A possible shortage of Nephrologists looming

Recent studies done in different countries have shown a decrease in the number of medical students furthering their studies in nephrology. This poses a risk to the increase in kidney disease patients as they could struggle to get the care needed.

What is a Nephrologist?


A Nephrologist is a doctor that specialises in diseases and conditions that affect the kidneys. A Nephrologist treat conditions such as chronic kidney infections, kidney disease and kidney failure. There is however a difference between a nephrologist and a urologist. While a nephrologist focuses on diseases and conditions that affect the kidney more directly, a urologist focuses on diseases and conditions that can affect the male and female urinary tract. The urinary tract includes the kidneys, but also several other parts such as the ureters, bladder, and urethra. [1]

Reasons for the shortage of Nephrologists


In South Africa, recent studies have shown that by the year 2030 a shortage of nephrologists will be imminent. This was based on the number of students entering studies in the field of nephrology and the number of nephrologists leaving the profession, due to retirement as well as stressful work environment. The unequal distribution of nephrologists by the health sector is also of concern. The private sector which had 78 working nephrologists for 16% of the population and only 63 for the 84% of the population in the public sector is a clear reason why nephrologists, especially in the public sector are not coping with the number of patients they need to look after. [2]

It is not only in South Africa that the shortage is seen. Other African countries, the United States as well as some European countries have seen a decline in nephrologists. Possible reasons for this include the lack of exposure to nephrology, declining interest in nephrology, rising costs of medical education, increased reliance on foreign graduates and ageing of the current nephrology workforce as mentioned earlier. [3]

In Nigeria, the number of kidney patients far outweigh the number of nephrologists in the country. Most of the nephrologists in Nigeria are in urban centres. [4]

Possible solutions for the field of Nephrology


To ensure that we have enough nephrologists in the future something needs to be done soon. Some solutions include looking at the nephrology curriculum. The curriculum must be stimulating and compelling for both undergraduate and postgraduate education. By engaging students early on, captivating their interest and developing their skills, the field of nephrology can certainly become interesting again.

Providing effective training programmes as well as placing the focus on scholarships and research funds could increase the number of students opting to study nephrology. [5]

Other possible solutions include looking at the recruitment strategies, when all countries provide effective training programmes and cooperate at an international level, the workforce can strengthen and make it more attractive to work in the field of nephrology, no matter where in the world. The number of nephrologists to be trained must increase to ensure that kidney patients receive the care required.

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