oa South African Medical Journal - ‘Going the extra mile’ : supervisors’ perspectives on what makes a ‘good’ intern

Volume 108 Number 10
  • ISSN : 0256-9574
  • E-ISSN: 2078-5135



Background. Much has been published on whether newly graduated doctors are ready for practice, seeking to understand how to better prepare graduates for the workplace. Most studies focus on undergraduate education as preparation for internship by investigating knowledge and skills in relation to clinical proficiencies. The conversion from medical student to internship, however, is influenced not only by medical competencies, but also by personal characteristics and organisational skills. Most research focuses largely on the interns’ own perceptions of their preparation. Supervisors who work closely with interns could therefore present alternative perspectives.

Objectives. To explore the views of medical intern supervisors on the internship training context, as well as their perspectives on attributes that would help an intern to function optimally in the public health sector in South Africa (SA). This article intends to extend our current understanding of what contributes to a successful internship by including the views of internship supervisors.

Methods. Twenty-seven semi-structured interviews were held with medical intern supervisors in 7 of the 9 provinces of SA. The data were thematically analysed and reported using an existing framework, the Work Readiness Scale.

Results. The intern supervisors indicated that interns were challenged by the transition from student to doctor, having to adapt to a new environment, work long hours and deal with a large workload. Clinical competencies, as well as attributes related to organisational acumen, social intelligence and personal characteristics, were identified as being important to prepare interns for the workplace. Diligence, reliability, self-discipline and a willingness to work (‘go the extra mile’) emerged as key for a ‘good’ intern. The importance of organisational skills such as triage, prioritisation and participation was foregrounded, as were social skills such as teamwork and adaptability.

Conclusions. This article contributes to our understanding of what makes a successful medical internship by exploring the previously uncanvassed views of intern supervisors who are working at the coalface in the public health sector. It is envisaged that this work will stimulate debate among the medical fraternity on how best to prepare interns for the realities of the workplace. Educational institutions, health services and interns themselves need to take ownership of how to instill, develop and support these important attributes.

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