Rote professionals

Rote professionals

By Kevin Motaroki

It was the doctor’s third prompt that got Morgan angry.

“What do you think it is?”

She was young, chewing gum, donning earphones, and dressed in tight-fitting slacks under her white doctor’s coat. She looked intelligent, with that air of someone who knows they know or should know their stuff, but an aura that said ‘my shift is about to end and I can’t wait to be out of here’ made her fidgety and unfocused.

“You are the doctor here,” he blurted, unable to control himself, “I am not, therefore I come to you… Are you seriously asking me for an opinion?”

His wife, anxious but not showing it – this is her first baby – sat quietly by his side, rocking their son who had now, mercifully, fallen asleep. He had eczema, but that was not the trouble. He was irritable, had trouble sleeping, had swollen gums and couldn’t stop rubbing his face.

Since last night, he had googled his symptoms that gave him a half dozen diagnoses. But he was now at one of the country’s top hospitals, and here was his doctor, asking his opinion on what was ailing his son.

As an answer to his question, she gave him a dry look, turned the monitor to him and pointed. “I think he has Step throat, she said, tracing the second entry on the screen. “It has to be that.” She sounded confident. She began writing a prescription and then stopped. A helpless “mmhh” escaped her lips. “Everyone googles, doctors are no different,” she said at last.

When she finished, he did not go to the pharmacy as directed, with her elaborate prescription. He went to another hospital – a children’s hospital. There, thankfully, service was more reassuring and professional.

A survey carried out by Wolters Kluwer Health in the US in 2012, as reported in the Huffington Post, showed that 46 percent of doctors frequently use sites like Google and Yahoo to treat or diagnose their patients. In contrast, 68% of doctors said they frequently look to professional journals and 60% consult their colleagues.

The survey findings also note that “63% of physicians report changing an initial diagnosis based on new information accessed via online resources/support tools.

David’s experience is roundly replicated in the country, and demonstrates the disturbing levels to which our education system had sunk – had, because the ministry of Education has, since 2014, instituted reforms to all levels of schooling, including a long-overdue curriculum overhaul, that should put the system back on track.

Although seeking help – of any sort – online is not in itself a bad thing, it is worrying when a doctor – after more than ten years of coursework, internship and residency – cannot diagnose something as straightforward as teething, which is what his son had.

A colleague told me the doctor who treats his dad confessed to him he can never let any of his students treat him. Why, he wondered?

Because he does not trust the knowledge he has imparted qualifies them as good doctors – like him. Why, he pressed?

Because, “Listen, we don’t do enough – not because we do not want to but because we can’t. There is barely enough equipment to cater for 10 of my students, out of a class of 40. There is not enough time or space or tools or specimen, and I cannot tell if they really understand what I teach them, even if they pass my exams. Often, I feel that I haven’t prepared them enough.”

So why does he give them a pass?

Because, well, they pay for it, dearly, and they work hard for it, and theoretically, they should be good doctors. But, Dr K, a renowned gastroenterologist, submits, the good he gives does not cut it. “It takes many years and sessions of unlimited practicals and learning to become a good doctor, and that doesn’t happen in most of our institutions. There is a premium to fees, and many universities do not care about the quality of their graduates. Often, those who become the best in their fields, you will find, have furthered their studies outside (the country).

“Our system tries to make up for the missed sessions in school with real ones during internship, but the result of that are sometimes fatal – wrong diagnoses, wrong treatment, mixed up surgery schedules, and so on. The ones you hear about are a fraction of it. Many more others go unnoticed, covered up by hospital management bodies.”

But it isn’t just in medicine. The quality of education, generally, has declined over the past two decades, as institutions became more commercialised and less results-driven. It is this decline that the reforms seeks to reverse.

Do the proposed reforms inspire confidence in him?

“If the implementation is right,” he says. “We shall see.” (

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