There has been this long-held belief that the highly technical medical degree courses are dominated by males. But a scrutiny of university enrolment data over the past 12 years paints a different picture, debunking the notion.
The gender gap in enrolment of undergraduate medical courses has actually narrowed sharply over the years as more females took up the highly competitive programmes.
The gap between the total number of males and female students enrolled in the six undergraduate medicine courses has nearly halved in the 12 years to the 2016/17 academic year, statistics by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) showed.
The six medical degrees offered by universities in Kenya include medicine and surgery, nursing, dental surgery, environmental health, pharmacy and biochemistry.
In the 2016/17 academic year, there were 7,342 males pursuing undergraduate medical degrees compared to 6,944 females—a variation of 398 students.
This is an improvement from the 2005/06 academic year when there were 2,369 males enrolled in undergraduate medical courses compared to 1,607 females—a gap of 762 enrolments.
The closure of the gender gap in enrolment has particularly been more prominent in the last five years where the overall number of females pursuing medical courses has risen sharply, outpacing that of males.
In the five years between the academic years 2012/13 to 2016/17, there was a total of 24,658 females enrolled for undergraduate medical degrees compared to 22,459 males over the same window, data by the Economic Survey 2017 showed—a variance of about 10 per cent.
This is attributed to a surge in female student enrolment in environmental health and nursing courses—outdoing the males.
In the five academic years to 2016/17, the enrolment of females specialising in nursing hit 9,932, outnumbering males registered in the same specialty by a massive 5,457 slots. Over the same period, female enrolment in environmental health was also superior at 3,159 compared to 2,871 for males.
Male enrolment in the rest of the medical undergraduate courses however remained slightly higher than that of females in the past five years. The dominance in male enrolments was however more pronounced in two specialties—medicine and surgery and pharmacy.
Between the 2012/13—2016/17 academic years, there were 9,601 males pursuing undergraduate courses in medicine and surgery compared to 7,875 females while there were 2,512 men pursuing undergraduate degrees in pharmacy compared to 2,087 females.
The race for enrolment for medicine courses is expected to intensify between male and female students in the coming years as universities opened their doors to more admissions.
“The total number of undergraduate and postgraduate medical students is expected to increase from 10,865 in 2015/16 to 14,286 in 2016/17 academic year. The numbers of students undertaking dental surgery, nursing, environmental health and medicine and surgery are expected to rise by 60, 32.7, 48.5 and 16.7 per cent from 2015/16 to 2016/17 academic year, respectively” the Economic Survey 2017 said.
The number of medical postgraduate students grew by 40.0 per cent from 1,702 in 2015/16 to 2,382 in 2016/17.
Apart from the rising registration in the university medical degree programmes, enrolment of students in middle level colleges have also increased over the years due to popularity of the courses.
Overall, enrolment of students at the Kenya Medical Training College campuses countrywide increased by 10.5 per cent from 8,565 in 2014/15 to 9,464 in 2015/16, according to the Economic Survey 2017.
“Diploma in community health nursing continued to attract the highest number with 3,000 medical students in 2015/16 academic year followed by clinical medicine and surgery with 1,520 medical students in the same period” the survey said.
More students enrolled in the various MTCs countrywide are undertaking diploma courses followed by certificate and higher diploma, respectively.
Data from the Ministry of Health shows that most hospitals in the country are understaffed with only 15 trained health workers available to serve 10,000 Kenyans against the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 23 for 10,000 citizens.
An initiative launched in 2016 targets to have local colleges produce 40,000 additional health professionals by 2019 with expanded financing for the training programmes.
The Afya Elimu Fund (AEF) – sponsored by among others, the Education ministry, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – targets to mobilise Sh2.5 billion by 2019, up from Sh522 million currently, to support the improvement of ratio of medical personnel to patients attended.
By last year the fund had already trained over 9,200 medical students from mid-level health learning institutions since its rollout in 2013, with 1,223 mid-cadre professional graduates. The graduates include nurses, laboratory technologists, nutritionists, pharmacists and clinical officers.
The students access the loans of up to Sh40,000 per student in one academic year through the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb).