South Africa’s Health Department is struggling to ensure employment for medical graduates through its internship and community service application system, according to Farah Jawitz, a member of the Junior Doctors Association of South Africa, reporting to AllAfrica
South Africa’s Health Department is struggling to ensure employment for medical graduates through its internship and community service application system, according to Farah Jawitz, a member of the Junior Doctors Association of South Africa, reporting to AllAfrica.
Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism reported in January, 2017 that many provincial health departments had had to enforce hiring freezes due to the impact of rising costs on department budgets.
This alongside universities failing to submit numbers of prospective graduates has caused a six-month delay in this year’s medical internship application openings.
In South Africa, medical students wanting to become doctors must attend medical school for six years, followed by a two-year internship and then a mandatory year of community service.
These internships and community service posts are applied for through a national online application system, which the Department of Health set up in 2016 with the help of the Junior Doctors Association of South Africa and the South African Medical Association.
In its trial run, 150 doctors were unemployed at the end of the application cycle and some waited until September, 2017 before beginning a post.
Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi blamed the figures on graduates not wanting to serve in rural communities.
Furthermore, they alleged provinces stalled in verifying numbers of medical students on provincial bursaries who therefore needed to complete their internship and community service in their home province.
Provinces also struggled to inform the national Health Department of the number of posts they could afford to offer.
Around 1,900 students applied for 1,400 internship posts for 2018 in August to September, 2017.
Community service positions can accommodate 10 less than the 1,342 medical interns applying for them.
The Health Department says these figures exaggerate the placement deficit as the majority of unplaced applicants are foreign students hoping to join the South African health system.
Director General of Health, Malebona Precious Matsoso, recently formed a task team to remedy the shortage and committed to placing all eligible South African graduates by January, 2018.
The surge in medical graduates is largely down to a petition by medical officers in 2014, asking for a reduction in the working hours of junior doctors who could be on duty for up to 36 hours in one shift.
Minister Motsoaledi backed the training and employment of more doctors in order to end unsafe working hours for medical staff.
As a result, graduates in 2017 number 600 more than five years ago and in 2019 the country is set to re-integrate 1000 medical graduates currently training in Cuba.
This boom in medical training, however, jars with statistics by the World Bank that estimate there is less than one medical professional for every 1000 citizens in South Africa, largely due to budget restrictions and infrastructure limitations.
Jawitz expressed her concern for the government to provide more consistent funding to allow the Health Department to meet medical graduates’ employment and training needs.
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