Typically, a pupil in Ghana will one way or the other at a point in time be subjected to answer a rhetorical question in the Ghanaian sense that goes like this “what will you want to do in future?” by a teacher, parents or some elderly person.
Answers not far from, I want to be doctor, bank manager, nurse or lawyer are not extreme. My class in Aboaboman preparatory school like any other was subjected to this same question and the answers were not different from these. As to whether we were aware of what we were talking about became mystery to me after sometime.
But now I can say with confidence that we did not understand what we were saying. None of my classmates have so far ended up in any of the jobs they mentioned, including me after university. These two questions therefore keep me thinking;
- Is it that we are familiar with these professions and the children are being relayed easily during socialization? or
- These are one of the homemade English words which are interpreted or perceived wrongly? If so what is the impact on the society and the professionals in these professions?
As a health professional the term Doctor, its meaning, Ghanaian interpretation, perception and effects keeps me worried.
Who and what is a doctor then. Doctor was coined from a Latin word ‘docere’ which means to teach according to Wikipedia. Here are some definitions of interest from thefreedictionary.com about who a doctor is.
- A person who is licensed to practice medicine and has trained at a school of medicine, chiropractic, optometry, podiatry, dentistry, or veterinary medicine.
- A practitioner of alternative medicine or folk medicine who does not have traditional medical credentials.
- A person who has earned the highest academic degree, usually a PhD, awarded bya college or university in a specified discipline.
- A person awarded an honorary degree by a college or university.
This shows that there are academic doctorate, professional doctorate and the honorary doctorate. So I asked myself, are these what Ghanaians know or there are other aspects of Doctor that I do not know of? When a child says I want to be a doctor what actually does he/she mean?
During my childhood days barely twenty years ago, we use to call one of my uncles who use to work in a clinic and happen to be my inspirer doctor!! but it was until 2012 that I got to understand that he was a community nurse all since and just had his MPhil and PhD in different field in 2007.
Similarly, when I was enrolled by the school of Allied Health Sciences, University of Ghana that moved me to Korle-Bu, my title just changed, all my friends will now address me doctor and no amount of words can convince them. This has continued till now and no amount of words can convince them that I am not a doctor yet knowing that I will earn a PhD one day. What then has accounted for this notion and interpretation?
This is a paraphrase of what a medical officer told me in a jovial way recently, during the strike action about who a doctor is. “You people (Biomedical Scientist) are not smart. Initially doctor meant all health professionals when we are going for salary bargaining, when the document is ready it is signed in the name of only those under medical and dental council (medical and dental doctors). When we are in the hospital doctor means doctors (medical and dental) only, when we go out doctor means everybody. We needed the numbers to argue. Now we are powerful we have achieved what we wanted”.
I think this is in line with what a typical Ghanaian knows. Everybody working in the hospital is a doctor. No wonder a patient will trust a store keeper in white coat as a doctor and ask for his help to take her medication and when he said I am not a doctor I can’t help you, she insulted him and reported to the director to sack him for malpractice.
My professor and a medical doctor specialist will always say doctor is for medical doctors, they made it popular in this country (Ghana) and now other professionals in the health sector also want to be called doctors, forgetting the fact that they (medical doctors) used the other professions to make themselves popular and powerful. The question I always wanted to ask but could not ask because this professor can fail me by just asking such a question was “can this statement hold in modern medicine which has come with a lot of specialties and a lot of professionals with different clinical interest?”
Even from the first two definitions which are about the practice of medicine, it is clear that the title doctor keeps spreading as more professions and specialization evolve. This shows that what he was saying is neither here nor there.
Quite recently, America and other countries have started the doctor of nursing, doctor of pharmacy and others. My research revealed that Ecowas has also agreed on a health policy that enables all clinical professionals to attain the title doctor including Medical Lab. Scientist, physiotherapist, pharmacist, nurses, dieticians and others. I believed that, doctor is a medically accepted terminology and any professional in the health sector can attain such a professional title. I also believe that this title will come to cure the monopoly in the health sector and hence improve efficiency, reduce the effects of the incompetencies and malpractices in our consulting rooms, clinics, labs, and hospitals.
With all these instances and benefits however, it has become a huge problem for this to happen in Ghana especially with the start of the doctor of Medical Lab. Science. I therefore want to ask; why the start of doctor of pharmacy did not create any confusion but the start of doctor of Med. Lab. Sci. is being hampered by Biomedical Scientist, medical doctors, professors and others? Does it mean we (Biomedical Scientists) are our own enemies?
Why is it always about Lab? Is it that the medical fraternity is afraid because of what is happening to them in Nigeria and that is why they want to head the laboratories? Is Ghana better off in terms of medical doctors than any of the other countries in Ecowas, the United States, Europe and others? Is it true that the Allied Health Professions Council is against this policy and why? These are my questions welcoming answers.
Ghanaians, health professionals, the Allied Health Professions council, the ministry of health and the government all have to support this initiative to make things easy for the tax payer. I think in Ghana we should have a clear way of differentiating these forms of doctorates. An American doctor will have to say/ write I am a Medical doctor (MD) instead of just saying I am a doctor (Dr.) as done in Ghana. Let’s still think about who a doctor is and who should be a doctor. This is my opinion.
By: Kyeremeh Evans (Biomedical Scientist and a Medical advocate)
Contacts: [email protected], 0504665859/0240352524