LASU VC race: Medical fellowship vs PhD


By Olayinka Atilola

The Medical Fellowship, as the primus academic and professional qualification, not only for specialist medical consultants in Teaching Hospitals in Nigeria but for lecturers in clinical medicine; have been a subject of a completely needless controversy lately.

The origin of the new controversy is traceable to the jostle for the post of Vice chancellor (VC) of Lagos State University (LASU).

Some members of the university community, perhaps to brighten the chances of their preferred candidate winning the VC race, raised the dust by pushing out a public release in which they insinuated that the Medical Fellowship is not a substitute to PhD for lecturers in clinical medicine.

They painted the Medical Fellowship as some kind of sub-academic degree whose holders are unworthy of the VCship of LASU. This narrative was pushed, apparently, to discredit one of the shortlisted candidates, a Professor in a field of clinical medicine, who they may have thought had a brighter chance based on his academic standing, administrative experience, and outstanding personal qualities.

Being a lecturer in clinical medicine and a holder of the Medical Fellowship myself, I was forced to make a rejoinder in a national daily, precisely the Punch Newspaper of 6th January, 2021, clarifying issues and showing clearly how the proponents of such ridiculous and divisive idea were completely wrong.

In the said write up, we pointed attention to the rigor of the training requirements of the Medical Fellowship, its academic standing, the position of NUC and the LASU conditions of service on it, and a long list of Clinical Professors who had become Vice Chancellors of Universities in Nigeria, including LASU, who used the Fellowship as their foundational qualification in lieu of PhD.

Aside the publication, several other interest groups, including medical elders, senior clinical professors, and the Medical and Dental Consultant Association of Nigeria (both National and Local bodies) waded in the controversy and also attempted to set the perspectives right on the unique nature of clinical medicine and the status of the Medical Fellowship as the highest academic and professional qualification for teaching and research in clinical medicine in Nigeria.

Some of these clarifications must have gotten the attention of the authorities of LASU, as the renewed advertisement for the post of LASU VC clarified the status of the Fellowship as approved alternative to PhD as foundational qualification for clinical lecturers.

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With the new advertisement, the controversy was laid to rest and the race for the VC of LASU was back on course without any segment of the University academic community excluded for any unjust reason. Or so we thought.

However, riding on the deliberate misconception of a recent statement credited to the Executive Secretary of Nigerian University Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar Rasheed, encouraging the President of the newly established West African College of Medical Laboratory Science (WACMLS), that their trainees (medical laboratory scientists) should endeavour to pursue a PhD programme in addition to any professional training they may have acquired; the originators of the needless Fellowship vs. PhD controversy in LASU have reportedly rekindled their ill-advised propaganda using the statement of the NUC Executive Secretary (ES) as the new focal point of misinformation.

They have been peddling the statement of the NUC ES as another evidence that the Medical Fellowship is not a substitute for PhD in clinical medicine and that it is indeed unrecognised by the NUC for the purpose of appointment and promotion in Nigerian Universities, including LASU, and that, by their reasoning, Professors with the Medical Fellowship should be discountenanced in the race for VC.

The new clamour, just like the previous ones, is built on half-truths and falsehood. The context from which the NUC made the statement that is being bandied around is different.

The people that approached the ES and to whom he directed his good advice were not medical doctors, they were laboratory scientists who recently started their own version of the Fellowship program.

The ES was admonishing then to consider PhD along with the fellowship they are planning to start if they have interest in academics.

This counsel is properly situated because from the outset, the sciences allied to Medicine such as nursing, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy, and medical laboratory science have always towed the line of PhD, if they want to pursue academic career.

This is the age-long position of NUC on the academic staff in these fields and the practice within the Nigerian University system from time immemorial. In fact, medical doctors who pursue academic career in the basic medical sciences such as human anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry have always also been required to pursue a PhD in those basic medical sciences if they must reach the rank of Professor.

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The scenario, however, have always been different for medical doctors who wishes to pursue academic careers in the core clinical sciences. They have always been required by the NUC to possess the Medical Fellowship, without which they are unemployable in the University, and not the PhD.

As things stands presently, a PhD holder in clinical medicine without the Medical Fellowship is unemployable in Nigerian Universities including LASU by the extant regulations of NUC.

It is, however, important to note that the Medical Fellowship, as conceived by the NUC, refers to the Fellowship of the National Postgraduate Medical College (and its West African College equivalents) and not any other Fellowship of any professional body or Colleges of any of the allied medical sciences.

This is because unlike any other such fellowship, the Medical Fellowship, was conceived from the outset as a joint academic and professional program to serve both the specialist needs of tertiary health institutions in Nigeria and the academic/research needs of Nigeria universities in clinical medicine; most of the new wave of fellowships in the other fields allied to medicine such as nursing, pharmacy, physiotherapy, medical laboratory science and others were designed mostly as professional-upgrade courses to ensure maintenance of standards in education and practice in those fields.

For instance, while there is a National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria established by law under the National Medical College Act of 1979, for the purpose of overseeing postgraduate medical education and award of the Medical Fellowship in Nigeria, there is no such law establishing any other such postgraduate college for any other fellowship in any other allied medical disciplines in Nigeria.

In addition, only the Medical Fellowship is recognized for appointment in the different schemes of service in the country, including Nigerian universities as approved by the NUC. Furthermore, the very process of training in the Medical Colleges (under the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria and its West African College equivalents) are already standardized with an established training curriculum and a clear process guideline backed by Nigerian law (in the Medical Residency Training Act, 2017).

There is no such law backing the training process of any of other fellowship training programs in any other medical or non-medical field in Nigeria.
Therefore, trying to confuse issues by muddling the Medical Fellowship with the paramedical fellowships is baseless, and the NUC ES is right to have admonished his visotors not to jettison their already established pathway within the academia, that is, the PhD route, for their new-found fellowship.

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In any case, the Medical Fellowship (and not PhD) is clearly stated as the required qualification for appointment in clinical medicine in the LASU conditions of service (Section 2.7.2E, page 24). Though rated equally as the PhD for the purpose of promotion in Section 2.7.5 of LASU Condition of Service, a Medical Fellowship holder is employed in LASU and all Nigerian Universities as Lecturer I, ahead of PhD holders who come in as Lecturer II.

The progenitor degree of the Medical Fellowship, that is, the Bachelors of Medicine and Surgery/Dentistry, is also rated higher (in points scored) than any other undergraduate program in LASU for the purpose of appointment.

So, at what point did the Professor of clinical medicine with a Bachelors degree and Medicine and Surgery/Dentistry as well as the Medical Fellowship became inferior to a PhD Professor?

While we recognise that one cannot wake someone who is pretending to be sleeping, and that one cannot convince someone who is emotionally invested in falsehood with facts; we feel that we owe the unsuspecting members of the public, and indeed the members of the Governing Council who may be genuinely unsure of these facts a duty to set the perspectives right and put the truth out here.

The NUC ES has given a good advice to his guests, and he did not and could not have claimed to have powers to alter the status of the Medical Fellowship, change the already established pathway for appointment and progression of lecturers in clinical medicine and dentistry, nor dictate the modus and norms of the process of appointing VC for any university in Nigeria including in LASU.

Let us be guided!

Dr. Olayinka Atilola MB;BS; FMCPsych ; FWACP; PGD, is a Medical Fellowship holder and a Clinical lecturer at the Lagos State University College of Medicine

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