..... “No longer will I be the lone ranger Liberian psychiatrist for over forty (40) years with the graduation of our inaugural class of one psychiatrist at the 6th convocation,” Harris pointed out.
Liberia’s floundering health sector was in dire straits due, in part, to the low number of doctors in the country and fewer specialised ones—far below the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended ratio of one doctor to one thousand patients.
This gap exuded the need for the establishment of the Liberia College of Physicians and Surgeons (LCPS) in 2013. Ever since, the college has trained and certified one hundred and ten (110) specialised doctors, including the twenty-one doctors that were recently certificated at the college’s 6th convocation and Annual General and Scientific Meeting(AGSM) during a colourful ceremony at the EJS Ministerial Complex on September 30.
This cohort of graduates had one home-grown psychiatrist, the first in the history of the College. The 6th Convocation and AGSM were held under the theme: “Innovations In Health Care” with sub-themes: “The Role Of Endoscopy In Healthcare” and “Minimal Invasive Procedures In Surgery”.
The President of the Liberia College of Physicians and Surgeons, Prof. Benjamin Harris said efforts are being made to mobilise resources to increase the number of faculties the college is currently running: internal medicine, paediatrics, general surgery, obstetrics/gynaecology; family medicine; ophthalmology, and psychiatry to include anaesthesiology; community medicine, and radiology based on existing critical needs.
“No longer will I be the lone ranger Liberian psychiatrist for over forty (40) years with the graduation of our inaugural class of one psychiatrist at the 6th convocation,” Harris pointed out.
He disclosed that the September 30, convocation and AGSM graduated specialists from seven (7) faculties: paediatrics, five; internal medicine, three; Obstetrics/Gynaecology, four; general surgery, three, family medicine, three; ophthalmology, two; and psychiatry, one.
Additionally, the `LCPS President indicated that the college inducted 13 new fellows by elections in varying disciplines.
He entreated the government of Liberia through the Ministry of Health to see the need to increase the salaries of the specialists commensurate with their qualifications.
“It is sad to note that doctors would spend several years of rigorous training and specialisation but yet continue to receive the same salary. The LCPS stands ready to work with the Ministry of Health, the Civil Service Agency, and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to set up a salary structure for medical professionals,” he maintained.
Prof. Harris added that since the launch of the LCPS fellowship program to augment the inclusivity of more Liberian faculty of the college for the purpose of sustainability, about twenty applications have been received for consideration, stressing “the postgraduate program has also received accreditation from regional sister colleges to commence a fellowship program.”
Prof. Harris appreciated the Liberian government for its support to the postgraduate program, with a reminder for increased support to maintain the program.
“We urge the government of Liberia to do more to support medical institutions in Liberia. We ask the government to launch a special fund akin to the road fund to support medical education by setting aside a small amount. I foresee that if drastic measures are not taken to alleviate the financial challenges in health education in the country, the system may subsequently crash. We will contact the Minister of Health and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to pursue this plea,” he emphasised.
The LCPS President then disclosed that plans are advanced to raise the needed resources to construct a modern multipurpose complex for the college. The project, according to him, has gotten a major boost with the donation of a five-acres of land by the college’s founding president, Prof. Roseda E. Marshall.
In her remarks, the Secretary General of LCPS, Dr. Jeanetta K. Johnson, said while the college is glad to be hosting, for the second time, its convocation at the ministerial complex, it would be more heartening if three to five years down the road, the college hosted these events in its own facility.
For her part, Liberia’s Minister of Health, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, stated that the college has come a long way and there was a need to be proud of its accomplishments, having overcome many challenges along this journey.
“We have come a long way from where we were when one would say I am the only one to where we are today. This is a proud moment for all of us,” she said.
According to her, the theme of the 6th convocation and AGSM was appropriate because healthcare delivery is advancing around the world with technology at the forefront. She sighed that, unfortunately, many countries, including Liberia, are lagging behind.
Jallah stated that the Government of Liberia, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank have started a performance based financing program that would seek to equip fourteen (14) counties in Liberia as a way of addressing some of the existing challenges. She encouraged the graduates to make the necessary recommendations for issues in their assigned areas that need the financing scheme’s attention.
In addition to that, the Liberian Minister of Health said steps are being taken to review the salary structure of healthcare workers, from doctors to the lowest person in the sector, adding that the Ministry of Health will work with the LCPS and other relevant institutions in this regard in order to avoid any insinuation that the ministry unilaterally decided the salaries for healthcare workers in the country.
She emphasised that while technology is being encouraged to improve surgical and other advanced care, healthcare professionals should not ignore the importance of primary care, without which, technology would make no impact.
The 6th convocation witnessed the conferral of an honorary fellowship on Prof. David C. Henderson, Chief of Psychiatry, Boston Medical Center, for his tremendous contribution to the LCPS psychiatry program and the healthcare sector of Liberia.
“I don’t understand how exactly I deserve such an honour, but I am very pleased. Healthcare in Liberia is changing for the better,” Prof. Henderson said in response to his honorary fellowship in the LCPS faculty.
The Dr. Abraham Saah Borbor Lecture Series was presented by Dr. Lawrence Mombo Sherman, Dean of the A. M. Dogliotti College of Medicine, who called for information sharing among healthcare practitioners about services being provided at their facilities to save patients the cost of unwarranted overseas referrals.
Sherman encouraged the graduates to be very professional in doing the right thing no matter the circumstance.
He wants the Liberian government to give serious consideration to investing in procuring equipment because all of the available ones were donated, which are not adequate.
Speaking on behalf of the Chief Executive Officer of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, Madam Dama Yekeson Kofa said the country’s largest teaching hospital has been an integral part of the residency training program, with the hospital hosting six of LCPS’ seven faculties. She proudly disclosed that more than half of the doctors at JFK are products of the LCPS program.
The Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Representative Joseph Somwarbi assured the graduates and professionals in the healthcare sector of salary reclassification when the requisite request is made with the available qualification.
USAID Liberia Mission Director, Jim Wright said the United States government is proud of Liberia's accomplishment as the first African country to vaccinate more than seventy percent (70%) of its citizens against Covid-19.
He appreciated Liberian healthcare workers for the work they do under difficult circumstances and limited resources.
Wright said USAID will continue to work through its Government-to-Government Partnership mechanism to strengthen the capacity of County Health Teams, improve the conditions under which medical doctors work and provide them with the resources they need to do their jobs.
The immediate past President of LCPS and Country Representative of the West African College of Surgeons, Prof. Robert M. Kpoto nudged the graduates to the fact that they would be working for strangers and the objective is to make LCPS second to none.
There were goodwill messages from the West African College of Surgeons; the West African College of Physicians; the National Postgraduate Medical Council of Nigeria; the World Health Organization; USAID; the World Bank and other partners.