KARACHI: A staggering 35% of female doctors in Pakistan are currently unemployed, despite the nation’s urgent need for qualified medical professionals. This concerning revelation comes from a joint research effort by Gallup Pakistan and PRIDE, based on data from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics’ Labour Force Survey 2020-21.
Pakistan, the world’s fifth most populous country, is grappling with a severe shortage of skilled doctors. According to Bilal Gilani, Executive Director at Gallup Pakistan, “Pakistan has a dearth of trained medical doctors.” This shortage persists despite the government investing billions of rupees in subsidizing medical education at public universities.
The research uncovered that out of 104,974 female medical graduates in Pakistan, 65% are employed in various private and state-owned medical facilities. However, 14.9% (15,619) are unemployed, and another 20.1% (21,146) are not participating in the labor force at all.
The Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) reports that since its inception in 1946, Pakistan has produced approximately 200,000 doctors, with roughly half of them being female. Alarmingly, data from the Bureau of Emigration & Overseas Employment reveals that around 30,000 doctors have emigrated since 1970, with approximately 1,000 doctors leaving the country each year.
One of the significant issues contributing to this crisis is the underutilization of female doctors who receive subsidized education at public sector universities. Private universities charge medical students over Rs5 million, while the government provides the same education for less than Rs1 million, with a subsidy of at least Rs4 million per medical doctor. This means that taxpayers’ money is going to waste as one in three female doctors opt out of the labor force.
Dr. Shahid Naeem, Director of Policy Research at PRIDE, pointed out that a significant portion of female medical graduates who remain out of the labor force are married, suggesting a trend of pursuing medical education for the sole purpose of securing a better spouse. He urged the government to review its seat allocation policies in public sector medical colleges to ensure value for money.
The issue of female medical graduates not entering the workforce after completing their education is a matter of serious concern that requires further examination, Dr. Naeem emphasized.
The findings of this survey support the concept of ‘doctor brides,’ where families encourage their daughters to pursue medical education to increase their marriage prospects.
Regarding regional employment patterns, approximately 28% of medical graduates reside in rural areas, with 52% employed and 31% unemployed. In urban areas, where 72% of graduates reside, around 70% are employed, while less than 9% are unemployed. However, over 21% of doctors in urban areas are not participating in the labor force.
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The data indicates that there are more unemployed female doctors in urban areas, with 76% of them being married. The majority of female medical graduates fall within the 25-34 age group.
This research underscores the need for targeted policy efforts to improve employment opportunities for medical graduates, particularly in rural areas where unemployment rates are higher. The findings shed light on a critical issue affecting Pakistan’s healthcare system and the potential loss of taxpayers’ investments in medical education.