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International Medical Graduates

Return to Home Country: A Thirty Year Perspective From Nigeria

Sonny F. Kuku, MD, MACP, FWACP, PhD
Lagos, Nigeria

In 1968, during my penultimate year in medical school in Lagos, Nigeria, I went to the University of Rochester School of Medicine, Rochester, New York on a one-year pre-doctoral Fellowship. The experience was so fascinating and rewarding that I decided I must return to the US for residency training. However, in 1971 after qualifying in Medicine I found myself at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital, London, where I completed the MRCP, PhD programme in 1974. In October 1974, I was invited back home to Nigeria to take a Faculty position. However, I strongly believed I still needed more practicals training so I took up a senior post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago School of Medicine.

During my stay in Chicago, the whole world opened for me. With my training and qualifications, job offers from all nooks and crannies came to me. The temptation to stay and make a career in the US, as was becoming fashionable at that time, was very great particularly since all my attempts at securing a suitable position at home did not meet with any measure of success. However, I never had any serious thoughts about not going back home. First, I knew and felt that my country needed me more than the developed countries like the US. I also knew that in my country I would be a first class citizen and be more relevant.

At the end of 1975, I took the plunge and returned home without any job offers, determined to find work. My gamble paid off because our dynamic military ruler at that time was an avid newspaper reader who saw a satirical article about me in a newspaper describing me as a man over-qualified to be employed. Employment came a few days later. It is very unlikely that the President of the US would be in a position to invite me a Nigerian in such circumstances and offer me a job if I was still in the US. This immediately justified one of the reasons I insisted on coming back home despite the fact that jobs and life were rosier abroad.

Having arrived home, the first shock was the paucity of the salary and the backwardness of the infrastructure and quality of living. I found I was over qualified for the job I was offered and my scientific training was too high-powered for the kind of laboratories or funds available. However, I decided to put in to use whatever part of my training was applicable rather than continuing my research into the molecular nature of hormones like thyrotrophin, glucaton, etc. I set up a small reference endocrine laboratory that made measurement of hormones available to the whole country for the first time. From the laboratory, I was able to study basic things like normal hormone levels in the African and in pathological states like infertility leading to seminal work affecting lives of a vast number of people and evolutionizing treatment. I probably might have broken the atom if I remained in the US (chance almost nil) but I doubt if my work would have touched so many lives! I have also, building on experience gained from the US, set up a tertiary hospital in the private sector, the only one to be quoted in the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

The contributions I have been able to make in my native country have earned me many accolades the equivalent of which I doubt I would have been able to achieve in several lifetimes as foreigner albeit a legal alien in say the US to wit President of the West African College of Physicians, Pro-Chancellor of a University, Chairman of the Board of a large Federal Hospital, international awards including a direct Fellowship award by the American College of Physicians. To have the kind of lifestyle I have in Nigeria e.g. several cars, chauffeurs, cooks, stewards, nannies and a Greco Mediterranean type home, I would need to make millions of dollars a year in the US. I don't make anything near this here at home. I know that only a miniscule number of colleagues who stayed back in the US or the UK even come near my achievements at home, where as a very large number of people who returned home have excelled and become great achievers.

Although one cannot stop human migration (which in fact might be beneficial to the human race), my advice to those who go abroad for training is that they should as much as possible, return and help develop their country. In so doing they will develop themselves, and with their skills, amass fame and perhaps fortune far in excess of what they may achieve abroad. The initial advantage of a settled life abroad will be overtaken by the fact that in the end people tend to achieve greater height at home than abroad. Returning home by a good majority of those who go abroad to study has one added advantage of allowing others to have the same opportunity. Right now this is not so because the foreign embassies now tend to refuse Visas to young people going abroad to study for fear they might not return.

Brief Bio:

Professor Kuku graduated from medical school in Nigeria and after postgraduate training in the USA and UK including a PhD, he returned to Nigeria. Over the past three decades Professor Kuku has contributed immensely in upgrading the health care in West Africa. He is a basic researcher, endocrinologist, and foremost leading authority in Africa on Infertility and has also started a tertiary care hospital in the private sector.

This article was prepared for the ACP IMG Web site in 2000.

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