Medical professionals spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours in pre-clinical and clinical settings prior to joining the workforce. While this is vital, we noticed that many are not aware of the wider health ecosystem in which they operate in that is how the various stakeholders, roles and responsibilities contribute to the work environment. In addition, there seems to be limited awareness on the value that medical professionals can add to the wider health ecosystem synergies and development, awareness and understanding of the potential growth trajectories of medical professionals beyond clinical work.

This information gap often becomes evident years after graduation and the effects are sometimes irreversible. They mostly manifest in terms of loss of morale, search for jobs in health or non-health sectors within or outside Kenya, appointments of incompetently skilled medical professionals in health system management and leadership positions which eventually results to more strain on the existing resources in the health sector.

A study assessing the level of job satisfaction amongst Kenyan healthcare workers reported that although the health sector devolved, the level of job satisfaction decreased. As a result, Kenya loses an average of 20 medical practitioners monthly due to brain drain.[1] In 2016, the emigration rate of Kenyan physicians to the United Kingdom was 51% and 8% for the nurses and this number is suspected to have increased over the last 5 years. Another report focusing on the causes of brain drains amongst healthcare professionals in Kenya reported weak health systems, lack of professional development opportunities, and unclear career development paths as examples.[2] For every Kenyan doctor who emigrates, Kenya loses approximately $517,931.00, but this is not all. Other losses incurred are disruption in service delivery and professionals who can make change in the sector as role models, researchers, policy makers, and employers.

There is an evident need of strengthening health systems in Kenya, and this area has been of great focus in the recent past. The truth is that there are no better people to bring this change than the young medical professionals. But for the country to tap into their potential and benefit from it, one should not shy from showing the actual status of health systems so that there is awareness, knowledge and understanding to assess where their expertise and skills can be used and be most valuable.

The medical professional training curriculum needs to be enhanced and include an explicit focus on health systems strengthening, both in theory as well as implications on day-to-day medical practice. Medical trainees should be exposed to the health system strengthening discussions to ensure understanding as well as contribution to the solutions to be spearheaded.

While there might be a proportion of individuals who might choose other geographic locations or careers upon understanding the status of the African health system, the good thing is that those who will remain will most likely become the agents of change. The education system should include flexibility and dynamism to evolve at the same speed as health systems do. 

The need for enhanced training on health systems became evident from an exclusive workshop that was initiated and curated by Africa Health Business; the Africa Health Systems Leadership Initiative (AHSLI) in October 2022. The workshop focused on personal development, stakeholders in health, and health systems in the African and Kenyan setting. The Kenyan-based medical professionals (young medical doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and nurses) identified challenges and potential solutions to improve the Kenyan health system drawing from the WHO healthy system building blocks.

Below are some responses from the attendees:

“I got a clear understanding of what healthcare system entails”

“I now, without a doubt understand how vast this field is”

“It was an eye-opening session to me”

“There is always a solution out there for every problem. We just need to look far enough and break down every prejudice in our search.”

“My favorite session was a review of health system financing, gaps and most applicable solutions. This was a great learning experience as each team member contributed immensely on the ails and cures to our systems.”

“It was fantastic to be together in a room with so many healthcare professionals from all over Kenya talking about health systems, its challenges and possible solutions and thoughts.”

“It was intriguing to pick the minds of fellow young leaders in healthcare on the health finance, the challenges that we as a country are facing in that space and possible solutions to those challenges. Indeed, the future of any ecosystem lies within the potential of its young talent.”

“The program brought together fellow aspiring healthcare workers keen on revolutionizing the healthcare space as well as taking a deep-dive on matters health from the African perspective with emphasis on how healthcare systems function based on the WHO building blocks.”

These responses are an indication that enhanced awareness and understanding of health systems at undergraduate level will go a long way in paving the way for medical professionals to become the transformational leaders that Africa needs, now and in the future.

Young medical professionals are eager and ready to make change in the health sector, but if we don’t show them the existing challenges and what needs to improve, then we should as well stop expecting potential solutions and transformational change.