I started my internship in January 2016. I was terrified. People’s actual lives were now in my hands. At the same time I was excited. This is what I had dreamt about since I was five years old and told my mom I was going to work in a “hostiple” one day. It was the reason I had studied for hours on end as a teenager (when my friends were busy being real teenagers) to get good grades to qualify for medical school. And it was the reason I chose a degree that would entail 6 years of university. A degree that would ensure all my friends, even my baby sister, would qualify before me.
Now, on the 21 November 2017, I am a few weeks shy of being truly qualified. My training is almost over. I have spent two years working far more hours than I should have. Coming home with blood-shot eyes after a 26 hour shift at least once a week, mostly twice. Having to miss out on family gatherings and holidays with my friends because I only get every second weekend off. Finally, I can enter the working world as a “medical officer” rather than “the intern”…
Actually, no! I can’t! Because the National Department of Health requires that I complete a year of community service first. A year in which I am seen as fully qualified doctor but I just have to spend it working in the public sector. Without this year behind me I can’t go into private or specialize. I must first do my community service. And I don’t mind. I think this is a great idea. The public sector in South Africa is where the work force is most needed. I have absolutely no problem with giving up one year of my life for the people that need my expertise the most. If only, the Department, who requires this service of me, would actually give me a job. It’s already 21 November and 316 potential community service doctors for 2018 are without placements, and therefore without jobs.
The NDOH has promised that we will all be placed by 1 January 2018. But they’ve already broken countless promises and missed many deadlines. Why should we believe them? And even if we do believe them, why should we accept this? Should we consider it reasonable that we be expected to uproot our entire lives in the space of a few weeks, and move across country, keeping in mind we are expected to continue working at our current hospitals until the 31 December? How do you find a place to live over the Christmas Season with only a month’s (if that) notice? For me, who is unattached and doesn’t have more than a small herb garden that is dependent on me, it might be a bit easier. But what about my colleagues who have spouses and children?
The NDOH’s initial timeline for placements, had they stuck to it, would have meant that everyone should have been placed by now, giving us at least 6 weeks (still a tall order) to sort out our lives. In reality, there are still 316 of us who have no idea what 2018 will hold. For a few of us it may even entail unemployment. Never mind the fact that there are still hundreds of doctors without placement for 2018, there actually aren’t even enough posts for all of us. Some doctors who have been assigned a placement have called the hospitals to confirm and have been told that, in fact, the province in question actually doesn’t have enough funding to fill that placement. So basically the NDOH requires that we commit a year of our lives to working in the public sector (and without doing so we cannot progress with our careers) however, they don’t even have the necessary positions available to make his possible. Sounds crazy? That’s because it is!
I just want to say one thing to the National Department of Health of South Africa, we are people, human beings, with lives and families and aspirations outside of Medicine. And we were those people before we were doctors. Please don’t forget that. To read more stories like mine, and to get a better understanding of the situation visit the JUDASA Facebook and twitter pages or follow #unemployeddoctors https://www.facebook.com/JUDASAWC