The South African Medical Association says there is a bottleneck in the system that would be alleviated if doctors' internships were halved to a year, followed by a year's community service. Picture: 123RF/GEKASKR
The South African Medical Association says there is a bottleneck in the system that would be alleviated if doctors' internships were halved to a year, followed by a year's community service. Picture: 123RF/GEKASKR

Shortening doctors’ internships from two years to one is being mooted to alleviate the strain in the training of doctors.

Health department spokesperson Popo Maja said: "What we know is that one of the health stakeholders did entertain the idea of internship training being reviewed. But it is too early for us to say anything about it."

Two-year internships help medical students translate their theoretical knowledge into practice under the supervision of experienced doctors after their studies. One-year community service helps provide healthcare to underserved areas.

South African Medical Association (Sama) chair Dr Angelique Coetzee said there was currently a bottleneck, with too few internships to accommodate medical students graduating in SA and abroad, especially in Cuba.

"Where does one place that large amount of people coming in, plus these who you have already?" Coetzee said. "There is a big bottleneck at this stage, so if you can bring down the internships to one year and have one year comserve [community service], then you alleviate the pressure."

Trade union Solidarity welcomed the idea.

"These internships increasingly acquire the characteristics of obstacles for the profession rather than to create opportunities for the expansion of knowledge and the necessary preparation for the student’s career," Solidarity Research Institute’s Morné Malan said.

"We see too often that these programmes are known for the poor management, limited leadership, inhuman working environments and enormous workloads."

Coetzee said co-operation between the private and public healthcare sectors could help; for example, interns could work in general practitioners' practices for six months.

"Maybe the state still pays their fees but then they learn skills in GP practices, because you have interns who only have hospital skills … Then you alleviate another six months on the system."

Solidarity believes the solution is to accredit private institutions to offer internships.

"The primary issue is not the time that is taken from a prospective medical practitioner’s career, but rather the fact that this time is wasted. The quality and management of medical doctors' practical training are sometimes horrific — and this while training in the private sector is a significant need for both student and the industry, but not available."