Brain drain: Not every doctor is leaving

Tobi Sanusi

Health care personnel in Nigeria may be reducing due to the mass exodus of doctors to other countries, but some of them are insistent on staying back.

Abiodun Olagunju is a young geriatrician, practicing in a government owned hospital in the south western part of Nigeria for the past twelve years.

GFX Hospital Ward

With an 8-hour shift daily work, Olagunju still shuffles between government work and his private hospital, both In Osun state.

“We work 8am to 4pm every day. If you’re on call on weekend, you have to go…the number of work hours in a week now is more than when a lot of doctors were still around”, Olagunju speaks on his work routine.

Like few other doctors in Nigeria, Olagunju has the luxury of travelling abroad for better pay and improved working condition and has had several opportunities to leave the country, but says he still believes in the resuscitation of Nigeria’s healthcare system.

I still believe that Nigeria is gonna be great again….I stayed because I believe in our own. If everything we need is being provided for, if they increase our money, everything will be fine. I believe the security condition will be improved,…. no regrets of staying in Nigeria at all“, says Olagunju as he speaks on his hopes for Nigeria’s health sector.


In 2023, the Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors, (NARD), through its president, Emeka Orji, said just about 9000 of its members were left in the country. As a result, one doctor is left for every 10,000 patients, a ratio far below the recommendation of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) one doctor to 600 patients.

This situation has resulted in brain drain in Nigeria’s health sector.

Like Olagunju, another young Nigerian doctor, Olushina Ajidahun, has carved a niche for himself within the social media space in Nigeria, providing free health advisories via his social media handles.

Within the past seven years that Ajidahun has been practicing in Nigeria, he has been raising the bars within the health sector.


I use my social media platforms to educate the public. I also host health sessions to educate the public about health issues. I also partner with NGOs where I do outreaches at the grass root level. I really want give back to the Nigerian community“, Ajidahun talks about his passion for Nigeria’s health sector.

Ajidahun’s love for his country makes him undeterred despite low remuneration and working condition.

I’ll be honest, I love Nigeria. I’ve always been pro-Nigeria right from my medical school days…for me, it’s more like passion…if I look at the remuneration compared to other countries, trust me, Nigeria is crap…so for me it’s not about the money. I went to a federal government university and I feel like the government and the people of Nigeria have given a lot to me. I think it’s a way of giving back to Nigeria…I really believe I have a lot to bring to the table. I’ve been trained by my teachers…and I don’t think I want to carry all of this to another country“, Ajidahun said.


Against the backdrop of low remuneration and ill-equipped health facilities, Nigerian doctors troop out en mass to other countries like the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, among others to further their career.

]According to a survey conducted by NOI and Nigeria Health Watch, Nigerian doctors consider the United Kingdom and the United States as the top countries for job opportunities.


In 2023, The World of Statistics ranked Switzerland as the country with the highest salary for doctors at an average of $388,623, followed by the United States with $316,000; Canada – $194,777; Germany – $183,000; United Kingdom – $138,000; and Saudi Arabia – $133,320, making up the top Six.


Olagunju and Ajidahun both believe that the improved healthcare system in these countries makes Nigerian Doctors prioritize their travel plans out of the country.

“The environment is not that conducive, the payment is not that good…those place they have higher pay. Unlike this place where you struggle for everything…you go on strike because you’re demanding for something” Olagunju laments.

But these young Doctors think more differently than many of their colleagues who have left the country.

Ajidahun thinks the country needs time to fix the health sector, but how will that be made possible with the good hands leaving for other countries.

“If all of us leaves the country, who’s going to fix the Healthcare system, I usually get like tons of calls from abroad…pls Dr Shina, I want you to see my parent…what about if I was not in Nigeria?“, Ajidahun said.


The brain drain ravaging Nigeria’s health sector has created a gap in doctors-patients relationship as the number of doctors continue to reduce drastically, dealing a huge blow on the patients who are at the receiving end.

But more heat is being felt by geriatric patients who almost do not have caregivers. Also, many of these geriatric patients are aged parents whose children have left the country for greener pastures.

The question of “Who takes care of these people” is one of the reasons Olagunju says he has refused to leave the country.

one of the reasons why I decided not to go again is that if all of us go….I have this love for the elderly, who is going to take care of the elderly, especially if two of them are alive… which I believe is one of the problems we are facing today…”

However, doctors who have this kinds of mindset that Olagunju and Ajidahun both have are just few in Nigeria, making the work cumbersome for few that are left in the country.


Zion Adesafe’s story is one that renews hope in Nigeria’s health system.

In 2023, Adesafe’s teenage daughter developed a hole in the heart that required an open heart surgery.

The fear of paucity of medical personnel in the health sector immediately gripped the father of the teenage girl who thinks the daughter was too young for such illness.

Perturbed Adesafe had already lost hope in Nigeria’s health sector owing to precedence and the sensitivity of the illness.


A lot of things were running…with the advent of shortage of medical personnel in Nigeria…we were baffled that does it mean we’ll travel to India or other parts of the world to get the something done?

Adesafe’s doubts were cleared eventually when he was able to get the surgery done for his daughter in one of Nigeria’s government hospitals, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, OAUTHC, Ile Ife, Osun State, South Western Nigeria.

“A lot of people were sceptical around me about this heart surgery thing, We had people that did theirs outside the shore of this nation, so how will it be possible to be done in Nigeria even with the advent of shortage of medical practices around… eventually, we did it here in Nigeria…and we didn’t have any experts being brought from outside the nation…all the hand that did it were staff of OAUTHC“, Adesafe recounts the successful heart surgery done on her daughter in Nigeria.

Adesafe holds unto this beacon of hope about health sector in Nigeria that few doctors around have resuscitated in him.

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