Medical students want clarity on whether lockdown will cause graduation delays

Lindokuhle Ntshangase (UKZN website)
Lindokuhle Ntshangase (UKZN website)

Lindokuhle Ntshangase worked hard at school to get six distinctions and a place in medical school.

However, like many other students, he is worried the lockdown, which is aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, may be extended.

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If it is, they will be unable complete their studies, delaying their graduation.

Ntshangase is in his sixth year of a gruelling nine-year journey toward qualifying as a doctor.

This includes two years as an intern and a year of compulsory community service.

But as he gets through the lockdown at home in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal, and completes course work online, he is worried students will be unable to complete their practical work in time to graduate if the lockdown is extended.


An extension also means that next year's new doctors will be unable to start working.

"It is not about final-year students alone, but all students across the country," Ntshangase told News24.

The work they might miss out on includes practicing how to draw blood and how to administer an injection - work that cannot be learnt online.

At the moment, if he needs clarity on an aspect of his syllabus, he turns to YouTube.

However, internet reception where he lives is patchy and since he does not earn a salary, data costs are worrisome.

He said students did not want to be "pushed through" on any of the modules because of the lockdown because the knowledge was vital to their work as doctors.

Ntshangase just wants clarity for all medical students in the country on what will happen if the lockdown is extended so that they do not fall behind.

The vice dean: learning and teaching at Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Professor Julia Blitz, said the faculty was planning to complete the academic year within the original time frame. "We will be prioritising final-year medical students to ensure that they will be able to graduate and register as interns with the [Health Professions Council of SA as planned]."

The University of the Witwatersrand's dean of health sciences, Professor Martin Veller, said the university was still grappling with different options to make sure students could graduate.

Virtual lectures

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) said the clinical teaching of medical students was governed by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and clear predetermined outcomes have to be met.

"To compromise on bedside teaching will impact on the student being able to register with the HPCSA upon graduation. Therefore, the College of Health Sciences has proposed a few scenarios which are dependent on when the lockdown is over," said Normah Zondo, the acting executive director of corporate relations.

During the lockdown, virtual lectures covering the theoretical component of the curriculum will take place.

UKZN is in negotiations with mobile service providers for the provision of data cards for students.

"Once the lockdown is lifted and students return to hospital settings, we will be focusing on hospital- and clinical-based learning.

The university, the HPCSA and the KwaZulu-Natal health department are working to assess the risk factors in hospital settings for the students during the Covid-19 outbreak.

"There are various dates proposed based on the varying scenarios which depends on when the lockdown will be lifted. The sessional dates will be amended accordingly with the last option being to extend clinical teaching into January 2021 - in the event of the lockdown continuing until the end of the first semester.

"In the meantime, we are encouraging students to volunteer in non-patient contact activities where possible, and to get more information on voluntary work, they should contact the UKZN Covid-19 team," said Zondo.

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