How to tell doctors and clinical officers apart

A white dustcoat, a stethoscope dangling around the neck, a writing pad on the table and a pen in hand. Are you being attended to by a doctor or a clinical officer?

This is often a hard-to-tell difference for most Kenyans who have been attended to by the meticulous hands of clinical officers.

Doctors and clinical officers in a health institution show similar medicine technical know-how and professional skills.

But it is worth noting that due to the low numbers of doctors, a majority of Kenyans are often handled by clinical officers in public and private health facilities.

Tomorrow clocks day nine since the clinical officers in public hospitals started their nationwide strike, collapsing the beam of support they held in public health care owing to the nurses’ strike that has gone on for more than a 100 days now.

The workers, under their umbrella body Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (Kuco), have based their strike on what they term demeaning grading by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission.


The grading was based on a job evaluation by the Sarah Serem-led commission last year.

“The odious report has downgraded clinical officers from being professionals to semi-skilled labour.

“The length of training that takes almost seven years makes us highly skilled professionals,” Kuco General Secretary George Gibore said.

Clinical officers are health professionals train in diploma comprising clinical medicine and surgery for three years and one year mandatory internship, upon which they are registered and licensed under the Clinical Officers Council, which is also their professional regulatory body.

Clinical officers are registered in accordance to a law reviewed on June 2017.

There are about 20,000 registered clinical officers in the country.

Of these, 7,757 clinical officers are working under the national and county governments while another estimated 600 work on government capacity building programmes in NGOs.

A higher level of clinical officer undergoes clinical medicine for five years and one year of internship.


With this, they can perform caesarean section and minimal intrusive surgery, such as circumcisions.

They are also qualified to offer orthopedic services.

The higher diploma cadre of clinical officers creates a pool of specialised health officials.

They work as consultants in fields such as oncology, paediatrics, dermatology, ophthalmology, anaesthesia, obstetrics and gynaecology, nephrology.

They also render services in chronic illness and management such as diabetes and hypertension.


Unlike doctors, however, clinical officers cannot perform intensive and specialised surgeries.

“They offer consultations in their specialised areas of their training.

“A majority of the counties rely on specialised clinical officers for specialised health services.

“For instance, in a place like Lamu, there are few to no paediatric doctors. They depend on clinical officers with paediatric training,” Mr Gibore said.

Half of the nurses in Laikipia County have resumed work voluntarily.

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