Registrar of the Health Professions Councils of Namibia (HPCNA), Cornelius Weyulu, this week confirmed that of the 99 graduates who underwent the evaluation in September, only 45 were cleared for the health ministry’s 2018 medical internship programme.
The government made it mandatory that Namibian medical graduates with international degrees should have their competencies evaluated against the standards of the HPCNA.
Most graduates failed to achieve the minimum 50% pass mark in four domains, and have now been given a second option to undergo a “remedial programme” at the training hospitals.
“The purpose of this remedial programme is to help you acquire the necessary clinical skills and competencies in the field of medicine before you may be re-evaluated,” reads a letter by the HPCNA issued to a graduate who failed the evaluation.
The graduates, who studied in Russia, China, Cuba and Ukraine, took the test on 22 September at the National Health Training Centre, but the results were only released last week.
“They cannot be registered as medical practitioners until they complete an internship,” said Weyulu.
This means those who failed will be out of the medical profession for at least a year before they are given a second and final opportunity to re-write, despite their degrees.
In a letter addressed to those who failed, the HPCNA said this second re-evaluation is final and should they again be unsuccessful, they will be required to submit proof of additional education in the field of medicine by recognised medical institutions before they are considered for medical internship. After submitting the required documents, the HPCNA said, those who would have failed would be considered for registration as interns.
According to the HPCNA, the government in 2016 published regulations enabling Namibians studying medicine outside the country to be registered in Namibia simultaneously, and return from time to time for practical exposure as the foreign universities did not offer practical skills.
Weyulu said most of the Namibian students who are still studying at international universities are now registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Namibia and travel back home during holidays for practical attachments.
The damning test results have attracted criticism from some of the Unam School of Medicine graduates, who argue that the failure by the majority of those who obtained medical degrees abroad was a waste of resources.
Weyulu remained optimistic, saying that most, if not all senior medical practitioners and specialists currently practising in the country, studied outside Namibia.
“Namibia is still getting some value for money by sending Namibians to study medicine outside the country,” he noted.
Weyulu, however, said there is a need to have the numbers controlled to avoid oversupply and overwhelming the system with persons seeking internship placement.
“Secondly, there is a need for proper screening of those being sent to study medicine to prevent persons who obtained low points in Grade 12 being selected and funded to do medicine.
“Thirdly, Namibians should only be sent to study at credible educational institutions, and finally, as local training capacity improves, the number of persons seeking medical education outside should gradually decrease,” he explained.
Some students who sat for the exam claim that the council deliberately failed them because the government cannot afford to absorb more interns into the system since it does not have the money.
Weyulu, however, denied this.
The graduates also said they were not properly guided on what to expect in the test which proved to be a hurdle in their chosen career. They also suggested that the council must lower the pass rate.
One of the graduates who did not pass said he was “shocked” by the results.
He revealed that he has already been treating patients at the Katutura Intermediate Hospital since graduating from a university in Russia in July, but will now have to stop working there as he is not recognised by the council.
“I studied medicine for seven years. How can they downgrade us like this? It seems they prefer Unam graduates over us. Some of the European universities from where we graduated have existed for years. Where were the Unam graduates before all this?” he asked.
Another graduate who also failed the test feels she is competent enough to start working in the health sector.
“I am ready to serve the Namibian nation. I even scored above the pass rate at Unam, so I feel I am ready,” she said.