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Medical students want internship redefined

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University of Malawi College of Medicine (CoM) students have warned the government that if it fails to redefine the 18 months internship they undergo before qualifying as medical doctors, there will be massive braindrain as the medical experts will seek opportunities outside the country.

The students decried, among others, low stipend currently pegged at K50,000, mandatory practice at only two central hospitals of Kamuzu and Queens, and lack of guarantee to secure a job once they complete the internship.

The matter came to light on Thursday night at CoM during a debate under the topic ‘Is It the Government Responsibility to Employ Medical Interns after Graduating from Medical School?’ that was organised by Medical Rights Watch, a medical student organisation that aims at protecting the rights of both patients and healthcare providers.

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But Minister of Health, Peter Kumpalume said he can only comment on the issue once the matter has come to his attention.

“I cannot comment on something that has not been presented to me. Advise them to come to see me and we can have a discussion. On terms and conditions of the internship, however, [that is] part of their education system so that’s under Ministry of Education,” Kumpalume said.

Efforts so speak to Education Minister Emmanuel Fabiano and the Ministry Spokesperson, Rabecca Pwitiko, proved futile.

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During the debate, most of the speakers decried lack of welfare from the government whenever students are doing internship and also lack of guarantee that they will be automatically employed once they finish their internship.

“We are very important people in the hospitals. We are very different from engineers who can find attachment from close to their homes, but we [medical students] are so strategic. Think about someone from Chitipa doing internship at Queen Elizabeth or Kamuzu Central who has no relations in these cities, how will he survive? It is ,therefore the government’s responsibility to look after the medical interns,” Chisomo Kamatenda, a pre-med (foundation year) student said.

Rashid Kawanga, who is in year two, concurred with Kamatenda, saying the K50,000 stipend given per month to interns is peanuts considering how the kwacha is faring against the dollar.

“Interns are the ones who really work a lot in the hospital to the extent that they work as medical practitioners. Since they are being overworked at least they should raise the stipend or even consider putting them on payroll for the services rendered,” Kawanga appealed.

Howeve r, anothe r student in the fourth year, Elizabeth Mlombwa asked fellow students to explore other avenues of finding jobs, saying government is not reliable to provide them with jobs.

“Every year there are increasing numbers of interns, but I feel like we better find a solution how we can make ourselves get employed than relying on government which has been hit by economic crisis in all the sectors, including health,” Mlombwa appealed.

World Health Organisation Advisor on Non-communicable Diseases, Rob Moodie agreed with Mlombwa, saying it is high time government relaxed its mandatory attachments from only two central hospitals of Kamuzu and Queens by allowing interns to do their internship in other hospitals like those that are owned by Christian Health Association of Malawi (Cham).

“Government must listen to the calls of these students because one of the things that came out very strongly is that interns are important part of the health training and healthcare system in Malawi. Therefore, there is need to open up places where medical students can do internship like Cham where they have good hospital facilities,” said Moodie, who is also a Professor of Public Health at CoM.

The main speaker during the night, Professor Robert Broadhead, hailed Medical Rights Watch for organising the debate which he described to be of high standard and addressing a sensitive issue.

“Medical Rights Watch is an excellent organisation to promote discussion between all the partners involved in better health delivery services. Debate is the answer to address the problems raised as noted that medical interns are the backbone of the health system in Malawi,” said Braodhead.

President of the Medical Rights Watch, Ndifanji Namacha, said they decided to tackle the topic to contribute to the on-going doctor employment debate. He said the views of the doctors will be published for the concerned stakeholders to take action.

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