Tuks students up in arms about extra internship year

Medical students at the University of Pretoria could fight a proposed extra year of internship in the High or Constitutional court, representative Christiaan Burger said on Wednesday.

Acting on behalf of the students, the labour union Solidarity had already laid a charge of breach of contract at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), union representative Reint Dykema said.

“We have not heard anything from the CCMA yet,” Burger said. He is a second-year medical student at the university.

He said over 215 students from medical and related fields of study had submitted their support in writing.

The charge was based on the premise that the assumption under which students started their studies differed substantially from the situation which they would face if the extra year was added.

If the students CCMA bid did not succeed, Solidarity would consider taking further legal steps against Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, Dykema said.

That could include testing the constitutionality of the extra year in the High Court or even the Constitutional Court, he said.

Burger said the addition of a year would mean medical students would only be able to pursue their own careers after nine years—six years of study, two of internship and two of community service.

If Tshabalala-Msimang wanted students to remain in South Africa because the country urgently needed doctors, she should make it possible for them to remain here, he said.

But Professor Phanyani Mariba, dean of the University of Pretoria’s medical faculty, said the students and the union were barking up the wrong tree. It was not the minister who proposed that the extra internship year should be instituted, but the SA Medical and Dental Council, he said.

This council belongs to the umbrella body the Health Professions Council of SA, of which Mariba is president.

It was hoped that the new measure could be implemented by July 2004, he said.

The reason was to ensure that while doing their internship, young doctors would at least do six-month stints in four major areas—surgery, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynaecology, and paediatrics.

It would ensure a more complete education, Mariba said.

“That would result in much more of a rounded person.”

According to the dean, there were very few places in the world were students went into practice immediately after finishing their medical degrees.
In England students did three years of family medicine, rotating through different areas.

Legislation was necessary to allow for the extra year, Mariba said.

“We’ve submitted the (draft) legislation. The minister will have to publish it.” - Sapa

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