COVID-19 Lockdown a Serious Study Setback for Final-Year Medical Students
The nationwide lockdown is causing concern – and some alarm – for final-year Medical students because of uncertainty about whether there will be enough time left to complete the curriculum when UKZN reopens.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Medical graduates will be expected to begin their internships with the Department of Health on 1 January next year.
One of those students is Mr Lindokuhle Ntshangase who fully understands the need for measures enforced by the Government to help control the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 virus but is worried about whether there is now sufficient time left to complete his studies.
Ntshangase, from the rural town of Pongola in northern KwaZulu-Natal, says qualifying as a Medical doctor has been a long held ambition. ‘I went to Dingukwazi High, a Quintile 3 school which – among other challenges - did not have a proper laboratory or even enough books for everyone, so learning was very difficult.
‘However, I was determined to make my parents proud so I was delighted when I scored six distinctions in my final matric examinations. It was a surreal moment - It also meant I could apply to study medicine!
‘The death of my father In 2014 was a massive blow to me. I so wanted him to be around on the day I was admitted to Medical School. He had always encouraged me to work hard so that I could be the first doctor in the family. Now, I’m uncertain as to whether I will be able to complete my degree this year,’ said Ntshangase.
Like so many of his colleagues throughout South Africa, Ntshangase’s medical curriculum involves “bedside teaching” in hospitals. Despite academic material being uploaded onto online platforms, such teaching requires practical experience.
A further issue is the lack of sufficient data and when data is available, reception is very poor in rural areas.
‘The COVID-9 pandemic has claimed a lot of lives world-wide,’ said Ntshangase. ‘I commend the South African Government for its timely response - lockdown is necessary to flatten the curve, and everyone should comply with the restrictions.
‘However, the lockdown has impacted seriously on the academic calendar, especially for clinical medicine students. Our learning is at the hospital bedside - there is no way that you can teach skills from reading, it needs to be practical.’
‘Studying has been made difficult, especially in rural areas where there’s hardly money for data, and if you have data, the reception is often poor so you can’t access YouTube and other sites,’ he said.
‘It is evident that online learning is not always feasible for students in rural areas because of these challenges but we are hopeful UKZN management will provide solutions.’
Meanwhile, UKZN academics are working flat out to upload all material onto online platforms. UKZN’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Nana Poku, has made it clear to the UKZN community that teaching and learning will continue during the lockdown.
‘These are anxious and uncertain times for everyone, including our nearest and dearest, but a priority also is the welfare of our students and the need for work to forge ahead,’ said Poku. ‘We are immensely proud of the creative input being done by our hard-working Deans to ensure online delivery of the University’s course materials. Transferring our teaching content onto virtual platforms — in common with our sister universities in South Africa and elsewhere — is a matter of urgency. Indeed, it would be serious managerial negligence if we failed to act prudently, timeously and appropriately in this area.’
For Ntshangase and others in his class, there is uncertainty about whether it would be best to leave the safety of their homes and return to the clinical settings to tackle the pandemic head-on or remain at home and try to learn through online platforms.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Health Sciences, Professor Busisiwe Ncama, responded to the quandary some students are in, saying: ‘The clinical teaching of Medical students is governed by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) with clear predetermined outcomes which need to be met.
‘To compromise on bedside teaching will impact on the student being able to register with the HPCSA upon graduation. During the lockdown, Zoom or online teaching of lectures will take place covering the theoretical component of the curriculum. UKZN is in negotiations with mobile service providers for the provision of data cards for students and we are also geomapping student residences to facilitate the distribution of the data cards in a co-ordinated effort,’ she said.
‘Once the lockdown is lifted, students will return to the hospital settings, focusing on hospital and clinical based learning. UKZN together with the HPCSA and the KZN Department of Health are assessing the risk factors in hospital settings for students and will reduce the possibility of them being exposed to COVID-19. In the meantime, we encourage students to volunteer in non-patient contact activities where possible, and to get more information on voluntary work from the UKZN COVID-19 team.’
Ntshangase is a member of the South African Students Congress (SASCO), and was the Medical Student’s Residence Liaison Officer in 2016/17, the Transformation and Academic Officer in 2017/2018, and the National Secretary of the South African Medical Students Association in 2018.
Words: MaryAnn Francis