The South African Committee of Medical Deans (SACOMD) is calling for an urgent forum to discuss and create plans for processes managing all students studying medicine abroad. This follows tensions in Ukraine, which have left many South African medical students studying in Ukraine stranded.
SACOMD Secretariat Dr Berene Kramer said that in recent years there has been an increase in the number of young people seeking medical education abroad in numerous foreign destinations, some of which may have substantially different entry requirements to those applied in South Africa.
At last estimation, this number exceeded 2 000. The problems associated with the reintegration of this cohort of South Africans have occupied universities, accreditation bodies as well as government departments over the past five years as preparation for their adaptation to a South African health system that is managed appropriately to ensure the safety of South Africans.
“The number of places for training as doctors in South African medical education programmes is inadequate. This poses a challenge to addressing the demands of our nation for medical graduates in sufficient numbers with the requisite skills and attributes to respond appropriately to the current burdens of disease and their related social determinants,” Kramer said.
Kramer said that since 2020 the pressure of the pandemic has resulted in many students returning to South Africa and not being able to return to their chosen universities abroad.
Kramer said these students are constantly approaching South African medical bodies for support and integration.
"Furthermore, the war in Ukraine has created untold human suffering. For South African students studying in that country, the burdens of suddenly being without a place to study cannot be estimated. This has added the need for a more urgent response to their situation," she said.
Kramer said the Ukraine crisis will require reflection on how the matter is addressed.
“As a humanitarian crisis which demands a global and national response of care and compassion. As an educational challenge which will need to address issues of reciprocal recognition of qualification, the adequacy of training platforms and the capacity to support student learning needs,” Kramer said.
Kramer added that there needs to be an urgent forum to discuss and create plans for processes managing those students who are studying medicine overseas.
“We need to convene a group which will consider the placement of Ukraine-based medical students in alternate European sites with reciprocal medical qualifications. This group should include the SA Committee of Medical Deans, universities of SA and government departments dealing with higher education and training, health, and international relations and co-operation,” Kramer said.
She said there is also a need for ongoing discussions among medical deans to create suitable responses to the urgent needs for supporting student clinical development.