Although the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) claims it has developed criteria to allow for foreign-trained medical graduates to apply for internships, those requirements are not accessible to the graduates who may be interested.
A group of 77 South African medical graduates, represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), won a case against the council and the health minister in July for the unlawful denial to allow them to write the October/ November 2018 board examination.
LRC attorney Sharita Samuel told The Citizen the graduates were suffering from anxiety and depression as a result of ongoing unemployment because the denial prevented them from getting community service training.
It also disqualified them from working in South Africa as professional doctors.
Samuel said: “Our clients complained of prejudice in that they were forced to wait months – and in some cases years – before they were permitted to write the board examination.”
During the council’s conference yesterday, it addressed challenges graduates from foreign medical schools faced after returning to SA to practice.
Ministerial appointee to the HPCSA Professor Tahir Pillay said most candidates eager to practice opted to study abroad, due to there not being enough institutions in the country to cater for the demand.
He explained that with the restructuring of the Medical and Dental Professions Board (MDB), a curriculum committee was created to review curricula from foreign institutions to “determine if the graduates are eligible for the exam track or non-exam track pathway, before being registered as a medical practitioner with the HPCSA”.
The committee is made up of 10 members, including committees of medical and dental deans, medical scientists, postgraduate education and training committees, clinical associates, the HPCSA ombudsman and a medical education specialist.
Pillay said to process internship registrations, the council used the “robot system”, which allowed for three possible routes, labelled green, orange and red. These fell under two categories, exam track and non-exam track.
“A graduate from a non-exam track institution is not required to take the HPCSA board exam”, while a graduate from an exam-track institution would be required to pass an examination before registration.
Several factors determined which institutions fell under these categories, including whether it was listed in the world directory of medical and dental schools; international medical education directory; offered proof of national and international accreditation; and more.
If a graduate’s institution was unable to satisfy the requirements, that graduate would fall under red and be forced to write the examinations before registration.
Green and orange fell under exam-track institutions and depended on how many of the requirements the graduate was able to submit.
Pillay admitted that the HPCSA did not have this information on their website and that there were challenges with information regularity updated on their website.
He said: “A lot of us are still in the infancy [stage] in terms of knowing how to deal with foreign qualifications and how to vet them and register them.”