A 93% aggregate with nine distinctions: that was what it took me to get into the University of Kwazulu-Natal’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine as a female South African of Indian descent. I got a R20,000 discount for my first year of medical school and my father paid every cent in full for the subsequent five years.
My father, also a South African of Indian descent, was born in South Africa. He lived in a one-bedroomed home with his five siblings and parents. He worked as a common labourer but was blessed with the strength, courage and determination to open his own business – his highest level of education being a matric certificate. His blood, sweat and tears is what got me a private school education and put me through medical school.
Read more in Daily Maverick: The public health sector needs as many health professionals as possible, but budgets are tight
I managed to complete my six-year medical degree cum laude. That still didn’t earn me any discounts or favours. I was lucky enough to be placed within Kwazulu-Natal for both my internship and community service.
My ultimate goal is to become a paediatrician and serve and help the children of this country who need dedicated doctors. To aid me on this journey and to get a head start, I wrote an extra exam for paediatrics and passed this with distinction as well.
Towards the end of community service, the rat race to find a job began. It is common knowledge in the medical field that government posts are hard to come by due to funding. There simply is no money to pay doctors – despite there being a shortage of doctors. In 2022 our doctor-patient ratio was 1:3,198. The recommended ratio by the World Health Organization is 1:1,000.
Government posts are advertised on the government website and applicants who meet all requirements are free to apply. Many of the adverts for paediatric posts included a disclaimer saying that preference will be given to “African males”, but everyone is encouraged to apply.
Feeling slightly deterred, I applied anyway. I did not get any feedback from any of the eight posts I applied for in Kwazulu-Natal and two posts in Gauteng.
The facility at which I completed my community service was thoroughly impressed with my work and level of commitment and offered me a post. Two weeks later a directive from the district office of the Department of Health was received: all new posts that become available were to be held for bursary holders.
And the food was figuratively snatched from my mouth.
It is now January 2024. I am a cum laude medical doctor. I am sitting at home unemployed. But I am not alone – most of my peers are in the same boat as I am.
There are currently almost 800 unemployed medical doctors in South Africa while the people of our country are travelling for two to three hours and sitting in queues for five to six hours waiting to see a doctor.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Newly qualified SA doctors shut out of jobs owing to budget constraints — union
My options are: 1) go around GP practices and private hospitals and beg for any number of locum hours available; 2) sit at home and wait for a government post to become available (for months? Years?); 3) open my own GP practice (take a loan? Sell a kidney?) and let go of the dream of ever specialising; or 4) leave the country and find someplace that actually wants the skills and knowledge that I have.
With matric results having been released, seeing the enthusiastic smiles and optimistic plans for the future of many of the top achievers, brings a sadness to my heart. Nine years ago, that was me. Excited to be one step closer to realising my dreams.
If I knew then what I know now, would I still have chosen the path I have? After sacrificing nine years of my life to be sitting unemployed, would I still have accepted the offer to study medicine?
Almost a month into unemployment, with debit orders looming, the answer is probably no. I don’t come from a privileged enough background to be able to sit and wait indefinitely for the government to realise my potential.
I have the passion and drive to want to serve the children of my country, but am now being forced into the private sector just so I can have some form of income.
I am a South African citizen. My family and I have worked hard to get to where we are. But we are always left behind. We have doctors who are able, willing and ready to work; we have patients desperate to get the treatment that is their basic human right. We have our government, failing us in every way possible. DM