Medical School in South Africa (Interview with a matric pupil).


How far along are you in your studies?

  • I’ve just completed my fourth year.

Why did you choose to study medicine at Wits?

  • Medicine has been my passion since I was yay high, I did an entry on  why medicine a few weeks ago. My choosing of Wits was based on personal preference and it made the most logistical sense, I live in Johannesburg, they offered what I wanted to study, and it’s a great university.

How many university offer medicine in South Africa?

  • There’s 9 in total; University of the Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch university, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (previously known as Medunsa), University of Pretoria, University of the Free State, Walter Sisulu University and University of Limpopo.

Are all the courses identical?

  • No there’s no standardization in the curriculum, every university teaches it differently. The amount of time spent on core subjects, clinical exposure and even labs differ. We are however expected to know more or less the same things by the time we graduate.

How are the years broken down?

  • First year is devoted to basic sciences (Biology, chemistry, physics). There’s also Psychology, sociology, and Medical Thoughts and Practice (MTP).
  • Second year is an introduction to medical sciences; Anatomy, physiology, molecular medicine and MTP II.
  • Third and fourth year is integrated basic medical and human sciences. Each blocks focuses on a specific system. It introduces clinical concepts such as pathology, pharmacology, immunology, bioethics, microbiology, anatomy and physiology.
  • Fifth and sixth year introduces clinical rotations, most of your time is spent in the hospital, you get to play doctor and interact with patients. You’re expected to go through the following rotation; Internal medicine, OBGYN, surgery, Paediatrics, family medicine, urology, ENT, psychiatry, ophthalmology, forensic medicine, Trauma, emergency medicine, anesthetics and community medicine.

Which university offers the best medical degree?

  • I’d say Wits, we have the biggest teaching hospital on the continent as our classroom so we have a broader exposure spectrum. We’re also the only MBBCh in the country (although I think that’s just Wits way of being spicy). I’m obviously extremely bias because I’m a product of Wits. However I’ve heard that Tuks, UCT, SU and SMU have really good programs too. It’s very hard to compare because the teaching styles, the academic hospitals, exposure and resources all differ between universities. For example, Wits focuses more on theoretical training whilst Tuks focuses more on practical training, which of the two produces the better doctor is based on the students themselves (this is a non-ending debate between very bias parties, one you should stay away from.) In the end it’s really the reputation of the university that counts.

Do I need to be very smart to succeed in medicine? 

  • A certain level of intelligence is required to understand tricky concepts and reason your way to diagnoses but in my opinion resilience and disciplines are qualities that will take you further.

What are the pre-requisite coursework to get accepted in medicine?

  • From a high school level; physical sciences & pure maths. However doing life sciences is also quite helpful. From a tertiary level, most schools would ask that you have completed physics, chemistry and biology at least on a first year level.

How long is a medical degree? 

  • A medical degree in South Africa is 6 years (5 years at the UFS, I stand to be corrected). Wits offers a 4 year program but you need to be a degree holder to qualify for that.

Tell me more about the 4 year program at Wits.

  • Basically there’s an entry point into 3rd year. You get to skip the first two years but you will need to have completed a degree first. There’s quite a complex selection process and entrance exam. Details on the course can be acquired here.

What is your average day like?

  • as a fourth year student, my mornings would comprise mostly of lectures or labs, it was quite rare to have afternoon lectures but they did happen every now and then, especially towards the end of a block. I’d be at Varsity Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays I’d be in the hospital so it would be morning rounds, clerking patients, presenting to the registrar in charge then going to clinical skills in the afternoon.

Is medicine difficult?

  • Yes and no, There’s a lot of work to learn in a very short period of time. Each block is different, so you need to adapt really quickly. It’s a really taxing degree and requires a lot of strength. You will need to be disciplined and work hard. You’re studying to save a life one day, that is not something one should take lightly.

Do you have a social life?

  • What’s that? I’m kidding, yes I still have a social life, mostly with my classmates though because of the similar schedule and location of residence. I rarely ever see my other friends though, after your third year most of them graduate from their respective degrees, start working etc so dynamics change. It’s important to live a well-balanced life so having a hobby, playing sport and hanging out with friends is very therapeutic.

What happens after 6th year?

  • You become a medical doctor. You have to go through 2 years of internships at a public hospital (which you apply for in your final year). You’re the most junior doctor in a team of doctors, you go through different rotations and teach medical students if you’re at a teaching hospital. You then have to do a year of community service, usually at a clinic where you’re now considered a senior doctor. Once that’s completed you can choose to either specialize as a registrar or become a general practitioner.


This is based on my personal experience and conversations that I have shared with friends at different university.

FIN

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