In contexts with severe physician shortages, the World Health Organization advocates task shifting to cadres with shorter training. To investigate the effects of task shifting at scale in primary health care, we assessed the clinical knowledge of non-physician clinicians versus physicians working in public primary care facilities in Nigeria.
We assessed 4138 health workers using clinical vignettes of hypothetical patients suffering from illnesses commonly seen in primary care. Facility-level fixed effects models were used to compare health worker knowledge of (i) consultation guidelines, (ii) diagnostic accuracy and (iii) treatment guidelines.
Unadjusted averages of overall health worker knowledge were low across all types of worker except medical officers. After adjustment for potential confounding, the differences across all three measures between cadres became small or statistically insignificant.
Non-physician clinicians can provide the same quality of primary care, for a set of common illnesses, as Medical Officers with similar personal characteristics, but clinical skills across cadres need strengthening.