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Medical students fear return to hospitals due to Covid-19 safety concerns

Published May 6, 2020


Cape Town - Final year medical students around the country are at their wits end as universities ordered them to return to their hospitals to complete their in-service training, despite the lockdown and possible infection exposure.

According to student assist portal Student Matters ZA, which has been providing young doctors with assistance, the main concern is with regards to the safety of students returning to the clinical platform.

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“We have seen fellow healthcare workers downing tools in an aim to raise awareness to the lack of PPE across the country. For a healthcare system that is already burdened and short of resources, students joining the workforce and being on the front line would only add insult to injury and put further strain on the system.”

On March 17, a media briefing was held by the Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande on the outcome of the meeting and measures that all 26 public universities and TVET colleges would be implementing to further combat the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Post School Education and Training sector. After the briefing, a decision was made to send all students home. At the time, no exceptions were made, therefore, all academic activities, including clinical training, were halted.

The Junior Doctors Association of South Africa (Judasa) vice-chairperson Dr Tshepile Tlali said: “We would like the students to complete their medical studies and in-service training within 2020 so that they can assume their internship posts at the beginning of 2021. However, we feel that there need to be clear guidelines on measures to protect their safety.”

Many of the students were too afraid to speak to the Cape Argus for fear of victimisation from their universities

Spokesperson for the department of higher education Ishmael Mnisi said: “Guided by the work and decisions of the National Command Council, we have decided not to resume with campus-based academic activity throughout the PSET sector (Post School Education and Training), including all universities and Tvet Colleges, both public and private, during the Level Four (4) lockdown period.”

National health department spokesperson Popo Maja said the training of final year medical students is regulated by the department of higher education led by the deans of health Sciences.

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“In accordance with Regulation and procedures to deal with Covid-19, all health workers must be trained, then provided with PPE. They must be screened when getting into the facilities and tested if necessary,” Maja said.

Prof Julia Blitz, vice-dean of Learning and Teaching, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University said: “Following Minister Nzimande’s announcement about final-year students’ return to clinical training, the university has to wait for the amendments to be gazetted before being able to take action”

Dean and Associate Professor at the UCT’s Faculty of Health Sciences, Lionel Green-Thompson said: “Interns form an integral part of quite a scarce human resource in the health system and will be needed at a time of extreme pressure in the health system.”

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Cape Argus

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