alexa Careful, your medical degree might just be a piece of paper - Daily Nation

Careful, your medical degree might just be a piece of paper

Why your medical degree might be worthless

There's a risk to studying abroad and seeking to practise in Kenya

Bonnie* always dreamt of being a doctor. His mother was a nurse and through her work, Bonnie got a glimpse of what the medical profession entailed. He had no idea what it took to be a doctor but he thought it was prestigious to wear a white coat and hang a stethoscope around his neck.

By the time he was in high school, he had to face the tough reality that joining medical school was no mean feat. Only the top performing students in the country were selected to join medical school at university level and his family could not afford to pay for the self-sponsored programme that was quickly becoming popular. Further, joining the self-sponsored programme was still extremely competitive even for those who could afford it. His grades did not look promising.

Upon completion of high school, Bonnie grudgingly joined the local university to study education. His heart was not in it. He attended his lectures and did all his assignments, he spent his evenings online hunting for options. His determination paid off when he enrolled into medical school with a full scholarship. There was a catch, he would have to study in a school in the Far East.

Bonnie was so excited by the opportunity that he did not waste any time. He deferred his current studies and went home to share the good news with his parents. His mother was sceptical, but she did not want to rain on her son’s parade. A few weeks later, Bonnie was off to a strange country ready to start the journey to achieving his dream with little more than hope.


His first shock was the extreme weather. Winter was still a few days away, but the cold that hit Bonnie at the airport was intimidating. Bonnie had to quickly adapt or perish. Few people spoke English and everyone was distant and formal. The food was foreign and he had trouble adjusting to having cold dinners in the dead of winter.

He had to spend the first year studying a new language before commencing medical school. Bonnie spent eight years away from home to acquire the much coveted degree in medicine. Over the years he struggled with some courses and had to re-sit some examinations, but eventually he earned his stripes and came home ready to wear his white coat.

What Bonnie did not know was that having a degree and being registered to practise medicine in Kenya were two very different things. World over, every country has a regulatory body responsible for ensuring its doctors are adequately trained and possess the knowledge and skills required to safely treat patients. To achieve this, the regulatory bodies employ various mechanisms.

In Kenya, the Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council subjects all foreign-trained doctors to examinations, which they must pass for them to be eligible to proceed for internship. Bonnie applied to the council to sit the examinations and was advised to undergo an attachment at a teaching hospital for a few months before so as to familiarise himself with the practice of medicine in Kenya.

He joined his fellow candidates in the national teaching and referral hospital for four months and was amazed at all the new things he was learning. He encountered a completely different complement of diseases from what he was accustomed to back in Europe. He had to quickly learn what his local counterparts considered basic such as the essential drug list and treatment guidelines for infectious diseases that are endemic locally, but were unheard of where he trained. Best of all, he had to learn the local patient lingo when they describe their symptoms.

The examination dates fast approached and Bonnie felt less and less prepared for it. However, he was surrounded by others like him and together they encouraged each other as they sat for the written paper. The next morning, they all assembled at the hospital for the clinical exam, the one that was the do-or-die part of the assessment. The overall mark does not matter if one does not pass the clinical exam.

The next week was fraught with anxiety as they all waited for their results at home. The outcome was not positive for Bonnie, but on his second attempt, he was successful and able to proceed for internship.


Every year, more than 200 young people train in medicine outside the jurisdiction of this country. The East African Community Common Markets Agreement has enabled member states to have a common curriculum for the medicine degree and a Joint Inspections Committee that enforces common standards of training in the region.

This enables graduates of medical schools in the region that have been accredited by the Joint Inspections Committee to freely practise medicine across the region after registration in their home countries. For those training outside of East Africa, they are subject to assessment by way of the examinations, which they must pass to be eligible for registration.

In addition, in line with the amendment of the rules to the Medical Practitioners and Dentists Act, 2014, no person shall be eligible for registration to practise medicine in Kenya if they do not meet the minimum criteria set by the council in the secondary school results.

That means that if one did not score at least an average of C+, with a score of B or above in Biology, Chemistry, either Mathematics or Science and either English or Swahili, one is not eligible to train in medicine. In other education systems, the equivalent of these grades applies.

This means that if you are ineligible to study medicine in Kenya because of the grades, you cannot train outside Kenya and be eligible to practise here upon graduation. For those in pursuit of their dreams, it is imperative to take note of this or else after more than six years, your degree will be nothing more than a piece of paper!