By now, most school-leavers in South Africa have settled their plans for next year – that is to say, the majority of kids who will start their first year of MB.ChB. (Bachelor’s of Medicine and Bachelor’s of Surgery) next year, now know – and I’m sure they are very excited (and congrats to all of them)!
This time of the year also makes me a little sad, though. Newspapers and magazines are filled with letters from disappointed achievers and their families. Why haven’t I been accepted to medicine, they ask. I’m academically strong, I’m a leader, I serve the community. What is wrong with me?
And in South Africa, the race-card is often played. Some universities do have a quota system (something which I believe is damaging to all racial groups) and some have removed such criteria. But that’s not what this post is about.
A letter that broke my heart roughly translated to, “My little sister is a hard worker and all she wants to do is to help people, why can’t she do that?”
The fact is, South Africa has way too few medical schools, and yes, it sucks. Schools have been forced to increase their intake (Stellenbosch University for example) by the government, but when they comply they are not given additional funding. This causes more harm than good – medical schools built fifty years ago and receiving minimal subsidies do not have the capacity for so many students. Our lecture halls are not big enough (this year we had first years sitting on the floor!), our staff are too few, our support mechanisms are too thinly spread.
There are only eight medical schools in South Africa for a population of 50,586,757. The USA has 170 schools offering MD or DO (according to Wikipedia) for a population of 311,591,917. Now, I know this is a shabby calculation because one must look at population dynamics and number of young people etc, but that means that the US has one medical school per 1,832,893 people. We have one per 6,323,344, and most of these medical schools simply can’t take in more than 250 first years per year.
There are many more talented and worthy young people who dream of studying medicine than there are spaces for new first years. And ideally we need more medical schools, but sadly our government is not ideal, and the existing medical schools can barely keep head above water.
To the kids who didn’t get the coveted acceptance letter – it is not that the institution is against you or your background. More likely there just wasn’t space (that still sounds awful). It is not that you are not “good enough” – you would probably make an excellent doctor, and you need to believe that because if it really is your dream, you can still make it happen. Study a Bachelor’s of Science for a year, and apply again next year, and the next and the next. If you are on a waiting list, STAY on that list. Apply EVERYWHERE.
And to the family members who are distraught along with their kids: keep supporting them. If they want to keep following the dream, let them. Don’t embitter them – there is nothing as heavy as bitterness. Build their self-esteem; it’s a hard knock they are experiencing.
I’m a firm believer in things falling in place when you push for it hard enough. I’ve seen it happen. Keep going.