Sama ‘concerns’ over proposal for shortened internships

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The South African Medical Association (Sama) has launched an investigation into a proposal by the national Health Department to shorten the internship period of junior doctors from two years to one. According to a Cape Argus report, Sama is concerned about the proposal and would like to assess the efficacy of current internships.

“We do not have an official stance on this proposal just yet because we are looking into it. What we want to know is what have students achieved in the space of two years and were they trained adequately?” asked Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of Sama. “Is there adequate supervision? And we warned the department that there was going to be a crisis and this is where we are. Remember, we have over 700 junior doctors returning to the universities in February and then we are expecting more from the junior doctor program,” she said.

The report says the Solidarity Occupational Guild for Medical Practitioners has welcomed the proposal to reduce the internship period to a year.

“The proposal will not only contribute to the alleviation of the pressure on the institutions responsible for this training, but will also address the shortage of already accredited doctors. Currently, medical students are expected to complete a two-year internship, as well as a compulsory community service year,” said Morné Malan, senior researcher at the Solidarity Research Institute.

Malan said these internships increasingly became obstacles rather than opportunities for the expansion of knowledge and the necessary preparation for the student’s future career. “Too often that these programmes are known for poor management, limited leadership, inhuman working environments, and enormous workloads,” Malan said.

The report says the two-year internships assist medical students to translate their theoretical knowledge into practice under supervision of experienced doctors once their studies are complete, while the year of community service helps ease the health-care burden in areas deprived of proper health services.

Health Department spokesperson Popo Maja said: “One of the health stakeholders did entertain the idea of internship training being reviewed, but it’s too early for us to say anything.”

Dr Theresa Mwesigwa, chair of the Junior Doctors Association is quoted as saying recently: “This has been a growing concern as they have really had challenges with placing. We are happy that this year they have managed to place all South Africans who are eligible for an internship. But the process is far from perfect.”

Cape Argus report

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