n South African Medical Journal - The state of South African internships : a national survey against HPCSA guidelines : forum

Volume 105, Issue 7
  • ISSN : 0256-9574
  • E-ISSN: 2078-5135



Medical internship is designed to bridge the gap between the theoretical knowledge learned as a student and the skills required as a competent medical practitioner. In South Africa (SA) it is a 2-year structured programme incorporating experience in key domains of medicine selected by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). HPCSA guidelines state that the clinical experience should include teaching, supervision and competency in selected logbook procedures. After concerns were raised over some accredited intern facilities, we investigated whether these guidelines were being met for interns across SA.

An electronic survey was sent to 150 SA doctors who had completed their internship between 2010 and 2013. The questions covered supervision, workload and rest, teaching and perception of patient safety. All responses were anonymous and there was opportunity to comment at the end of each question.
The respondents (=90) included graduates from all eight SA medical schools. Supervision was ranked as the aspect of internship that respondents would change the most, with 33.0% performing an interventional procedure for the first time without supervision and 25.6% experiencing an adverse event where senior help was not available. More than half the interns had an entire shift supervised by a medical officer with less than 3 years' clinical training in that specialty.
This survey identified deficiencies of supervision as directed by the HPCSA. It also highlighted difficulties with workload and teaching opportunities. A significant proportion of interns did not feel that patients were safe under their care. A national annual HPCSA survey would highlight hospitals where closer investigation may be required.

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