“My love for a challenge and working with people pushed me towards the field of medicine,” says Tanaka Gomba (23) in an interview with The Daily Vox. He was set on studying medicine since he was excelling in biology in grade 11 back in 2010. He finally realised his dream when he qualified as a doctor last year at Wits University after six years of studying.
But Gomba has yet to be placed for an internship.
Following graduation medical graduates are supposed to serve two years of internship followed by an additional year of community service in a public hospital. This is compulsory. Doctors cannot practice medicine independently in South Africa until they have completed an internship and community service. Internships are allocated during the final year of medical school so graduates can ideally begin work in January the following year. Medical students are expected to choose three accredited public hospitals they would like to be placed in in the country, and then matched placements are generated randomly. Additional rounds are expected to be finished by the end of the final year latest. But the department of health (DoH) ran into some trouble last year.
The Junior Doctors Association of South Africa (Judasa) started the #unemployeddoctors campaign to highlight that there were not enough posts in the public health sector available for junior doctors to complete their internships in 2018. Judasa is a group under the South African Medical Association (Sama) that represents the interests, needs, and challenges of junior doctors.
In December, the DoH said all medical graduates had been placed, but this was untrue.
An added layer of complexity to Gomba’s story is that he is not a South Africa citizen which means his placement is not prioritised. Gomba is originally from Zimbabwe and moved to South Africa in 2008 to complete high school in Johannesburg. He is a permanent resident in South Africa.
Placements are allocated in the following order: South African citizens are considered first, followed by foreign nationals with permanent residence status, refugees and asylum seekers; and then foreign nationals without permanent residence status and citizens who qualified for medicine outside of the country.
“We were all meant to begin training on the first of January this year, but we are now approaching the end of March. In a country where it is public knowledge that there is a serious shortage of doctors, it amazes me that this is the situation that we find ourselves in, after years of studying, so we could contribute to the health system,” Gomba said.
Gomba was initially placed in Port Shepstone Regional Hospital but found out on 31 December that this allocation had been taken away and had been handed to a citizen. All the permanent residence graduates allocations had been removed and redistributed to citizens that the department had not accounted for, he said. Gomba said it has been a “strenuous” time as the joy he had received upon allocation was yanked away and replaced with disappointment and anger.
Wits medical graduate and permanent resident Tinotenda Mangozho (26) is also unplaced. She said she believes the placement system is discriminatory and dehumanising – especially since permanent residents share the same rights as South African citizens.
“When a patient comes to the hospital, and they want to see a doctor they don’t say: Are you a South African citizen? If you’re not a citizen, are you a permanent resident? There’s no discrimination of that nature. It’s unfair,” she said in an interview with The Daily Vox.
Mangozho wanted to be a doctor ever since I was quite young. “I was always inspired by the role of doctors in society, by how they are able to make a difference particularly with preventative medicine,” she said. But now her dream is being put on hold and there is no communication to provide her with hope.
“It’s really frustrating, it’s upsetting,” Mangozho said, “the worst part is feeling idle and not using my skills.” She explained that with medicine especially, once you graduate you need to go straight into work because if you’re idle you’re not using your skillset. Her parents are also concerned as they’ve worked hard to pay her fees.
On 23 December, the director-general sent out an email which said the department was unable to place permanent residents but that they should be placed by 1 February. It is now nearing the end of March and the graduates have yet to be placed.
Oluwatomisin Oluwadara Adebanji (27) is originally from Nigeria and qualified with her MBBCh from the University of Pretoria (UP) last year with an average of over 70%. Adebanji worked hard to attain her qualification. She moved to South Africa in 2006 and completed two years of high school, then applied to medical school. She was rejected and took a detour to do a degree in nursing which she completed cum laude in 2011. In 2012, Adebanji was accepted for medical school at UP.
Adebanji said she had decided to do medicine at the age of nine. “I had always been in pursuit of knowledge. If the title “Dr” never came with the medical degree, I would still pursue it because I enjoy using what I know to bring relief and comfort to someone else as well as to their families,” she said.
The financial burden of Adebanji’s unemployment is being shouldered by her parents. “My parents have been really burdened because they spent a lot to send me to med school and by now expect me to be financially independent,” she said. Adebanji used to have a cooking business in Pretoria when she was a student but when her apartment lease expired, she had to move back to her parents’ home 70km from Pretoria and subsequently lost her customer base.
Adebanji never anticipated that she would be a medical graduate without work – especially considering how hard she’d worked to qualify. Most frustrating of all, there’s been no official or personal communication from the department despite her numerous attempts.
“I have been to the department several times, sometimes me and my colleagues were dismissed without getting to see anyone,” she said. On two occasions Adebanji and her colleagues met with a representative but this was to no avail. She remains unplaced.
In the last communication the permanent residents received on 23 December, they were told that they would be placed in January and start working on 1 February. There has been no official communication from the department ever since.
South Africa has a shortage of medical professionals – particularly doctors. Government puts pressure on universities to admit more medical students and the number of admitted medical students increases each year. However, there seems to be no accompanied increase in the number of funded posts for medical intern doctors – and medical graduates are stranded each year with little to no communication from the department.
The Daily Vox has reached out to the department of health for comment and will update the story once it is received.