The SA Health Department says that final-year medical and health students will be allowed to appeal their placement allocations.
According to an Eyewitness News report, dozens of intern doctors and final year students are concerned as they’ve not yet been allocated a placement for either internship or community service positions in 2018. On Friday, when the Health Department’s internship and community service programme website went live to show placement allocations, dozens of students expected to finally know where they would be working next year. But, the report says, a number of them were not allocated positions. Others were placed in areas they did not specify as an option.
The department’s chief operating officer Gail Andrews says officials are willing to accommodate students who have special considerations. “For some very justifiable reason we would have to see how we can accommodate those students. So the website will have a notice on Monday to explain the appeal procedure and that will be given urgent attention.”
Andrews says that those students who didn’t receive placements could be among those who aren’t eligible. She adds that the department’s call centre has been instructed not to receive calls, until this situation has been “managed”.
The Health Department says it is confident concerns raised by medical students over their placement at various state institutions are receiving urgent attention, reports Eyewitness News. Director general (DG) Precious Matsoso has met with some of the final-year medical students who had experienced problems with their internship or community service applications.
Matsoso has confirmed the problem was with the system used to process the allocations. “It’s quite clear that as they were trying to register on the system it was telling them that they had not been placed. And this morning I met with parents and students and we just did it manually and I also invited them to send me the list so that I can go through every single student’s registration.”
The DG says she is confident students will be placed before 2 January when the internship period begins.
The department has, meanwhile, conceded it needs to review the process behind medical community service and internship placements. A further Eyewitness News report says that Matsoso has admitted there were too many problems with this year’s placement process. “We have to review how our internships are done. It is quite clear we need to be proactive and recognise that people are needed.”
Dozens of students voiced concern over social media. One medical students says she’s anxious and in an “uncomfortable space” as she waits to be placed for her internship.
Another became emotional: “You’ve worked your four years and done your hours, you just need to be placed.”
The department admits communication should’ve been better.
President Jacob Zuma says, meanwhile, that government plans to expand medical education in South Africa to accommodate South African foreign-trained medical graduates who want to complete their training at home.
Skills Portal reports that this is according to the Committee of Medical Deans, who said that there has been a sharp increase in the number of applications by graduates studying in countries such as China, Russia and Turkey who request to complete their studies at home.
“Due to the limited resources and increased demand, the Deans of medical schools have agreed to prioritise the placement of students who have been trained abroad through a formal South African Government-to-Government agreement,” Zuma said.
The report says he was responding to a written question posed by the Democratic Alliance’s Mergan Chetty in the National Council of Provinces on the challenges of students studying abroad.
“In the past, with small numbers of foreign-trained medical graduates returning, a number of medical schools could manage to support the graduates. However, with the increasing numbers, our medical schools are unable to accommodate all of the returning students.
“The long-term solution is to increase the capacity of South African institutions to enrol medical students, which requires significant investments,” said Zuma.
To combat the lack of capacity, the Department of Health is currently working with the National Department of Higher Education and Training, through the Joint Health Sciences Education Committee, to plan for the expansion of medical education in South Africa.
The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), which regulates training and registration of all South African health professional students, also has stringent criteria on which it approves the number of students each university can place on the clinical training platform.
The report says foreign-trained medical students are required to undertake the HPCSA admissions examination in order to register as practitioners in South Africa, which is a practice that is required by law.
In dealing with this challenge, the health sector has encouraged privately funded South African students who have been accepted to undertake medical related studies abroad, to complete their entire medical training programme, including their full session of clinical rotations within the country where they pursued their medical studies.
Medical students are also encouraged to first check with the HPCSA for advice on their choice of foreign country in which to do their medical training. This assists in limiting the risk of not being able to complete and register as a medical doctor in South Africa upon return.