Medic interns express frustration as health department is silent on 2024 placements

04 December 2023 - 20:30
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Medical interns claim the department of health has failed to adequately prepare them for their 2024 placements.
Medical interns claim the department of health has failed to adequately prepare them for their 2024 placements.
Image: 123RF/Jasminko Ibrakovic

Frustration mounts for some medical interns still waiting to hear from the national health department regarding their placements for community service.

Medical interns need to complete the service to complete their medical training.

The students who spoke to TimesLIVE, on condition of anonymity, said they have no idea whether they should start preparing for next year as the department does not provide them with direction.

“We’ve just done two years in a crippled healthcare system, and we are now facing another year in said system, in even more rural places. In a time like December when everyone else is planning their summer holidays, we are working harder than ever in busy hospitals during the festive period.

“At the same time we have been waiting with bated breath to find out where we will be placed next year, likely having to move across country with no social support and limited time to find accommodation, settle in and orientate ourselves,” said the student.

He said that they had been pleading with the national department of health (NDoH) to inform them of the placements, but some of them were left out.

“First, many of these people have not been allocated in any of their chosen five hospitals or even any of their three provinces. This means that couples are separated, children are being taken out of schools, and people are being separated from their families and people’s lives upended,” he said.

He added that though this happens every, this year it was particularly chaotic and disorganised.

“There have been rumours that this is because the ICSP [Internship and Community Service Programme] stopped paying for the system that they used previously. This implies that they’re trying to do this all manually.

“If this is the case, this is yet another government department that is failing to provide the service that it has promised. The ICSP has the entire year to plan for this process and yet they are still getting it wrong,” he said.

A Capetonian who moved to Pietermaritzburg for the internship said if they were told where they are placed they would be in a position to make decisions about their lives.

“I could make arrangements and try and sort out my life, but this not knowing, along with the added stress of my dad being sick, is unbearable.

“In September my dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. He’s been in and out of hospital. I was planning to go to Mpumalanga for community service, but since my dad’s diagnosis I decided it would be better to try to be with my family.

“I sent a long email to the ICSP and national department of health explaining why I needed to be in Cape Town and their response was that it doesn’t fall within the outlines considerations, and therefore it will not be taken into account,” she said.

Her considerations are her personal health, she is pregnant, and her other child is in school, and the living arrangement with her partner in the province of choice.

“I’ve been sitting worrying that I’ve been placed in a province far away from my family, far away from my sick father with no social support,” she said.

One medic student said this has been an “excruciatingly anxiety-ridden experience. All of us feel so hopeless with no information as to where we stand next year. There is absolutely no accountability from the department of health. The system they have chosen this year to release placements is absolutely unacceptable and so many of us are still in the dark about our futures”.

“We are being expected to call every coordinator in every province to find out if we are on their list. We are professionals who work full-time, including over-time calls, so where are we supposed to find the time to do all this?

“We are stuck. We cannot find jobs for ourselves yet and the department cannot place us or communicate with us.”

Dr Angelique Coetzee from the South African Medical Association said they are pleading with the department to deal with the placements expeditiously.

“We understand that they have a new online system that is adding a layer to the placement process, but we would urge them to prioritise community service interns.

“It’s a terribly frustrating query that comes to us over and over again. We really need to sort it out,” Coetzee said.

The DA has called on minister Dr Joe Phaahla to “put his money where his mouth is and personally ensure that each and every community service doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, and other personnel are placed on time, with the support they require”.

“These young professionals are the future of South African health care and the department of health needs to either ensure that they are assisted on time, or consider partnering with private institutions to fill the gaps.

“This inept, unprofessional management of the programme must come to an end.”

TimesLIVE has sent a query to the NDoH. The department chose not to respond to the queries sent but instead sent an invitation to a media briefing to outline the state of readiness for the festive season in terms of health services, especially the emergency medical services.

“Other issues to be discussed will include announcements on the placement of medical interns and community service for 2024,” read the invite.

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