Thousands of potential doctors won't make the cut

2015-05-27 14:03

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Johannesburg - As deadlines loom for applications to study medicine at the country's universities next year, with some as soon as this weekend, thousands of potential doctors again won't make the cut.

Some excelled at school, however the lack of space and resources leave most would-be doctors having to scramble to find an alternative life calling.

According to the SA Medical Association (Sama), this is a significant problem given the large exodus of local doctors to other countries and figures that say the country only gains around 1 300 new doctors every year.

"Most universities have the capacity to take a certain number of students. The ratio of lecturers must talk to the number of students," Sama trade union president Phophi Ramathuba told News24.

"It is very different from studying social sciences where students fill a lecture hall and then they theorise. [At medical schools] from the first year there are practical things that have to be done - like there have to be cadavers there for dissection."

‘SA has some of the best doctors in the world’

She said however that universities could not afford to lose the high standards that they had in place for accepting first years.

"We produce some of the best doctors in the world. We can't lose those standards, and the universities have no place to take more students," Ramathuba said.

"Government must provide more resources to help produce more doctors."

University of Pretoria health sciences dean Eric Buch told News24 that their closing date for applications for 2016 was on Sunday, May 31.

He said the faculty expected to receive about 5 500 applications, of which 2 500 would meet the academic requirements to study medicine.

Only 300 will eventually be accepted into the programme.

Intake increased

However, he said the university has responded positively to the call from the minister of higher education to increase the number of doctors being trained.

"We therefore increased our intake from 220 to 300 in 2013 and plan over time to grow to 400," he said.

"Increasing medical student training is not straightforward as you [need to] add additional academic hospitals to the existing platform where students are taught.

"To this end we are partnering with the Gauteng Department of Health to develop Tembisa Hospital into an academic hospital."

He said there was no need to compromise on the high standard of acceptance into medical school.

"We have more than enough applicants who meet the high standards."

The University of the Free State shared the same closing date for applications. At some of the other universities, like the University of Witwatersrand, it is June 30.

Wits health faculty registrar Sarah Benn told News24 that about 8 000 applications were received last year from students wanting to study medicine.

"We only have place for 250. We are constrained by that number."

According to the university's health sciences admissions policy, which was revised in 2014, 50% of all prospective students' matric marks would be taken into account. While the other 50% would rely on their results in the National Benchmark Tests.

Shortage of skilled health science professionals

Forty percent of the available places would be offered to the top performing candidates based on academic merit. Twenty percent would be offered to the top performing rural learners, 20% to quintile 1 and 2 schools (poor/ no-fee schools) and 20% to top performing African and coloured students.

According to its website, the University of Stellenbosch admits about 235 candidates. The amount of initial applications to study medicine there could not be immediately confirmed.

The Higher Education Department could not be reached for comment, however, Minister Blade Nzimande said at the opening of the Public Health Building at Wits in 2013 that there was a shortage of skilled health science professionals.

"Unfortunately enrolments into the MBChb (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) have remained relatively stable between 2000 and 2011 at an annual average of 1 319 students," he said at the time.

"However my department, together with the Department of Health and the medical deans are working together to try and deal with this issue."

In April this year, the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University was officially launched. The institution effectively merged itself with the former Medical University of SA.

The university also could not be reached for comment.

Ramathuba said there were various reasons for the "brain drain" of doctors out of the country, including poor infrastructure.

"Sama did a survey in 2007 about the brain drain. At the top of the list of reasons was remunerations, second was working conditions and thirdly they felt that they were not appreciated and given the respect they deserve," she said.

"In some places in Mpumalanga and Limpopo we have a backlog of cases for three to six months. Some of these people really need a doctor.

"If you have a fracture, and it is not looked at soon enough,  you could end up with a deformed limb. And then you can't work properly.  You can't grow your economy without a healthy workforce."

She said a lack of resources could also affect doctors psychologically, which leads to them leaving the country.

"You could get a good salary, but if there is a patient there, and there are no resources to look after that patient and that patient dies, you can lie awake at night and see their face," Ramathuba said.

"This leads to some doctors being traumatised and saying: 'what the hell, let me just leave'."

Read more on:    sama  |  education  |  healthcare

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