neighbour brought her child, having an acute exacerbation of Bronchial Asthma, to her neighbour whom everybody knew as ‘doctor’. Unbeknown to the poor woman, the ‘doctor’ was simply an academic doctor (i.e. a PhD holder in a field other than medicine). The poor man, whose academic title was grossly misrepresented and subsequently misconstrued, simply looked on in rueful consternation while the woman on her part could not hide her annoyance when the reality dawned on her.
Such a scenario although taking place in a perfectly crafted prose work is not lacking in real life except that in Nigeria that PhD holder might try to resuscitate the child with the asthmatic attack not minding its attendant mortality all in a bid to save his face. And should the child die, people will quickly tell different versions of the story of how it was the ‘will of God’ as if God wishes death to everybody on a daily basis. Worse still, others may resort to blaming Nigerian medical doctors the moment the news filters around that a ‘doctor’ tried to resuscitate an asthmatic patient with little or no attempt to verify if indeed it was a medical doctor that did the job.
While the above scenario can be forgiven, given the prevalence of ignorance and illiteracy in the land, it becomes rather worrisome that other people within the health sector often exploit the ignorance of the teeming Nigerian masses to attach the same title to their portfolios. As if this is not enough, the National Universities Commission (NUC) recently approved the doctor of pharmacy (D.Pharm/PharmD) programme for the pharmacists. Similarly, the medical laboratory scientists under the aegis of Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN) led by their National President, Alhaji Toyosi Y. Raheem on the 22nd of September 2016 paid a courtesy visit to the NUC Executive Secretary, Professor Rasheed Abubakar Adamu, with some far reaching demands among which is the adoption of MLSD (Medical Laboratory Science Doctor) curriculum and the subsequent approval of a faculty status for the Medical Laboratory Science course in Nigeria.
This is happening at a time when every health worker presents himself or herself as a doctor to his or her unsuspecting patients. Every medical laboratory scientist in the private health sector is a medical ‘doctor’ since they prescribe drugs for their patients with impunity and reckless abandon. A short visit to any pharmaceutical shop usually reveals situations in which patients are made to lie in make-shift beds where they receive intravenous fluids and medications while those in our tertiary hospitals are shouting ‘international best practices’ all because they want to take over the control of our health sector.
If these people are already answering and practising as doctors when their certificates say otherwise, one would naturally wonder what will be the fate of the entire health sector upon the approval of PharmD, MLSD, NurseD, RadiographyD, (et cetera) programmes by the NUC. The pertinent question is: Why does everybody in the health want ‘doctor’ to be attached to their names? What is even so special in being called a doctor? The answer can be summarised as follows: low literacy level, a poorly regulated health sector and inferiority complex on the part of those who wish to be so-called. Nigerian literacy level stands at about 61.3% yet what is seen every day is a case of people bereft of basic logic and reasoning. Even most of the educated ones lack the mental forte to appreciate simple logic. Could this ugly trend be also attributed to the failed educational system in the country? Why should people feel comfortable being dressed in ‘borrowed robes,’ to use the words of Macbeth? Little wonder then that a lot of seemingly educated and highly respected members of the Nigerian society are constantly being hoodwinked and brainwashed by swindlers including fake religious leaders. Even among the educated ones, anybody answering a doctor in the health sector is seen as a medical doctor whereas the uneducated ones believe that being called a doctor both in and outside the health sector means that the individual so-called is a medical doctor.
During my recent visit to Zone 9 Police Headquarters in Umuahia, Abia State, I saw a man who was hawking some herbal concoctions. My uncle who is a high ranking police officer was trying hard to convince me to pick one of the products. According to him, the product was very good as he claimed to have used it many times. I was greatly bemused when he went ahead to tell me that I should patronise a fellow ‘doctor’. What baffles me most is the fact that my uncle did not only enter the police force as a graduate but has also gone ahead to acquire other postgraduate certificates and trainings, yet he sees nothing wrong in a herbal medicine vendor attaching ‘doctor’ to his name.
Dr John writes from Port Harcourt