- Two recent court rulings have found in favor of foreign-trained South African-born doctors and dentists who now want to practice in the country.
- The cases challenged a new policy that required foreign-trained South African doctors to undergo a year of local clinical training before being allowed to sit for pre-internship clinical exams.
- Since then, more than 100 of these doctors have been able to perform these exams.
South African doctors trained abroad will now be able to sit for local entrance exams without the need to complete a conversion year of clinical training.
This follows two separate court hearings in which the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and the Board of Medical and Dental Professionals were asked to enroll more than 100 physicians in clinical and theoretical examinations.
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In June 2021, Judge Margaret Victor at the Johannesburg High Court set aside the HPCSA policy governing the requirements for foreign-trained South African doctors or dentists who wish to practice in South Africa.
The case was presented by Dr. Hoosain Vawda, a South African who completed his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) at Anna Medical College in Mauritius. During his studies, Vawda received extensive clinical training. In March 2020, Vawda requested to complete her practical medical exam, the objective structured clinical exam, but was denied by the Board of Mental and Dental Professionals, in terms of its new policy.
Politics, called Path for registration of South African citizens possessing non-prescribed qualifications to register as physicians, or Pathway’s new policy went into effect in June 2020. Foreign-trained physicians were required to undergo one year of local clinical training before they were allowed to sit for their clinical exams prior to the internship. The HPCSA regulates the education, training, and registration of healthcare professionals under the Health Professions Act. There are twelve professional bodies under the HPCSA, including the Board of Mental and Dental Professionals.
By putting politics aside, Judge Victor harshly criticized politics. “At the time the decision was made [to implement the new policy] no South African university had programs to provide clinical exposure to foreign-trained medical students … Universities cannot be expected to improvise a clinical training program without proper planning. ”
Despite this ruling, the HPCSA has yet to enroll many foreign-trained physicians in these final professional examinations, including a group of around 100 foreign-trained physicians who are all South African citizens who studied in countries such as Romania, China, Mauritius, Malaysia. and Ukraine. They returned to South Africa after completing their studies in the hope of practicing medicine.
In August 2021, these newly qualified physicians, under the banner of the South African Association of Internationally Trained Health Professionals (SAITHPA), filed an application with the Pretoria High Court to compel the HPCSA to enroll them in clinical examinations. This action was partially successful, with some 30 doctors enrolled for exams in September.
On November 5, the unregistered physicians returned to court, seeking a contempt order against the Board of Medical and Dental Professionals and HPCSA, for failing to comply with the court order. This request was unopposed and the contempt order was granted on November 9. At the end of that month, the remaining 70 doctors trained abroad were granted access to the December round of examinations.
Rene Govender, president of the law firm of the South African Association of Internationally Trained Health Professionals, said: “So far we have maintained an 80% approval rate. We will continue to fight for the rights of our young doctors who were trained abroad to practice in their homeland. It is not easy for parents to spend millions sending their children to study abroad just to stay home when they return. ”
Dr. Geremie Nayager from Phoenix, Durban was one of the applicants on the second application. He completed his seven-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at Anhui Medical University in China in 2019. He also completed electives in internal medicine and surgery in Kerala, India. Upon his return to South Africa, he worked with Gift of the Givers and helped run their Durban Covid center.
“I had not planned to study abroad, it was a last minute decision I made to follow my dream,” Nayager told GroundUp.
“My application process with the HPCSA received no response for months, not even a reference number. The delay in administration was then attributed to the pandemic. Months later I was informed that I am not eligible for the board exam, as the board had to review my university’s curriculum. What the HPCSA was telling me meant that my years of study had been in vain. ”
Nayager passed his theory exams with flying colors. After the August court victory, he was invited to write his practical exam, which he also passed. He will begin an internship at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital in Umlazi, eThekwini, on January 1, 2022.
HPCSA head of corporate affairs Christopher Tsatsawane said the Board of Medical and Dental Professionals and the HPCSA had accepted Vawda’s ruling. Candidates wishing to write exams will be treated as before. If their presentations meet the requirements, they will initially be invited to sit for the theory exams and, once they pass, the practical exams before they can register as interns. ”
Tsatsawane said the number of applications chosen to write the clinical exams will be determined by “how many the university that administers these exams can accommodate.”