Final year medical students are concerned they may not be able to graduate this year. As the COVID-19 lockdown continues in South Africa, many institutions of higher learning have moved their academic operations online. For final year medical students who have to complete clinical teaching hours however, online learning is not an option.
UPDATE AS OF 30 APRIL 2020: During a press briefing, higher education minister Blade Nzimande announced that final year medical students would be returning to campus to complete their clinical training.
Speaking to The Daily Vox, a student from a medical school in KwaZulu Natal said her class was told to evacuate campus when the university was shut down, and received no further information from the university.
Sixth-year medical students have to complete certain hours of clinical training in order to graduate at the end of the year. They then have to carry out two years of internship and one year of community service at public hospitals around the country.
A student from Wits University told The Daily Vox that one of main concerns facing students is that they might have to complete the academic year in 2021. He said this has caused concern around what will happen to their internship posts.
The KZN student told The Daily Vox that if students cannot graduate at the end of the year, this will mean that there won’t be any interns going into the system. She said this means there will be a problem in the health system. This means there will be a shortage of medical interns in the health system. The Wits student said that if there aren’t any interns, this could cause a collapse in the health sector.
There are currently nine medical schools in South Africa. The training of medical students is governed by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). The council sets out predetermined outcomes that have to be met.
The dean of the health sciences faculty, Martin Veller, at Wits University told The Daily Vox that they are concerned about their clinical students and their ability to complete the academic year.
Speaking to News24Wire, University of KwaZulu Natal’s Normah Zondo, the acting executive director of corporate relations said: “The College of Health Sciences has proposed a few scenarios which are dependent on when the lockdown is over.” In a statement to The Daily Vox, Zondo said the university has planned multiple scenarios to ensure teaching and learning resumes.
Veller said they are aware that clinical students would be able to “lend a hand” during this time and that is important they finish the academic year. “For this reason, we are currently exploring, countrywide, ways in which this can be achieved. This is what we are currently working on,” said Veller. Veller said the universities require the department of health and higher education to approve whatever plan they come up with.
The Wits student said he thinks the department should allow students to return to campus especially students that require practical experience like medical students.
The Daily Vox has reached out to both departments for comment. This story will be updated once received.
There is also a financial implication for many students. If the academic year is not completed, students will need to pay many expenses in 2021 said the Wits student. This includes rent and tuition fees.
According to the students, The Daily Vox has spoken, most final year medical students wish to resume their clinical training. This, despite the added risks they may face.