There is an urgent need for medical doctors in South Africa.
This demand is due to several factors—for one thing, the African population is increasing at a faster rate than the country and the continent can produce doctors. In fact, their doctor-to-patient ratio has been at less than one doctor for 1000 people for the past few years!
Another reason doctors are so high in demand is diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and the effects of malnutrition continuing to prevail. South Africa simply lacks the medical knowledge and the manpower to combat these debilitating diseases, and that in turn prevents them from developing to their full potential.
South Africa is already one of the most developed countries in Africa and is still having trouble controlling the population’s health—just imagine how worse the situations are in other countries! Indeed, becoming a doctor in South Africa would not only be helpful for the country but also for the entire African continent.
If you’re an aspiring doctor in South Africa, here are the steps you need to take.
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How to Become a Doctor in South Africa
1. Choose the Right Subjects
Preparing for medical school starts in your final year of high school. The first step to be a doctor in South Africa is to enroll in the right subjects. Here, you’ll have to enroll in at least seven subjects—four compulsory and three to four optional.
Out of the four compulsories, two are any of the eleven languages in South Africa: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, or Zulu. For this, we highly recommend taking English as one and any of the African languages as the other. That’s because English is the main language used in medical school and public organizations, while the others are needed to speak comfortably with your patients.
Other subjects you have to take up are Mathematics, Life Sciences, and Physical Sciences. They are all pre-requisite courses for medical school and some universities will test your knowledge on these subjects as part of their entrance exams.
You can choose whatever you’d like for the remaining subjects.
2. Pass the Matriculation Exam
The final year of high school is called matriculation and ends with matriculation exams. For you to become a doctor in South Africa, the next step is that you need to pass the matriculation exam. These count as your school-leaving exams and your university entrance exams. As there are only eight medical schools in South Africa, competition can be pretty tough. You need to get a really good score on your matriculation exam if you want to have a good shot at medical school.
After passing the exam, you’ll get what’s called a National Senior Certificate. You need this and an exemption to get into medical school.
An exemption is the most basic requirement for every university, and you have to get a minimum score of 40% in languages, 50% in four subjects, and 30% in another two subjects. If you don’t get an exemption, you’ll need to take additional classes and exams until you get one.
3. Get into Medical School
The first way is by jumping into it right after high school. To become a doctor in South Africa, you have to get into medical school. For this, you need to have excellent matriculation grades, more or less a 90% for all pre-requisite subjects. This can be quite difficult for some people, but luckily, there are other avenues you can consider.
The second way is by enrolling in a related course like Biology or Chemistry and doing well in your first year. If your grades are high enough, you could transfer over to a medical degree in your second year.
The third and last way is provided by the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. They offer a Graduate Entry Medical Program that lets you into the third year of medical studies if you’re qualified. For this, you’ll need an undergraduate degree and minimum scores in science and math. For more information on their program, please click here.
4. Survive Medical School
Medical studies in South Africa (MBChB) typically last six years. Here’s how it’s typically broken down:
The first half of your first year will have you studying the basic sciences like chemistry, physics, and biology. It’s essentially a review of subjects you should already know from high school. You’ll also learn a bit of philosophy, sociology, and other related subjects as well.
In the second half of your first year and your entire second year, you’ll start getting into actual medical studies. You’ll tackle medical subjects like physiology, immunology, and anatomy. You’ll get deeper and more clinical insights into these subjects during your third, fourth, and first half of fifth years.
You’ll be juggling academics and practicals by the start of your fourth year. Expect to do morning shifts and rotations and spend the evenings studying. This’ll prepare you for the second half of your fifth year and the entirety of your sixth year where you’ll be working at the hospital full-time.
Please take note that this is a general overview. Depending on where you’re studying, the schedule can be different!
5. Complete Your Zuma Years
After you obtain your MBChB degree, the next process to become a medical doctor is you’ll head into your “Zuma” years. These are characterized by two years of internship and a year of community service.
The hospitals you work for are chosen for you. It’ll depend on your preferences, medical needs, and family status. It’ll also depend on how many slots are available and how much demand for doctors there is in that area.
During the internship, you are given a logbook of medical tasks you need to complete. You’ll get to do a little bit of everything, rotating through different departments and maybe even different hospitals to accomplish all of the required tasks. As such, the internship period is a great time to think about what you want to specialize in if any.
All departments at the hospital will assess you each time. If by the end of your internship, you’ve been given the go-ahead and certified as a safe doctor, you can move on to community service.
Just like the internship, where you work will be dependent on various factors. Unlike the internship, however, community service is primarily focused on the rural parts of South Africa. This lasts one year and is the last step before becoming an actual doctor.
6. Obtain Your Medical License
Now that you’re qualified as a medical doctor in South Africa, it’s time to get your license and start practicing! Head on over to the official website of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) to get started. Download the application form and submit that with all other required documents like registration fee and diploma to the address provided.
You can start working as a doctor after getting your medical license from the council.
There are two options for you after getting your medical license: working for the public sector or working in private healthcare.
The final step to become an official doctor in South Africa is to choose your specialization. If you want to specialize in something, you’ll want to pick the first option. If you’d rather wait a few years before specializing, you can pick either public or private, but keep in mind that you’ll have to switch over to public from private if you do choose to specialize further down the road.
To specialize, you must enroll in a Master of Medicine program. Depending on the university and the specialty, the program typically lasts four to six years. During that time, you’ll be required to work in a training position (usually a registrar) while you undergo your specialty studies. As part of your training, you’ll need to pass several exams and also submit a final dissertation before qualifying as a specialist doctor.
After that’s done, register with the HPCSA again (this time as a specialist) and start enjoying the fruits of your well-earned labor. There aren’t many specialized doctors in South Africa because of how difficult it is to become one, so you’ll be a hot commodity for sure.
I hope that this article on Steps to Become a Doctor in South Africa was helpful. To know more information about the universities and scholarships, visit the Scholarships Page.