She spent six years studying medicine just so she can sit at home
Swazi woman needs to secure an internship after studying in SA, but she can't because she was not born here
Lindokuhle Dlamini, 26, studied medicine at the University of Pretoria for six years but cannot get an internship, which is crucial to complete her training, because she was not born in SA.
In desperation, the Swazi woman has even offered to work for free for the compulsory two-year internship to secure her medical degree and be able to practise as a doctor.
She is one of at least 24 overseas medical students who are unable to get internship placements in SA, even though they studied here.
The health department said in a letter to Dlamini in October that it still needed to develop a policy for self-funded internships.
She is not alone.
Dlamini has provided Times Select with the names of 24 people from countries in the Southern African Development Community who cannot qualify as doctors despite training in the country.
At the same time, state hospitals are understaffed. Head of the Gauteng health department, Prof Mkhuleli Lukhele, admitted to the SA Human Rights Commission earlier this month that there was a severe shortage of doctors in the province.
“The system is jammed,” he said.
Dlamini, who married an SA engineer in 2018, said her husband supported the idea of her working for free to qualify.
But now she is thinking about quitting medicine. “I would rather study a new course for the sake of living.
“I love medicine. You get to help a lot of people.”
Dlamini has been sitting at home for one and a half years, writing letters to the health department, while her husband has visited senior health officials.
Dlamini paid the same university fees as local students, meaning the taxpayer subsidised her education since fees do not cover the full cost of studying.
In 2018, Dlamini was told in writing by a health department official that posts are for locals first, then foreigners. This, explained department spokesperson Popo Maja, is in line with the Immigration Act.
“This states that if a position is vacant, you need to first consider a South African and if such a skill is not available, or additional posts are available, you can consider a foreign national.”
The Swaziland government wrote a letter to a senior official in the department of health in 2018 asking that she and six others from Swaziland be given intern training posts.
The letter said the Swaziland health ministry has an internship programme “that is still at an infancy state and therefore is unable to take up these seven medical interns”.
The ministry “therefore humbly requests ... to allow them to do an internship programme”.
The letter was signed in July 2018 and sent to Gavin Steel, chief director of human resources for health.
A group of foreign medical doctors and pharmacists she is part of, wrote a letter to the health department about the issue last month, but is yet to receive a reply.
“With due respect, we do accept that opportunity has to be afforded to the priority placement of South African nationals and citizens.
“We are dedicated health professionals whose passion is to save local lives and improve the livelihood of the communities in which we live and beyond.
“It is sad to realise that we are not being utilised, yet it is evident that the skills we have and are willing to offer are critical,” the group wrote.
In January 2020, the health department has to place about 970 students who returned from Cuba, and will finish local studies this year, in internships. This is in addition to the 1,250 local medical students who qualify annually.
Internship is under review by medical deans who have proposed cutting it from two years to one, saying it wasn’t “meeting the country’s needs”.
SA Medical Association chairperson Dr Angelique Coetzee told TimesLIVE in January there were too few internships to accommodate medical students graduating in SA and abroad‚ especially the “large amount” from Cuba.
“There is a big bottleneck ... if you can bring down the internships to one year ... then you alleviate the pressure.”
Health department spokesperson Maja said there was an increased demand for internship posts as the department had been training more medical students and sending many to Cuba.
He said foreigners may have to complete internships in their home countries, adding that SADC countries “agreed not to recruit health professionals from each other”.