Malawi has one of the lowest physician densities in the world, at 1.1 doctors per 100,000 population. Undergraduate training of doctors at the national medical school has increased considerably in recent years with donor support. However, qualified doctors continue to leave the public sector in order to work or train abroad. We explored the postgraduate plans of current medical students, and the extent to which this is influenced by their background.
A self-administered questionnaire was developed after discussion with students and senior staff. This included questions on background characteristics, education before medical school, and future career plans. This was distributed to all medical and premedical students on campus over 1 week and collected by an independent researcher. One reminder visit was made to each class. Chi-squared tests were performed to investigate the relationship of student characteristics with future career plans.
One hundred and forty-nine students completed the questionnaire out of a student body of 312, a response rate of 48%. When questioned on their plans for after graduation, 49.0% of students plan to stay in Malawi. However, 38.9% plan to leave Malawi immediately. Medical students who completed a ‘premedical’ foundation year at the medical school were significantly more likely to have immediate plans to stay in Malawi compared to those who completed A-levels, an advanced school-leaving qualification (P = 0.037). Current premedical students were slightly more likely to have immediate plans to work or train in Malawi compared to medical students (P = 0.049). However, a trend test across all the years was not significant. When asked about future plans, nearly half of students intend to work or train outside Malawi.
The majority of respondents plan to leave Malawi in the future. The effectiveness of the substantial upscaling of medical education in Malawi may be diminished unless more medical students plan to work in Malawi after graduation.