Thursday 11 October 2012

Brain Drain(Part 2)

(Published in The Friday Times on 12th October, 2012)

Dr. Adnan was the best graduate of his MBBS session three years ago. He had achieved the highest marks in almost all the annual exams during his five years of medical school. He completed his house job of one year and spent almost 6 months in preparing for the entrance exam to a Residency program in the United States (the USMLE or United States Medical Licensing Exam). He cleared the first two stages (it's a three-stage exam) with ease and applied for a visa, so that he could visit the United States and take the third and final exam of USMLE. But he was denied a visa for the United States. He has spent almost 300,000 rupees in fees for the tests, and it has taken him a year for him to reach this stage. But his efforts have been in vain.

126,931. That is the number of Registered Medical Practitioners (people who have obtained MBBS degrees and have completed a house job of one year) in Pakistan, according to the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council. Every year, some 8,000 fresh medical graduates join this list. A vast majority of Pakistan's medical graduates want to move to either the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Middle East or other green pastures in the world beyond Pakistan. According to a report aired on Geo News on 8th August 2012, Pakistan has become the largest exporter of young doctors to Britain's state-funded National Health Service (NHS). The number of Pakistanis registered on the GMC (General Medical Council) data stood at 8,552 on 7th of August, 2012. Similarly, according to a research paper titled 'Pakistani Physicians and the Repatriation Equation', published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Pakistan has contributed approximately 10,000 international medical graduates (IMGs) to the United States. In a research conducted in 2007 titled 'Reasons for migration among medical students from Karachi', it was revealed that Over 95% of Aga Khan University (AKU) and over 65% of Baqai University (BU) final-year medical students intend to go abroad for their postgraduate training.

And all this while Pakistan is facing an acute shortage of trained doctors, according to reports by the World Health Organization (WHO).Pakistan cannot meet its needs for healthcare, given the current levels of production and dependency on physicians in the organization of the system. Although out-migration contributes to the problem, it is the growing demand for healthcare from increases in population and adverse conditions that generates ill-health. The most important question to ask about this mass migration is: Why are all these people leaving their country?

The answer is manifold and, speaking as a health professional myself, painful to state.

The survey done on medical students of Karachi's elite Aga Khan University and Baqai Medical University revealed that the two most important factors behind this intent as pointed out by the students are poor salary structure and poor quality of training in Pakistan. I can vouch from my personal experience that as soon as a medical student enters the medical school, the next big question regarding his/her life is the "plan" or path he/she intends to take after graduation. Even during the one-year training of the house job - something I am currently pursuing - the queries about the "future" are among the most frequently asked questions by one's seniors and family members.

It is an absolute travesty that in Pakistan the practice of "Career Counseling" for medical professionals is practically nonexistent. Most middle-class parents only have three or four career options for their kids: Doctor, Engineer, Banker/Accountant and if all else fails, Army. In a similar fashion, when a medical student enters medical school, it is from his/her seniors that guidance about any future plans is acquired. Traditionally, there are four ways to pursue post-graduation for Pakistani students. The first one is the FCPS (Fellow of College of Physicians and Surgeons, Pakistan) route, which involves four years of clinical training at a tertiary care hospital in Pakistan. After completing four years of training and passing the FCPS exams, you are considered a specialist in whichever field you chose to pursue. The second and most attractive option is that of obtaining a residency in the United States, where the training standards are the highest in the world. For that route, a candidate has to go through the three stages of the USMLE exam (the examination fee for each step is more than 1.5 lakh rupees), the third of which can only be done in the United States.

After the residency and an exam, the candidate becomes "Diplomat American Board" for the chosen specialty. It should be noted that the ratio of people who get their desired residency after passing the exams is around 50-60%, which means that despite getting excellent marks, you are not guaranteed to get your favored specialty (for example Anesthesia or Neurosurgery) in 50 to 60% cases. The time required to complete this whole process ranges between 3 to 5 years.

The third option is that of pursuing post-graduation in the UK. To follow that route, one first has to pass the PLAB (Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board) exam, which is a two-stage test. The examination fee for each stage is also more than one lakh rupees. After completion of PLAB, post-graduation courses are taken, based on available spots in the preferred specialty. The whole process of completing this route takes around 5-7 years. An alternate route to acquiring British certification is the MRCP/MRCS (Member of Royal College of Medicine/Surgery) route, which is a two-stage route, but the training can be obtained in Pakistan while exams have to be taken in the UK.

The fourth and latest addition to the options is that of post-graduation in Australia. For that, a candidate has to pass the entrance exam of the AMC (Australian Medical Council), which also has two separate tests. The examination fee for each step is in the range of the fee for USMLE. There is no guarantee of getting a post-graduate education in Australia even after getting excellent marks in the first entrance exam.

Most medical students in Pakistan don't know which path they will take, even whether they will be able to work in their desired field or if they will get a job where the salary is adequate after about ten years of medical training. And this, I am sorry to say, is the primary dilemma of the medical community, the so-called "cream" of the Pakistani nation.


  1. well dr adnan u spoke the rite way of life which are totally we see in pakistan today as we seen in our daily routine life, someone has trying to change but not any correction on nation to change these rules or criteria we seen past 50 years.
    Film Media

  2. Can i get the part 1 of this story?

  3. @Ahmad Raza

    You can access part 1 here