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Challenges facing Medical Laboratory Science Education in Nigeria

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By Emmanuel Elebesunu

The role of a quality healthcare system in the overall development of a country can not be overemphasised. In order to birth skilled medical professionals that will strengthen the healthcare system of our country, keen attention has to be paid to the education of the medical students in our institutions of learning. 

In terms of greatly improving diagnostic capacity and sufficiency in our healthcare system, efforts have to be made to improve the standard of education of Medical Laboratory Science students, who will in turn become professionals capable of ensuring accuracy and dedication to their healthcare diagnostic responsibilities.

For us to work on improving the quality of education, we have to first identify what the challenges in education are. Some of the challenges and the accompanying solutions include:

1. Poor Regulation of Admission

One of the most overlooked problems in the educational sector is the issue of over-admission of students. 
As much as a good number of bright secondary school leavers are offered admission into the Medical Laboratory Science undergraduate programme, a lot of students who do not fall within the level of required intellect are also admitted due to exploitations of the admission process. This results in overpopulation of the department with a mix of intellectual and non-intellectual students. When the population of students goes beyond the carrying capacity of the department/faculty’s facilities, stiff competition ensues and the learning environment becomes unconducive. 
Lecture rooms become overcrowded with students that greatly outnumber the seating capacity, few laboratory equipment have to be shared among numerous groups of students, hostels become chaotically overpopulated and unable to adequately cater for the accommodation needs of the students, and so on.
It is very important that the admission processes are strictly regulated to ensure that the number of students does not exceed the carrying capacity of the school. 
Measures must be put in place to ensure that the admission process is not compromised in any way and only the most intellectual students who fulfill the criteria are accepted into the programme.

2. Dilapidation and Insufficiency of Infrastructural Resources in Schools

The appalling lack and neglect of infrastructure in our educational institutions is another aspect that greatly needs attention. Learning equipment and resources such as Teaching aids, Laboratory equipment and reagents, Library resources, Lecture rooms, etc need to be adequately equipped, maintained or renewed on a regular basis, as all these facilities are vital in the creation of an enabling environment for learning. 
Over the years, this is one aspect that has always been stressed, but little efforts have been made to resolve it. This is one area where the school Alumni can be of great assistance, but majority of the responsible of sorting out this problem rests on the shoulder of the school management and the Ministry of Education.
Increased funding of the education and health sectors should be implemented and industries should be encouraged to invest in medical education.  The quality of educational facilities are key factors in improving the overall quality of education in any institution.

3. Outdated Curriculum

The current Medical Laboratory Science curriculum appears to lack courses that will expose the students to new trends in the profession. The Medical Laboratory Science profession is currently one of the fastest developing professions and requires multi-faceted skills to compete favourably in the field. 
Advances in areas like Genomics, Bioinformatics, Histochemistry, Immunotherapy, Microbiology/Virology and other aspects have proven that a lot more needs to be done at the undergraduate level to prepare students for this new wave of scientific evolution. 
Areas such as Leadership skills, Research, Project management and so on also need to be incorporated in the undergraduate curriculum, as these skills are now highly sought after in the profession. The curriculum needs to be updated regularly in order to enable students cope with the scientific and professional advancements, as well as equip them to address emerging local and global challenges in healthcare.
Presently, the Medical Laboratory Science curriculum is already overloaded and is becoming increasingly difficult to add more components, thus the only alternative would be to extend the duration of the programme beyond the current five years. 
Many would disagree with this, but it is important to note that the skills and knowledge necessary to cope with the advances in the profession can not entirely be taught within the five-year programme, hence the need to extend the duration. 
The six-year Doctor of Medical Laboratory Science (MLS.D) curriculum would be a good way of infusing into the undergraduate curriculum certain aspects of the profession that are currently lacking in the five-year programme. We have to lay the foundation for lifelong learning and career development at the undergraduate programme stage.

4. Absence of Structures for Mentoring

A major reason for the wide gap in knowledge between fresh graduates and practicing professionals of Medical Laboratory Science is the lack of exposure to experienced mentors and external opportunities beyond the university. 
Most graduates become overwhelmed by the level of deftness, skill and competency required of them upon their entry into the profession, as they had no prior contact with mentors who could expose them to the complexities and tutor them on how best to adapt. 
Mentoring from seasoned professionals could serve as an effective way to greatly improve the education of students and will also serve as an avenue for exposure to external opportunities that will better position the students for professional advancement.
Mentorship and capacity building programmes should be regularly organized to train the students in various aspects that will enhance their overall personal and professional development. Practicing Medical Laboratory Scientists should also avail themselves to regularly interact with the students, offer them advice, encourage them and connect them with opportunities.
Conclusively, there are many challenges hindering the progress of Medical Laboratory Science education in Nigeria. Many deficits in the educational structure impede the enhancement of the knowledge, skills and competencies of the students. Most of the challenges revolve around inadequate funding, but also involve a lack of proactiveness among the regulatory bodies and institutional managements. Efforts should be made at all levels of the educational sector to ensure the appropriate training and development of the students in order to produce a generation of professionals capable of competing favourably at the national and global levels.
Medical Laboratory Science plays a key role in the health system of every nation and must not be taken lightly.
Written By Emmanuel Elebesunu,
Undergraduate of Medical Laboratory Science,
University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are those of the author and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of the blog.

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