35% of Female Doctors Are Unemployed in Pakistan

A large number of female doctors are out of work in Pakistan despite the fact that the world’s fifth most populous country badly needs qualified medical practitioners. Ironically, this is happening in a country where the resource-constrained government is spending billions of rupees on subsidizing medical education in public sector universities.

As many as 35 percent of female medical doctors are unemployed in Pakistan, revealed a research jointly conducted by Gallup Pakistan and PRIDE across the country. Basing their research on the Labour Force Survey 2020-21, Gallup Pakistan and PRIDE analyzed the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics’ data on labor market specially female medical graduates and disseminated the same for the country’s wider policy circles.

The crisis-hit country is facing a serious shortage of qualified doctors. More than 36,000 female doctors are either jobless or opt to remain out of the labor force for various reasons. “Pakistan has a dearth of trained medical doctors,” said Bilal Gilani, an executive director at Gallup Pakistan.

The survey shows that presently 104,974 female medical graduates are residing in Pakistan. Of the total, 68,209 or 65 percent are working at various private and state-owned medical facilities. The country, however, has 15,619 or 14.9 percent female doctors without any job while 21,146, constituting 20.1 percent of the total number, are completely out of labor force, the survey shows.

According to Pakistan Medical & Dental Council (PMDC), since its inception in 1947 Pakistan has produced about 200,000 doctors, half of them being females. The data from the Bureau of Emigration show that around 30,000 doctors have left Pakistan since 1970 and on average almost 1,000 are going to settle abroad every year.

“Among females, a major issue is qualified female doctors are not working,” viewed Gilani. Majority of these doctors studied at public sector universities where the government spends billions of rupees to subsidize education.

An average private university charges the medical students with more than Rs. 5 million the government one imparts the same education for less than Rs. 1 million. Thus the government has to give at least a Rs. 4 million subsidy to produce a medical doctor. This taxpayers money goes to waste as one in three of these female doctors are not working, the survey shows.

Almost 50,000 female doctors on whom an investment of at least 200 billion in current value is wasted, it said. “We need to rethink about both the costs to taxpayers of these not working doctors but also the loss in terms of health outcomes which their absence is causing,” observed Gilani.

Further, Dr. Shahid Naeem, director policy research at PRIDE, said one in every five medical graduates opt to remain out of the labour force. Majority of these ‘out of labor force’ female medical graduates are married, he said.

“This is indicative of the presence of a social trend of getting medical education in order to secure a better spouse,” Dr. Naeem opined urging the government to review its policy of allocation of seats at least in the public sector medical colleges to ensure value for money. The issue of female medical graduates or doctors who remain out of the labor force after completing medical education is a serious concern that warrants further exploration, he said.

The findings of this survey support the phenomenon of ‘doctor brides’ as widely discussed and reported in Pakistan’s context and stipulates that many families prefer their daughters to have medical education, as it enables them to find a more suitable match for their marriage. The survey also addresses the regional breakup of the employment pattern of these doctors and found that about 28 percent and 72 percent of Pakistan’s total medical graduates reside in rural and urban areas, respectively.

In the rural region, 52 percent or more than half of Pakistan’s medical graduates are employed and 31 percent are jobless. The proportion of the medical graduates who prefer to remain out of the labor force in rural areas stands lower, 17 percent, than the national average of 20 percent.

A close analysis of the data from urban centers reveals that about 70 percent of the medical graduates were employed while less than 9 percent were unemployed. The proportion of medical graduates who choose to remain out of labor force in Pakistan’s urban areas is more than 21 percent.

The region-wise comparison shows that employment opportunities for female graduates are significantly higher, 78 percent, in urban areas as compared to 22, percent in rural areas. Conversely, the proportion of the jobless is significantly higher in rural areas, 57 percent, compared to 43 percent in cities, according to the survey.

When we look at the break-up, by region, of 21,146 female medical graduates who opted to remain out of the labour force, it is found that their share in cities stands much higher at 76.6 percent compared to their 23.4 percent share in rural areas. It is pertinent to mention here that around 76 percent of those medical graduates who opted to remain out of the labor force were married. By age group, the most frequent occurrence of female medical graduates (54 percent) belong to the 25-34 years of age.

“The analysis of the data underlines the importance of targeted policy efforts to improve employment opportunities for medical graduates, especially in rural areas where unemployment rates are higher,” concluded the survey. The female medical graduates surveyed include persons who had passed the MBBS, BDS, MS/M.Sc., M.Phil. or Ph.D. degrees in any field of medicine.

This survey collected data from close to 99,900 households across Pakistan and gave district level representative results for the first time.

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