Why Doctors Want to Leave Pakistan
By Dr Nadir Abbas


I was born in a society where the field of medicine was considered a ‘sacred’ profession. A  doctor  was called “Doctor Sahib” out of mere respect. Reflecting on these societal views, I too, aspired to be a doctor.

Little did I know what I was in for.

After graduating from medical school, I joined the likes of many enthusiastic doctors and started working in a government hospital in Islamabad.

The job expected me to work over 80 hours per week and paid me nothing at all because all the paid seats (which were a mere handful) were occupied by doctors who were either well connected or were ready to exchange a bundle of notes for this so-called sacred title.

I had to spend two grueling months in government offices, begging for a job that paid me absolutely nothing.

Just to explain the absurdity of this to you, consider this example. You’re building a house and a skilled worker comes in, offers to work for free and you still refuse to accept his services. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Unfortunately, this is the sad truth for Pakistani doctors.

We live is a country where 10,000 people are attended to by just one physician on average. According to the  Higher Education Commission  (HEC), 15,000 doctors leave the country every year.

Given these numbers, why does the government not make use of the many doctors that are available and only too willing to help?

It is not surprising that the US, UK and now the  Middle East  have become the biggest importers of doctors from Pakistan, with the latter now even recognizing Pakistani doctors without any further examinations and giving them 20 times the amount of remuneration that they could have ever received in Pakistan.

While I was working in a hospital in Wales UK, a local patient inquired if my country was trying to get me to return to avail of my services.

I was deeply saddened by this question and the first thing that popped up in my mind was the famous saying of the  former prime minister , “Why don’t they leave?”

I think this answer should suffice.

Numerous protests by doctors are witnessed in various areas of the country. I have no opinion on what’s to be done in the triple-threat match between the government, the  Young Doctors Association (YDA) and the media but I do know one thing; if you want a doctor to treat patients and put his heart into his work, he needs to be rid of the financial constraints he faces.

An average doctor has two 32-hour shifts in a week (in all government hospitals) this is termed as a “call”.

Think about it and tabulate the numbers in your head; 32 hours on duty without a rest, twice in one week.

How do you expect someone to work  for 32 hours without any sleep at all?

In England, doctors have a 12-hour working day (maximum) and a 48-hour working week (maximum). So are we being unfair in our rules and regulations? I think yes.

After this brief introduction into a doctor’s life in Pakistan, I’m sure you won’t blame me when I say I would much rather invest my time saving lives in a foreign country than in Pakistan. If you ask me, “What have you given to your country?”

I won’t have an answer. Yet, the truth is that I really don’t care. I would rather work in an alien environment than struggle my way in Pakistan and receive no recognition or appreciation in return.

I paid for my own education; the government didn’t provide me with any compensation, so why should I do anything for the government for free?

I speak on behalf of all other doctors here; none of us would stay back if we had an opportunity to leave. With American doctors leaving the Middle East and them recognizing FCPS doctors, we have a chance that we may not want to miss out on.

While politicians are busy fighting on TV talk shows, what everyone fails to recognize is that soon Pakistan will have  no good doctors  left and they will only have themselves to blame.

Adios now; I must go and save a life… and get paid for it! – Courtesy The Express Tribune, Karachi




Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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