Updated 21 October 2016

SA medics worried about poor training, doctor shortages

The shortage of medical professionals and inadequate training are the two biggest concerns facing the future of the South African medical profession.

The shortage of medical professionals and inadequate training are the two biggest concerns facing the future of the South African medical profession.

This is according to over 630 doctors interviewed in a recent Professional Providence Society (PPS) survey, which revealed that only 45% of respondents felt confident about the future of the country's health care system over the next five years.

Doctors responded that the biggest challenges facing the profession included inadequate training (37% felt this), staffing levels (33%), ageing infrastructure (20%) and lack of medical supplies (9%).

Growing pressure to train more doctors
According to Dr Mark Sonderup, Vice-Chairman of the SA Medical Association, the doubts expressed about medical training are likely related to the growing pressure to train more doctors at the country’s existing medical schools:

“The major challenge we're currently facing is the finite available capacity we have to train new doctors. Hence, with increased numbers and strained capacity, a concern is being expressed that the quality of those being trained could be affected.”

To turn this around, training capacity must be accelerated, says Sonderup.

Read: Dire shortage of Aids docs

“The proposed new medical school in Limpopo is at an advanced stage of planning and should now be accelerated. Other plans that should be rapidly developed are a school in the Northern Cape and a Port Elizabeth-based satellite undergraduate medical campus of Walter Sisulu University. More resources need to be made available and more money needs to be invested in research. Furthermore, priority needs to be placed on specialist training as well as looking at partnerships with the private sector to assist with training.”

Doctor shortage stresses junior professionals
The survey supports a recent call from the Junior Doctors Association of South Africa (Judasa), to the effect that the doctor shortage placed unnecessary pressure on junior medical professionals, who were often forced to work up to 36 hours at a time. Medical students are currently petitioning Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to review their working hours. They are arguing that exhaustion from working long shifts is putting both doctors’ and patients’ health at serious risk.

Read: Anaesthesia schock: fatal decisions

On a more positive note, the survey results showed that 62% agreed with the principles underpinning the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) system. However, 54% of respondents were not prepared to enter into an arrangement with the Department of Health to work part-time at  rural public health facilities, which were part of the NHI pilot sites.

Two thirds support community service for young doctors
The survey also revealed that 66% believed community service for a year for qualifying doctors should be compulsory, with 34% saying that this period should in fact be longer.

Joubert pointed out that while community service may not be the answer to the issues doctors are currently facing, a longer period spent training in the field would help prepare junior doctors more adequately.

Read more:
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Who will be involved in an operation?
Doctors' people skills affect patients' health

Adapted by Health24 from Epic Communications (Pty) Ltd


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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