Health Watch: Emigration of Medical Doctors Still a Major Issue in Nigeria (Infographics)


NOIPolls conducted a survey in 2017 to highlight the issue of doctors’ migrating en mass for various reasons. Recent figures show that Nigerian doctors are still emigrating in droves to the West especially the United Kingdom as they employ at least 12 new doctors a week. This continuous migration has further worsened the physician-patient ratio in Nigeria from 1:4,000 to 1:5,000, contrary to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended 1:600. Thus, prompting this press release by   NOIPolls to resound the alarm on this continued menace as a low doctor to patient ratio worsens medical outcomes leading to unnecessary fatalities, avoidable deaths, longer wait times, more frequent medical errors and a general deterioration in the health of Nigeria’s population.

The survey conducted by NOIPolls in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch in May 2017, revealed that about 8 out of every 10 (88 percent) medical doctors in Nigeria were currently seeking work opportunities abroad, and this finding cut across junior, mid and senior level doctors in both public and private medical institutions such as house officers, corps members, medical and senior medical officer, residents, registrars, consultants and medical directors. Interestingly, the United Kingdom and the United States are the top destinations where Nigerian medical doctors seeking work opportunities. Consequently, at the time of the survey, many Nigerian doctors were currently registered to write foreign medical exams such as PLAB for the UK (30 percent), USMLE for the United States (30 percent), MCCE for Canada (15 percent), AMC for Australia (15 percent) and DHA for Dubai (10 percent) amongst others.

Further findings revealed that the reasons for the continuous brain drain in the health sector include challenges such as high taxes and deduction from salary (98 percent), low work satisfaction (92 percent), poor salaries and emoluments (91 percent) and the huge knowledge gap that exists in the medical practice abroad (47 percent) amongst others. These were some of the key findings from the survey and we hope these findings would help stimulate conversations amongst stakeholders in the country’s health sector and trigger much-needed reforms to redesign of a health system that is responsive to the healthcare needs of the nation. This survey also seeks to sound an alarm of a looming brain drain in the country’s health sector if nothing is done urgently to curb this rising trend of emigration of healthcare practitioners – physicians, nurses, pharmacist, and laboratory scientists amongst others. To download the full report, kindly visit our website:

Brief Background

Nigeria has about 72,000 medical doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, with only approximately 35,000 practicing in Nigeria. The emigration of the Nigerian healthcare workforce, particularly medical doctors has been a lingering problem in the country. In a bid to measure the scope of this trend, NOIPolls in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch conducted a survey on medical doctors to assess the prevalence with which medical doctors pursue work opportunities abroad and probable reasons why. The findings are critical to the ability of the health system to retain adequate skilled personnel to cope with Nigeria’s growing population.

The survey was targeted at Nigerian medical doctors, and it involved a mixed methodology approach employing quantitative and qualitative methods. For the quantitative method, an online survey using a standardized, well-structured questionnaire was employed; and a semi-structured interview guide was utilized for the qualitative approach. The various cadres of doctors were captured in both the quantitative and qualitative methods. Respondents to the online survey were not limited by geographical location, although the in-depth interviews were conducted with medical doctors in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Nigeria’s National Population Commission (NPC) has projected current population to be about 182 million at a 3.5% growth rate from the 2006 census. This means we need about 303,333 medical doctors now, and at least 10,605 new doctors annually to join the workforce. Only at this level can we expect good quality patient care that is not compromised by errors occasioned by fatigued and overworked medical doctors.

The Survey found that 88 percent of medical doctors interviewed said they were currently considering work opportunities abroad; and this particular finding cuts across the junior, mid-level and senior level doctors in both public and private medical institutions. Interestingly, the United Kingdom and the United States are the top destinations where Nigerian medical doctors seeking work opportunities.

Prevalent reasons for emigrating included; better facilities and work environment, higher remuneration, career progression & professional advancement, and better quality of life. Majority of survey respondents (87%) believe the government is unconcerned with mitigating the challenges facing medical doctors in Nigeria.

In addition, 26 in-depth interviews (IDIs) were conducted as part of the qualitative approach to gather insightful information on the challenges and underlying factors causing doctors to seek work opportunities abroad. Respondents to the in-depth interviews were medical doctors.

At least 10 out of the 26 doctors interviewed mentioned Low work satisfaction as the foremost reason doctors pursued work opportunities abroad. Many even placed low work satisfaction above poor remuneration, which was the second most prevalent reason cited for making doctors seek work opportunities abroad in the in-depth interviews conducted. Work opportunities came in third with at least 4 in 26 respondents citing work opportunity as the most prevalent reason, because doctors who are unable to secure a good job to cater for themselves and the family will be forced to source for better opportunities.

In a bid to understand the scope of emigrating doctors, the frequency, and the underlying factors, NOIPolls in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch conducted this survey on medical doctors to feel the pulse of these professionals. The findings are revealing and we hope with this report to catalyze the dialogue and an action plan that would design a health system that is responsive and meets the needs of both the Nigerian physicians and patients.

The survey was conducted between the 1st and the 15th of May, 2017 to provide a snapshot of the prevalence of Nigerian medical doctors who are seeking work opportunities abroad. In total, 705 doctors completed the online survey the majority of whom were in Nigeria, but some of them reside outside Nigeria. Respondents to the survey cut across house officers, National Youth Service Corps members, medical officers, senior registrars, consultants, medical directors, etc.

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