FEEL GOOD | Medical student graduates and joins Covid-19 fight, thanks to crowdfunding

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Retshidisitswe Kotane. (Supplied)
Retshidisitswe Kotane. (Supplied)

Retshidisitswe Kotane, a medical graduate who recently registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), is proud to be serving her country at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19 after finally receiving her degree thanks to a crowdfunding initiative.  

In January, she was on the verge of being a statistic. She missed three graduation ceremonies and was unable to find a job in the field she studied because she was unable to receive her qualification certificate due to unpaid university fees.

She was just one of the 55.2% of young people in the 15-to-25-year-old age bracket who were unemployed in the first quarter of 2020 – making this population group the most vulnerable in the South African labour market.

Kotane knew from a young age that she wanted to positively impact people's lives and make a difference in communities. She felt that her dreams were well within her grasp when she completed her Bachelor of Clinical Medical Practice studies, a new mid-level healthcare provider qualification in South Africa, at the Wits Medical School.

However, her name was removed from the graduation list because she had about R95 000 in outstanding fees that she was unable to pay. Without her graduation certificate, Kotane could not register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and was therefore not allowed to work in the medical field.

Crowdfunding

Kotane heard about the Feenix crowdfunding platform, through which she was able to connect with individuals in her community to partly reach her fundraising goal with the bulk of the balance paid by the Standard Bank Tutuwa Community Foundation. Tutuwa is one of the institutions that has joined the Feenix community to ensure that students are given a chance to graduate and pursue the next step in their future.

"The foundation aims to inspire and support the growth and development of young people so that they can reach their full potential and be productive citizens. Our contribution to Feenix is to fund young people like Retshidisitswe Kotane to enable her to attain her degree certificate which she has worked so hard for, is an example of our contribution towards building a better South Africa and leaving a legacy.

"It is deeply concerning that after working so hard and attaining her degree, she could not graduate and get the opportunity to seek employment as a result of outstanding fees but instead increased the number of young people who fall in the NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) category. Congratulations Retshidisitswe, and well done for your hard work, resilience, tenacity and staying the course," said Zanele Twala, CEO of the Tutuwa Foundation.

'Complete disbelief'

Kotane couldn't quite believe that her dreams were becoming a reality.

"After I received the email telling me my debt would be covered, I was in complete disbelief. I only realised it was true when I checked my fee statement a week later and found that the outstanding fees had indeed been settled."

She immediately made her way to the HPCSA offices in Pretoria and registered as a health professional and received her registration number. While her long wait for registration was finally over, she believed she would have a further struggle to find employment. But a mere three days after registration with the HPCSA, she got a call offering her a locum contract at a private clinic.

To her surprise, a week after registering with the HPCSA, a former lecturer called her to advise that there was an opportunity to apply for work at Netcare. Kotane sent her CV through, and within a few days, was offered a position as part of the response team to the Covid-19 pandemic at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

"All of this happened within less than a month of having my debt cleared and registering with the HPCSA," said Kotane. 

She is also proud to be serving her country as it faces an unprecedented medical crisis. "I am doing what I am passionate about and learning so much at the same time."

Cara-Jean Petersen, student engagement manager at Feenix, explained universities were unable to release graduate certificates to students who hadn't settled their fees in full.

No employment without certificate

"For some professions, the certificate is required proof of qualification and without it, graduates cannot be employed. This creates a vicious circle of unemployment, as the student cannot get a job until they can prove their qualification, but they cannot pay their outstanding fees until they have secured a job.

"It is cases like Retshidisitswe's that affirm the work we do at Feenix, connecting funders with university students. Not only to the employability of students, but also to the lives of countless South Africans who could be receiving the support of caring, engaged and motivated medical workers like her," Petersen said.

- Compiled by Riaan Grobler

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