/ 18 April 2017

Health department frustrates medical graduates waiting for internships

Medical student Inati Mcapazeli studies a chest x-ray at Cape Town’s Brooklyn Chest Hospital on World TB Day 2012.
Medical student Inati Mcapazeli studies a chest x-ray at Cape Town’s Brooklyn Chest Hospital on World TB Day 2012.

Doctors who have just graduated are bitter about the department of health’s failure to allocate them jobs and internships.  They need to complete an internship and do community service before they can practice independently. A number of doctors have not been placed because of a shortage of posts and funding for vacant posts. There also seems to be a problem with application processes.

In the first of a series on frustrated doctors, The Daily Vox spoke to Joanne Cunniffe-Miller (27) who graduated last year but, still hasn’t found an internship placement despite applying several times. She remains unemployed in Durban, Kwazulu-Natal, a province where only 2 126 of the 3 191 posts available for medical practitioners have been filled.

I’m married, I studied in Jo’burg and my husband started a job in Durban this year. I requested to be placed in KwaZulu-Natal for personal reasons. I didn’t get placed in the first and second rounds and in the third round I got offered a place in Potchefstroom, which was my fourth choice out of the five. I turned this down – obviously – because I can’t work in a different province to my husband. It’s not feasible and not fair on him.

Much like everyone else, I’ve been sitting around and waiting. I’ve been trying to contact the health department throughout December and January. I eventually got told that there were no placements and that we must wait to reapply in the mid-year cycle, which still has not opened. It’s been a non-stop disappointment. The department promised us applications would open in March, then that got changed to April 1. Then they said there were problems with the online system, which I think is a lie. I think it’s a cover-up because they have no jobs. On April 10, they promised us it was opening and it didn’t. Then they said it would definitely open on  April 11. I’m just completely pessimistic about it. I don’t even have any hope for it. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

If I had the option I would move overseas right now, but without your internship it’s very difficult. I’ve looked into it extensively. For my husband and I, it’s a financial issue that I’m not working, it’s becoming more of an issue every day. I think the government is going to lose plenty of doctors because people who are already doing their internship or have finished their internships can easily go overseas. For those people, that’s a much better option: you have a better quality of life and you get paid really well and you are guaranteed a job. I think the health department is going to have a huge loss if they don’t sort the situation out.

This is my passion. I worked really hard to get into medicine. This is what I really want to do and I’m not prepared to sit around and wait for a year to get a job only to face the same problems after internship. I’m likely to face problems with community service – we all are. If I want to specialise, I’m likely to bump my head again.

They’ve been telling us they have no money to pay interns, which is why they have no posts. That was in March. I’m wondering how now, all of a sudden, they’re going to have money to pay interns. It is a budget thing, because it’s not just interns. You have community service doctors who are sitting without jobs and you have people who finished internships and community service who can’t get jobs to train further in hospitals.

It’s a huge problem. I’m not sure what they’re going to do about it. They’re sending doctors to Cuba to train, they’re increasing the intake at medical schools, they’re doing all of that to fix the healthcare system, but they don’t have money to pay us. The planning is shocking. I don’t know what’s going on. The unfortunate thing is we’re powerless to do anything. We’ve tried to take every route possible. A friend of mine even had a meeting with a lawyer to see what we could do, but our hands are tied.

There’s definitely some sort of problem that happened with the application process. It wasn’t fair. I think their system was faulty from the very beginning. They said it was a completely random allocation and that personal considerations would be considered but wouldn’t guarantee placement. But there’s so many of us who feel like our considerations weren’t considered at all.

[This is] how we were told the application works: we were told the algorithm wasn’t fair from the very beginning. It seems like it’s a much bigger problem in KwaZulu-Natal. It makes sense because they’ve got huge budget problems and stuff like that.

Overall, I don’t know. I don’t know if trying to motivate for special circumstances disadvantages you. I have no idea. None of us have any answers.

The Daily Vox contacted the health department for comment and is awaiting a response.

As told to Shaazia Ebrahim, edited for brevity and clarity. — The Daily Vox