A new regulation will require doctors trained out of SA to complete a 12-month internship at a local hospital.
THE LATEST regulations by the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) could leave many internationally-trained South African doctors unable to practise medicine in the country.
According to the HPCSA’s latest policy guidelines published in July, South African citizens who hold foreign qualifications must apply to a South African university for one year, in which they would complete a 12-month internship at local hospitals.
Only then would they be accepted to complete the practical portion of the SA Medical Board exams which, if passed, would allow them to practise in the country.
In addition to the policy guidelines, at least 55 qualified doctors were told that they could not proceed at all with registering for the one-year internship and board exams as the HPCSA no longer recognised the institutions at which they studied.
This has left a number of doctors at their wits’ end as their years of studies are no longer recognised by South Africa, and therefore they are not considered doctors in the country.
The group of doctors, represented by advocate Rene Govender of the SA Internationally Trained Health Professionals Association, have since issued a letter of demand to the HPCSA to accept and recognise these universities or face legal action.
HPCSA chairperson Dr Kgosi Letlape said the latest policy was about compliance with its framework.
He said it was the HPCSA’s responsibility to license those who were safe and vetted.
“How are we expected to accept you as a qualified doctor in our country when you didn’t practise in the country you studied in?
“We are a self-regulatory body and we want to keep it that way.
“We don’t want people to be qualified because they had the money to go to court. It looks like they don’t appreciate what the council has done for them and they want to qualify through the court,” Letlape said.
He said that the decision not to recognise some institutions may have been informed by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), which is the highest certification for a foreign doctor.
“If the ECFMG withdraws their credentials from institutions, we just follow suit. I am not saying that was the case here, but these graduates would have got the reasons for the decision in a communication from the HPCSA,” Letlape said.
However, according to one of the affected doctors, the medical councils in other countries were accepting doctors who qualified at the same institutions, and it was only South Africa that had snubbed graduates.
The graduates are South African citizens who have graduated from medical training institutions based in China, Guyana and Romania.
Speaking to the DFA’s sister newspaper The Mercury, Dr Kalvin Maharaj from Pietermaritzburg, who studied at the Hebei North University in China, said he was one of 54 doctors in the country who had been denied the right to practise medicine as their university was no longer recognised by the HPCSA.
Maharaj, who moved to China for his studies in 2014, said that he chose to study at Hebei North University as it was previously recognised by the HPCSA and there were many practising doctors who had qualified there.
“I had achieved top marks in matric but I wasn’t accepted for medicine in any of the South African universities. I knew that foreign graduates had no issue in returning to the country to practise, so I followed my passion and left to live and study in another country at 18 years old.
“This was a huge emotional sacrifice for me at that young age and an even bigger financial sacrifice for my parents. After graduating, I knew I wanted to return to serve my country, but it seems my country doesn’t want us,” Maharaj said.
He said that all the applicants had attempted to make an application to the HPCSA to write the board exam, but were told either verbally or in writing that their applications would not be processed, as per the decision of the HPCSA to review the curriculum offered at the universities from which they had graduated.
Maharaj, who graduated in July last year, said when he initially applied to write his board exams, the HPCSA requested a number of documents from him, including ECFMG certification that he had studied at a legitimate university.
After a six-month wait, the HPCSA requested a logbook of his training at the university and health care facilities in Hebei. Maharaj said the university responded with all relevant documentation within 24 hours but the HPCSA responded almost eight months later, requesting other medical councils to confirm the university’s recognition.
“Within 48 hours, Canada and Australia’s medical council e-mailed the HPCSA saying they recognised graduates from Hebei North University and would employ them. The HPCSA said the e-mail was not proof enough, and so that’s when we looked at our options legally,” Maharaj said.
He said the ordeal left him disappointed and he was now considering emigrating to New Zealand or Canada as his qualifications were recognised there.
Maharaj added that throughout his studies, whenever he returned to South Africa, he and others would volunteer at local hospitals, and had the support of local doctors who would vouch for them.
“We know the procedures here and would fit into the system seamlessly. We are ready to help the poorest of the poor, who sit in queues for hours on end because of the lack of doctors. The voices of those people, the ones who need us, are not being heard.
“We are qualified and sitting at home for more than a year now, during a pandemic, unable to help because the HPCSA does not want us to,” Maharaj said.