The Surprising High Doctor unemployment rate in Kenya

For a moment, let’s travel back in time. It’s 1995. Hunger is biting Kenyans. After years of walking long miles to access high school education, a gifted son of a local peasant farmer has finally secured direct entry to the University of Nairobi, School of Medicine. A trail of respect from back in the village closely follows him. Here, in addition to plenty of education, there is plenty to eat. For a young man in his early 20s, there is lots of food, and lots of fine “food.”

Learning starts after a few days of orientation. He has learned his way around town. The class is moderately big. It’s going to be 6 years. Life is tough. Lots of content to chew, yet so less is asked. So much content that a whole month of reading could go unmentioned in the entire final exam paper. 

At the end of the first year, not everyone fits on the usual narrow path that leads to the next year. Some are left behind to dissect a new body again. To learn Anatomy all over again, this time with “freshers” who bathe in sweat in sight of the anatomy lab. (The anatomy lab is a romantic name assigned to the Mortuary that medical students use to see and learn about real human parts)

Years pass by. The next class almost always has those left behind and those discontinued for failing to qualify to repeat or proceed.

Those who successfully complete the final year, proceed to the promised land. Internship. The government assigns them internship centers (hospitals) where they begin to learn further from their seniors while on a fat “payslip”.

Medical internship

The Kenyan medical internship is the next door to hell. Walking around several wards a day, seeing an insane number of patients, sleepless nights in theaters long walks to the labs to trace lost samples and lab results, all to please the always angry senior consultant who scavenges for ways to make their lives unbearable. “That’s how the internship is, we went through the same” is the usual consolation to help them suffer in silence.  In the end, it ends.

Because it’s the early 2000s, the government steps in again and awards them permanent and pensionable jobs in various district hospitals across the country.  They become doctors for life, later being supported by the government to get further studies, come back and make the days of new juniors unforgettable.

The current situation

In the blink of an eye, the year is 2023. Many public and private universities are churning out fresh doctors in large numbers. Despite the shortages, public hospitals can’t employ them all. Private hospitals have enough of them. They now walk the tarmac. Some are flying out of the country to seek better opportunities. Some have taken up farming, pastoralism, and hawking for survival. The investment: 7 years of learning.  

Others are under unfathomable working conditions in private hospitals. Waking up daily to commit insurance scams. With the corruption situation in the Kenyan health sector, unemployment means no money to pay for upcoming open positions. It is bound to get worse.

New ways of making a living have to be sought. Even if it means outside the health sector. And the Kenyan doctor may be in the best position to pull off this. Private practice will soon be saturated. Without innovation, unemployment is bound to hit young Kenyan doctors harder. In the long run, new entrants into the profession will be demotivated and will move out, reducing the already moderately low numbers of healthcare professionals in Kenya.

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