Medical School in South Africa: How does it work?

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I think South Africans have a better grasp of American medical training than they have of training in our own country (thanks, Grey’s Anatomy). This is an attempt to lift that shroud of mystery. (If you already know all that and want a step-by-step guide on the application process, click here.)

Please note that South African medical training is not standardised per se, and that I speak only from my experience and the bits that I have picked up from friends at other schools. There is variation and I cannot be held accountable for any misunderstandings. This post serves as a starting point only: if you are considering medical school, you should do additional research (links below).

sa med school

What is the South African medical qualification?

Our equivalent of the M.D. is MB.ChB, or Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae (Bachelors of Medicine and Bachelors of Surgery). One South African University (Witwatersrand) styles their degree as MB.BCh, but it is essentially the same.

Can you study medicine straight after school?

Yes! In fact, most South African med students enter medical school straight after high school. Some take gap years and some do a year or more of a Bachelors of Science, either by choice or in order to have a better chance of acceptance.

How many years is the degree?

If you go to medical school straight after high school and pass all your years on the first try, you will study for six years. Only one university (UFS) still offers the five year program. Two others recently returned to the six year program. Many schools also have an Extended Degree Program, where students complete the first year in a two-year period. This is especially useful for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who just need some catching-up time.

Do you need a prior undergraduate degree to apply?

No undergraduate degree (or part of a degree) is necessary.

…But there are prerequisites

To have one’s application considered, one must have Science, Biology (now called Life Sciences) and pure Mathematics (Math Lit is not accepted). A while ago Biology was not required, but I think most schools now require it. The science component in public schools include both physics and chemistry. In addition, all-round high grades are required. Schools like their students to be well-versed in non-academic activities (I’ll write more about this in the future). The National Benchmark Tests must also be written.

What is the format of the training?

Every medical school in South Africa follows a slightly different format. I’ve written about many aspects of my syllabus here. Our first two years of study are overwhelmingly theoretical. We have many classes in basic sciences, statistics, academic writing  and some introductory pathology and pharmacology during the first year, in order to bring everyone up to speed. During the second year, body systems are addressed with vengeance, and each comprises anatomy, physiology, pathology, etc.

We also have dissection (using cadavers) and histology practicals. Additionally, first and second years participate in “Intro to Clinical”. This module was pretty weak in my junior years, but it has gone from strength to strength and in my opinion now provides a solid clinical foundation.

Med School: The worst place to be in a zombie apocalypse (sorry if this is a bit graphic)

What about clinical rotations?

At my school, clinical rotations begin in the third year. We rotate as follows: four weeks theory, four weeks practical, repeat. Third years have five core rotations, namely Obstetrics, Paediatrics, Internal Medicine, General Surgery & Trauma and Family Medicine.

From fourth year to the middle of fifth year, this pattern continues. We add some more rotations, such as Dermatology, Forensic Pathology, Neonatology, Radiology, Gynaecology and Psychiatry.

Our “Final Year” begins in the middle of fifth year and extends to graduation and the end of sixth year. We call this “Student Internship”. Theory is over and for those 18 months we simply rotate through practical postings – encountering some new ones such as urology and anaesthesiology (all of these we will have completed as theory blocks in earlier years).

As I have mentioned before, all schools vary a little in this respect.

Is it a good degree?

Absolutely. South African medical schools are known for their excellent hands-on training. We want for a lot resources and research, but our students graduate with an excellent skill-set.

And after medical school?

We graduate as doctors at the end of the sixth year. After this, we have two compulsory years of Internship. This is not the same as the American internship, it is more like the UK housemanship. For these two years, we are expected to work as a qualified doctor – which we are, albeit very junior. You are placed at a public hospital (for which you apply during final year, a little like the matching process). You rotate again through various disciplines, as the most junior doctor on the team, and look after the medical students if you happen to be at a training hospital. To some extent, housemanship is a further training opportunity. For example, we assist in C-sections during medical school, but we only learn how to them solo during housemanship.

The Community Service Year (or “Zuma” year, named for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who was Minister of Health when this began) is another compulsory year, usually taking place during the third year after graduation. Here, you are again placed in a public institution, but often at clinics as one of the only doctors. You are now considered a lot more senior and have many more responsibilities too.

Only after these three years are you allowed to practise privately or consider specialising. A doctor who is specialising is called a “registrar” as opposed to a resident. A specialist is called a consultant. I don’t know too much about the whole process, as it is even more shrouded in mystery! But basically one can either specialise by doing a Master’s degree through a tertiary institution, or by writing the Royal College exams.

What about international opportunities?

It is difficult, but possible for a South African medical graduate to work overseas. Most African and Asian countries will allow it without any further exams. North America generally require you to either write the USMLEs or to be a specialist. In Europe it varies – again, this is something a little too far in the future for me to really know a lot about.

What about non-citizens?

We do have a few non-South Africans studying with us, especially from other African nations. Note that the South African government does not subsidise the studies of non-citizens, and your tuition fees are likely to be considerably more (again, there might be some variation, especially if you are from a neighbouring country). The best approach for a foreign student is to contact the relevant school’s office for international students first. We also get MANY elective students, and you are always welcomed in that capacity too.

Useful Links

These are the links to the medical faculties of the various South African universities. Note that these websites are frequently confusing. It is often better to request a prospectus and application directly from the university’s site for prospective students. Chatting to a current student at an institution is also very useful.

Edit: click here to be taken to a follow-up post on applying to med school in South Africa.

how to apply to med

University of Cape Town

University of the Free State

University of Kwa-Zulu Natal

University of Limpopo

University of Pretoria

University of Stellenbosch

Walter Sisulu University

University of Witwatersrand

141 thoughts on “Medical School in South Africa: How does it work?

  1. This is a great post for those like me that have never really understood what our Doctors are put through, before becoming practicing Professionals…. I’ve always said a dedication to the profession is a prerequisite to become a Doctor, after reading this I think a gift for dedication is a definite….
    Having visited so many Doctors in my life time, more in the last 20 years than I wish to remember, not for me but for my wife, who has had three different cancers and one odd disease called Onco Cytoma… ones reception, care and real feeling of safety when with these Doctors is a testament to their fine training… (all those we have had to see are SA trained) so I remain in awe of the training our Doctors receive in this country and would recommend them to anyone in the world… our Doctors are tops…

    • Thank you! I am sorry you have had visit the doctor so many times, but I’m really glad you have had good experiences. I think we definitely are training highly skilled doctors who are “head-hunted” around the world, but I don’t know what the consensus is on the new generation – I hope it will be good!

  2. Hi Mariechen, Where are you now in your course of studies? and how did you ever find room to take a semester off for SAS?
    ~Nancy

    • Hi Nancy! I just completed my fifth year this month.
      Someone asked me where SAS fits in with all this, and my best answer was, “It doesn’t.”
      There wasn’t really room, but I kind of found room (Maggie was a lot of help because she basically proctored all my home tests for me). And then I didn’t have any holiday til now, because I had to catch up on all the pracs.
      But it was worth it🙂

  3. Wow, sure sounds very different from how we do it in Canada… Which is quite similar to the US, I guess. It’s interesting to hear about because we have many many South African doctors working here.

    • I sure hope they are not giving any negative impressions! I know that Canada is very popular with young SA doctors, especially the more rural parts. Canada is also apparently a lot “friendlier” when it comes to foreign doctors – I hear. My boyfriend’s sister and brother-in-law were offered postings there, but eventually declined (I don’t know why though).

  4. I love this post! So true about systems varying from school to school. Our undergraduate institutions are fairly easy to jump between and transfer courses, but once at a medical school, always at that medical school! I didn’t realize how much say you can have in choosing a school based on its environment or curriculum because I was so intent on simply getting in. But thankfully everything seems to work itself out🙂 Do you think you’ll stay and practice in South Africa?

    • Oh, it’s super hard to transfer between schools here. I think I know of one person only who managed to do so successfully. I wish I had looked more into different schools’ environments, because I applied to one school only (kind of unheard of) because I was being silly. Or something. I don’t even remember. I probably would have ended up in the same place, but it would have been better to make an informed choice. Things work out, as you say.

      I will most likely stay in SA, but I will also probably leave for a year or two for some locuming experience. Maaaaybe I’ll do even do residency somewhere else. I’ll definitely come back, though.

      • Yes, sometimes we just end up right we are supposed to end up even without thinking too hard about it. I know a few nurse anesthetists and even physicians who do locums around the US. I think it is a growing option for doctors who specialize or like to roam!

  5. I started intro to clinical last week, it has been amazing!…really tiring though. How do you manage to still study after a long day at hospital? I’m dead after only a 2hour session. I like how all the theory we did comes together and how much more you can learn at the bedside.

    • Oh, it IS tiring! I remember how many extended afternoon naps I took during Intro! As you say, everything comes together, and it takes a lot more brainpower than you might imagine. And it is emotionally taxing even if it doesn’t feel that way. So, it’s quite normal to be so exhausted. It took me a long time to be able to study after being at hospital, in fact I think I only sort-of got the hang of it in fourth year. A lot of it is just pushing yourself, but remembering to take care of your needs as well.
      Keep having fun!

    • The way I understand it, med school can be divided in two broad groupings, either the “American” system or the “Commonwealth” system. I have some friends from Malaysia and India for example, and they are somewhat similar to us, but with variations. I don’t have any posts about it, but there is a blog that has some good info on it, here: http://mindonmed.com/med-ed-monday
      Enjoy🙂

  6. Great summary, and objective too… I am post com serv and all I have to say on the topic of med school + internship + com serv in ZA is “RUN! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!”
    Heh.
    P.S. What do all med students at UFS have in common? They all applied for UP.
    *only joking!*

    • Uh-oh. I guess that’s not quite what I hoped to hear – I’m not very good at running! And a bit of a sucker for punishment, I think.
      Heh. I’ll refrain from sharing that joke with kids from UFS!

  7. Wow – nice post! Was not aware that only Bloem still offered the 5yr course and all the others have returned to 6. Better I think?

    • Thank you! Not many people know because for the next few years there will still be classes graduating from the five-year programs at these institutions.
      According to UKZN, the five year program is very hard on kids from poorer or previously disadvantaged schools. Which I can understand, because sometimes I think even six years is too short to teach us what we need to know! Back in 2010, WSU students only started practicals in fourth year and that also meant they only had two years practical experience, which just didn’t cut it. (This was only what I heard, and I don’t know if that has changed.)

      Also, I heard along the academic grapevine that UFS would like to return to the six year program, but that it is not financially viable for them anymore.
      But at the same time I do know quite a few UFS grads who are very supportive of the five-year program. I suppose it all depends on where one comes from and the kind of support structures available.

    • It depends on which university you would like to go to, and which discipline you’d like to do. Generally the best first step, after deciding which discipline you’re interested in, is to contact the international students office of the universities you’re interested in, and they will help you liaise and apply. (You will obviously also have to follow the regulations of your own school.) I will have a more detailed post about this in the future, hopefully. In fact, I’m starting an electives series tomorrow, if you’re interested.

  8. Hey! Interesting read. I grew up in Cape Town. Lived there up until Grade 10. I had plans of applying to UCT Medical school lol. I now live in Australia and I am a medical student here.It was interesting to read your article. Med students in South Africa definitely sound like they get so much more hands on learning.

    Australia is interesting when it comes to medical education. You can either do it as an undergraduate which can be either 5/6 years depending on the university or do it as a post-graduate course which is 4 years. Most medical schools require you to do entry exams, UMAT for undergraduate and GAMSAT for post-graduate.

    Like South Africa, the medical degree is a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery but here it is usually styled as an MBBS though I think there might be a university that uses BMBS. However, some universities have recently started to phase out their MBBS degrees and are replacing it with an MD degree. The first cohort of Australian trained MDs will graduate next year.

    After medical school you do one year internship rotating through various specialities. After internship you will be known as a resident or junior house officer. If you want to specialise you apply to a speciality college and once accepted you will know as a registrar. Next step is obviously becoming a consultant.

    • Hi, thanks for stopping by! It must have been interesting moving countries in Grade 10, no? Australia does sound like an interesting system. Any idea why some institutions are replacing MBBS with MDs? Does it change the degree in any way?
      Best of luck with your studies, it is nice to meet you!

  9. Nice to meet you too!Yes, the first few years in Australia were very interesting but I have gotten used to it now🙂

    Well I am not sure about the whole reason why they started to change the system from MBBS to MD but I think one of the reasons is to make the degree more attractive to international students. Internationals studying here in Australia is a big market and I guess marketing MDs like the US sounds more attractive. I don’t think the way they deliver the medical education has changed that much from a post-graduate MBBS degree, but the new MD is ranked as a Master’s level course whilst the MBBS is a bachelor’s level course. One university started it all and a lot of the other medical schools are slowly copying and changing their degrees as well. At this rate,I think most of the undergraduate med schools will be phased out in a few years.

    • That’s hectic. I wonder if the contents differ much. I’m glad for the undergrad because I don’t want to study any longer than I already do, but it would be pretty cool to have a Master’s level degree… here your specialisation is considered your masters. Mmmmh. I doubt South Africa will follow suit purely for budgetary reasons, but my bet is many have considered it.

  10. Hi! Great read🙂
    I have a question about the two year internship after graduating.
    I’m an IMG from Poland studying for the USMLE Steps, and in the meantime, I’m looking for medical training opportunities outside of Poland.
    Do you know if foreign medical graduates are eligible for this internship? Is it paid, or would I need to apply for some kind of financial aid?
    Any answers to the above would be greatly appreciated!
    Thank you🙂

    • Hi Paulina🙂
      As far as I know, Internship is generally an opportunity for South African medical graduates to “further” their training. Foreign students are eligible, but have to apply specially. Unfortunately I don’t know what the correct channel is to apply for that, but I think the HPCSA (Health Professions Council of South Africa) will definitely be able to assist you in this regard. If you get a job as an intern, you will be paid. However, I do know of some foreign graduates who work here for “free” just for the experience. Again, I think the HPCSA should be able to give you more info about this.
      Something else you should definitely check out is Africa Health Placements (http://ahp.org.za/) they place MANY IMGs at South African hospitals. They might even be better able to help than the HPCSA, because placing foreign doctors at South African hospitals is their biggest goal.
      I hope this helps, and that you manage to find answers!
      Keep me updated🙂

  11. i am a graduate of Microbiology with Second Class Upper Division (3.60/5:00 scale) from one of the Nigeria Universities.I wish to study Medicine in South Africa.Thanks

    • Dear Ayeni, unfortunately I cannot help you much more than giving the information I have already given. You will need to take the directions I have provided. IF you have specific questions, please do ask them and I will try to answer.

  12. This is a great synopsis of medical education in SA. You have just kife easier for me as I always get enquiries about how it is to study medicine in SA. I am an UKZN MBChB 2009 graduate and a Botswana national with close family members and cousins who qualified as doctors at UFS and UCT in SA, and some in Norway, Ireland and currently my young brother is going through the paces at an overseas medical school after his application to UCT was bundled.

    I mention all that to show thay I have exposure to how other systems work and I have come to realise that SA is really tops. I have also worked back home with students from medical students from all over the world. Australia, China, Cuba, thd Carribean, Norway, Ireland, The USA, Czech Republic, the UK -all of the Botswana citizens and everyone knew SA trained medics were leading. The other impressive lot had studied and were graduates of Zimbabwean and Ethiopian establishments. Quite a surprising.

    Anyway, thanks. Will just refer people to the blog now. Cheers.

    • I’m glad you approve – you are most welcome to refer people here! It’s good to hear that we are trained well here. I have worried, sometimes.
      Thanks for stopping by! Take care🙂

  13. I find this very interesting, especially for I as a prospective medical student. I’d like to ask you a few questions related to medical studies if possible, but wouldn’t want to do so in public, can I give you my email address?

  14. hi…
    I’ve got dis question..after how many years of study i.e, before u complete the 6 year degree do u start to get the annual allowance…

    • Hi Patrick. I’m not sure where the rumour of payment before graduation originates, because I also thought there would be payment when I started studying. But as far as I know there is no allowance at any university. We are students and even though medical students do valuable work in hospital, the universities and hospitals do not see the need to pay us.
      The people who do get an allowance are people with certain bursaries. For example, the Eastern Cape bursary gives a textbook allowance and a meals allowance. I think that the Gauteng bursaries do this too.
      Also, students who go to study in Cuba on the government’s funding plan get some pocket money/allowance.

  15. Hi…
    I’m a fifth year med student from Wits and a couple of years back a GEMP (Graduate Entry Medical program) was introduced, this means you need a previous degree(any degree) plus write a few entrance exams and should you be so lucky, get put into the third year of the MB BCH. this means you’d become a doctor in four years🙂. Its really difficult for the graduates but most of them make it in record time and are pretty decent Doctors from what I’ve seen.

    • Hi-hi, thanks for commenting! I actually have a friend who is applying for the GEMP, so I just recently heard about the program for the first time. As I understand it is also one of the few programs in the country that accepts foreign students. It actually sounds pretty cool and innovative (Wits having the Edge and all, y’know) so I’m glad it exists. But thanks for letting me know – it might be good to interview a GEMP graduate or some such.

    • Hi Rabecca, unfortunately I am not in the position to help you as I am not involved with any admissions. You will need to contact the international admissions offices from the various universities in South Africa to find out what their procedures are for international students. Good luck!

  16. Hi I’m a third year med student myself when should I start looking at oppertunities and requirements to emmigrate after I have my degree

    • Hi Chane, I would highly suggest finishing your internship and community service. They are part of what makes South Africa’s medical training so good. It will also give you more time to reflect on whether you truly want to leave permanently or just temporarily – but that is a different debate and ultimately your choice. I can’t offer you a concrete timeline because I’m not an expert on this, but most countries will require that you write their board exams before they will consider you qualified to work in their healthcare sector. So you will need to find out which exams you need to write and then register for them. I would not suggest writing them while you are still studying – this degree is hard enough as it is. I would suggest writing them during internship and comserve. That is what I intend to do, because I want to spend some time as a locum in some countries abroad at some point.

  17. Hi,thanks for your blog. How do students transfer between medical schools in south africa?I saw on your blog that one student got it right🙂

    • Hi Michelle, unfortunately I don’t know what the procedure is, because it will be different for every institution.
      First you should probably contact the desired institution’s admission office if there is any chance whatsoever that they would accept you as a transfer, and then find out what that would entail and what they would require from them.
      Only after you have all that sorted should you approach your current institution to set the ball rolling (that way, if it doesn’t work out, you are not on a bad footing with the school).
      As far as I know, the earlier you do it, the better. The person I have heard of that successfully transferred was in the middle of their first year and transferred from UKZN to Stellenbosch. It’s the only case I’ve ever heard of. I suspect that if you transfer between schools in later years you might have to make up some credits.

      Hope that helps!

  18. hey I am a malawian citizen currently doing highschool in australia and I would like to study medicine in South Africa. I would like to know the costs and what would I have to do to get accepted?

    • Hi Doris, if you scroll up to near the end of this blog post you will see a button that will take you to a post about getting accepted to med school in South Africa. It includes everything I know. The process is different at every school, as are the fees, and you will have to research each individually. As Malawi is a SADC country I believe you will probably not have to pay the full foreign-student fees, but you will be able to get those details from each institution. Good luck!

  19. Hey there,
    I am currently in my fourth year of med school and I have already decided that clinical practice is not what interests me- I’m pretty sure about that. I’m considering going into the administrative or management side of medicine, by doing an MBA or something after my degree. My question is: can I skip doing the internship and comm-serve years here in SA and go study my post-grad abroad, while possibly working in a medical environment there? So basically- can I use my medical degree without doing the three years here?

    • Hi Louie, that’s a very interesting question and I’m sure you’re not the only one wondering that. As I understand it, if you do not do internship and comserve you cannot be registered as a doctor, and even after that, in order to maintain your registration, you need to get the required amount of CPD points annually.
      So, the first step would be to determine which jobs would require you to maintain your registration. As far as I know, becoming a hospital superintendent will require that, but for finer details I would suggest trying to organise a meeting with a hospital CEO (way easier said than done).
      I have a strong feeling that you will need those three years for many of those jobs as they hope for clinical experience on which you would base your management decisions, but unfortunately I don’t know with certainty. If I hear anything I’ll let you know. You could also try to contact the HPCSA. I’m sure there must be some directions where you would not need to maintain registration. Good luck!

  20. Hello. For someone who has been accepted to study medicine at UCT, UP, UKZN & WSU, , would your advice be, if he has to choose among the four?

    • Hi Dumisani – that’s such a tough question! Congrats on your multiple acceptances though, it’s great!
      There are a lot of factors you need to consider with these schools, including finances, quality of education, social life, etc.
      Personally, I would exclude WSU immediately. They start clinical work a lot later than the other med schools and their training hospitals are in my opinion not of as good quality as some of the others on your list. Additionally, WSU gets a lot of political issues and they often cancel classes due to protest action, which is just not something you should be dealing with during your medical education!

      As for the remaining three… It’s hard to say because although there are rankings, you can’t always trust those rankings so much. From what I’ve experienced working with doctors and interns, UCT and UP doctors are trained very well (as well as Maties, UFS and Wits). UKZN doctors are definitely also good but I’ve seen some of them struggle a bit. But I mean, after internship everyone kind of catches up and equalises.

      Personally, I love the coast, so in your situation I would go with UCT or UKZN because of being coastal. And then I would choose UCT rather than UKZN again probably because of the fact that UKZN sometimes has some political interference.

      That said, med school is LONG and you need to be HAPPY. So you should also look at where you think you would be happy because being lonely and unhappy for six years of your life will suck.

      I hope that helped somewhat – good luck with your decisions!

  21. Hi my name is Hlengiwe, I’m 31years old currently a professional Nurse, I will like to study medicine in any university in SA what can I do to make my dream come true

    • Hi Hlengiwe, if you click on the button in this post about applying to medicine there is some help with the application process. Good luck with your application, I’m sure you will do great!

      • First and foremost I’m very happy for your great work via this blog. Please barefoot, I’ve a 3 yrs ND Diploma in Computer Science (2004-2007), from Nigeria. But have large interest in Med even before going to the Polytechnic. I’ve been here in SA (Durban)for about 4yrs and want to resume my studies in Medical field as it is a long period since I left school. Must I do a related degree first may be in Radiology? Or seek direct admission in UKZN Med school because I’d distinctions in my Physics, Biology(Life Sc), Chemistry, Pure Maths and English in O’levels? I’m on NQF Level 6 in the new SAQA evaluation scale because of my National Dip. Thanks.

      • Hi Samuel. Great to hear you are interested in Med! I am not too informed about SAQA and O-levels, but as I understand our Matric is a level 4, so with those subjects and a level 6 you should probably be allowed to seek direct admission. My advice would be to make an appointment with the medical school directly to ask them about your options. I wish you all the best!

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  24. Hi . Am a nurse doing my last year in icu coarse en would like to apply for Medicean , how do I go about that. En will they except me?

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  26. Hey
    I am currently a prospective med student at WSU and i have been called in for an interview. I would like to ask what it is i can expect to be asked on the interview.
    thank you in advance.

    • Hi Sihle, I never interviewed so I can only guess at what you may be asked. The rule with interviews is often that it is not what you say but how you say it, so practise in front of the mirror to look confident but not arrogant, and be sure to dress professionally. They might also the common question “why do you want to study medicine”, and if they do it’s a good idea to say something more than the rote “I want to help people”. Also be prepared to speak about yourself – they might ask you what you do in your free time, where you see yourself in ten years, and so on. Perhaps they will ask you your view on things like the NHI, so you might want to read up on that, or what you think is the biggest challenge facing South African healthcare.
      Good luck with your interview!

  27. hey! great blog. I am going to start my first year in medicine at Wits on Monday! I just wanted to know at what institution are you studying at?

  28. hi I am a mom whose daughter is a 3rd med student. thank you for your blog – i found it most interesting and informative and it helps me to understand what she is doing and going through. all the best

    • Hi there, thanks so much for dropping me a line. I’m really glad that I’m helping in some way. Being a parent of a med student has its challenges but be assured that you’re doing great work!

  29. I am studying at Stellenbosch currently and just by reading your curiculum I could pick up you’ve done your training at Tygerberg as well! Really awesome! congratulations🙂

  30. Hi,

    Thanks for this post. Now my respect for Drs has grown even more.

    I have a 4 yr old and pregnant with my second child. Do you endorse parents brainwashing their kids to be Drs? I love the profession sooooo much but dont have the aptitude (Im an artist). Kidding.

    Good luck on your future and thank you again for the post.

    • You’re welcome! “Brainwashing” might be a little excessive😛. You can certainly encourage a love for the human body and medicine in your kids, though.
      Good luck with the pregnancy, Gugu!

  31. Hi, I found this post to be quite interesting and insightful about the system in SA. I am due to join university in 2016 and have been checking out various universities. Considering I am not a resident of SA, I am interested in applying at UCT. However as you have mentioned above, after the 6 six years, there are more years of compulsory internship. As I would plan to start specialising elsewhere after the undergraduate program, is there an option to skip compulsory internship years and go abroad directly to pursue the studies?

    • Hi Ben. I’m not entirely familiar with the rule pertaining to foreign nationals. You are able to “skip” the internship years in order to go elsewhere, but remember that you will then forfeit any chance of practicing in South Africa should you wish to do so in future. Many countries also will not accept you for specialising before you’ve completed internship. However, what you propose is not unheard of. My best advice would be to check in with the regulations of whichever country you plan to go to for postgrad training, to be sure that you don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Good luck!

  32. Hi. Great and very informative post!
    Do you perhaps have more info on the non-academic requirements universities look at? I guess you have to start working on those from the start of high school? It is in general so hard to get accepted into med school, so we would like to do all we can to help our daughter do the “right” things to be accepted.
    I would appreciate any advice!!

    • Hi Marinda! Yes, it’s best to start working on co-curriculars early on in high school. Universities like to see consistency. You can broadly divide co-curriculars into service, sports and cultural activities. It is very important that your daughter consistently do some kind of community outreach. If she manages to play a leading role in the outreaches as she gets older, it is even better. For sports and culture, it is important to find things that she is fairly good at but also that she enjoys. The universities like seeing variety, but there is not SPECIFIC one thing that they look for. Good luck, and remember that she shouldn’t put TOO much on her plate🙂

  33. Hi everyone🙂 , I’m currently doing 2nd year in BSc (Biochem and genetics) in ukzn; interested in going into medicine after completing my degree. Is there a university(S.A) other than Wits that does the GEMP thing to start at 3rd year medicine?

  34. I am currently in grade 12 but my wishes is to do medicine next year.the reason is that nkhensani hospital is most poorest hospital ever when it comes to the doctors. I am ready to face this challenge.

  35. hi there great post … i am a radiography student from Swaziland where I am persuing my degree I have always loved medicine and I wish to know if I culd stand a chance to get accepted in RSA universities for medicine.. I am in my first year I do, anatomy, psychology, physics, patient management, sociology, English communication skills and computer literacy thank you

    • Hi Shongwe; did you do Mathematics in high school? If not, I would recommend doing a certificate in Maths. I really don’t KNOW for sure if you will get in, because I’m not affiliated to any of the admissions offices; but I do think you stand a chance.

  36. Hey there, Thank you for an informative post. I have few questions and I hope you will be able to give me advice. I matriculated in 2010 my NSC was endorsed with a diploma pass. After matric I studied NDIP in Human resources at a college I got my diploma after a few year. I’m currently working as an Admin officer and I must say I don’t like my job and what I graduated for. My heart is just not into this… initially I wanted to be a gynaecologist but because my grade 12 subjects didn’t include mathematics(pure) and physics I couldn’t so recently I thought maybe I applied to study nursing next year at Netcare which to my surprise I was called yesterday that next week I have an assessment test…I want to get my degree/ diploma as nurse and specialise in midwife and maybe from there go into gynaecology. I’ve never heard of a midwife become a gyae before and that scares me. What are the necessary channels I’d have to go through for my dreams to come true. Is this do able or am I setting myself for failure and disappointment?

    Thank you for getting back to me.

    • Hi Luhwie, sorry for taking so long to respond to you. How did your assessment go?
      I have heard of nurses going on to study medicine, but to be very honest I don’t suggest studying nursing purely as a stepping stone to becoming a doctor. Being a nurse is a very unique and honorable profession and it is best to decide what is your dream: nursing or doctoring; and then to chase that.
      Midwifery is a fantastic profession and I have learned a lot from midwives. I would suggest that you “shadow” a gynaecologist and a midwife separately to see which one truly appeals to you most.
      I hope that helps! Let me know if you have more questions.

  37. Hello🙂 i am currently an 11th grader with a tremendous interest to study medicine! but apparently i do not excel in mathematics and physical science classes. i usually get average, but working extremely hard to get above that. if i apply with my grade 11 report (which is not so good) will i still be considered? …or do my grade 12 marks really count? ..one lasst question, sorry..is there anything i can do now and next year to get into a good med school?

    thank you!!

    • Hi Nombulelo. The important thing is that you are realistic about your current grades and that you are doing something to make up for it. You will be considered, but do your best to do even better in the first term and beyond next year. Also, make sure that you have enough co-curricular activities and community service for your CV. It is also useful to send some letters of recommendations from teachers who know you well, to show the university that you are more than your marks!
      Lastly, remember that if you are not accepted off the bat, you might consider an extended degree program. I know that Stellenbosch, UCT and Wits all have programs like these. It will add a year to your training, but if medicine is what you want to do, it will be worth it. Good luck!

  38. Hi, I am currently a student at the NWU in potchefstroom,studying Bsc microbiology + physiology in my second year. Getting into medical school in this country is very very hard but not impossible.Becoming a docter has been my life long dream and I just want some advise on whether I would be able to reapply for medicine for 2017 with my university marks? All my subjects are over 60% with physiology well in the deep 60’s as well as my Zoology,physics and chemisty.Im also doing shadowing and community service…and did my NBT tests. ANY TIPS????

    Siewert🙂

    • Hi Siewert, well done on your perseverance! I honestly don’t know what kind of marks universities want from Bsc applicants to Medicine, but it sounds like you have all the right subjects! My suggestion would be to apply to every single medical school in the country. Make a big effort with your application and your CV and get a letter of recommendation that will make you stand out. Good luck!!!

  39. Hi!
    Great post by z way! Am jst abt 2 finish med scul in zambia…jst writin my finals…i wanted 2 do my PG in SA after ma internship bt am a bit confused about acceptance of foreign trained doctors. If you cud plz gve me sum direction…will really appreciate.

    • Hi Karthika. Awesome, congrats on finishing med school! Look I must be honest with you: as much as South Africa needs doctors, our professional association (HPCSA) makes it soooooo difficult for foreign doctors to come in – it’s ridiculous! I’m not saying you won’t get accepted, but be prepared to put up a fight.
      It’s not impossible though. At my hospital we currently have two docs from Tanzania doing their PG in anaesthetics. I think what you’d need to do is get in contact with specific hospitals and departments you hope to train at, and find out what their procedure is.
      For now: focus on enjoying and learning a lot from internship!
      PS: I was in Zambia earlier this year… it was awesome!

  40. Hi – I am an international student from Lesotho in my third year of medicine in South Africa. I have heard that international students are not required to do the Zuma year(s) – is that true? Also, I intend to do my years of internship in South Africa and hopefully do my PG abroad. At the moment I am quite unsure how I could go about that – what tests to write and such. If you could enlighten me, I will be highly grateful.
    Thanks
    P.S. your post was really useful🙂

    • Hi Bhavana! So it’s quite a tricky business, actually – the HPCSA or government or SOMEONE (we don’t really know who’s behind it) actually won’t LET international students register for the Zuma year, and that then means that international doctors who studied in South Africa are never allowed to practise in South Africa’s private sector. It’s quite an underhanded move really. I am NOT sure if this also applies to SADC students, though.
      As for PG studies abroad – I too am thinking about that. Basically, you’ll need to write exams for the country you wish to study in – so if USA, then USMLEs, etc. However, USMLEs are accepted by the Canadian board (at least, so I’ve been lead to believe), but NOT vice versa.
      I’m sorry I can’t give you more definite answers!

  41. Is it possible for one to study for bachelor of health science just for the 1st year and then apply the following year for 2nd year medicine ? I am so confused can someone explain please. I have been accepted at UWC for bachelorof health science and i am still waiting for acceptance from UCT

    • Hi Bella;
      I don’t think that is possible anymore. What you can probably do is study one year and then apply for FIRST year of medicine. However, I really do encourage you do discuss this with the admissions offices of the various medical schools, as they will have all the current facts on hand.

  42. I am Celma Nandjembo,a grade 11 learner at Etosha Secondary School,Tsumeb, Namibia
    Im a very hardworking female (Lady)
    I’ll be doing science field until next year October (contains: english 2nd lang, German foreign lang, mathematics ordinary level, physical science ordinary level, biology ordinary level and Business studies)
    This is because i want to study medicine,my dream is to become a professional med doctor in the future and i always wanted to study in S.A
    I would like to politely request for an email that gives me information on how it would work if i wanted to come from Namibia to South Africa after my matric(12th grade) to study for medicine for the required years, well i might consider to live in S.A and work there after my studies…
    Thank yhu

    • Hi Celma. Unfortunately I am not affiliated to the admissions of any medical schools, so the best information in your case will be found at the international students’ offices at all universities. Their contact details should be available on all their websites.
      I must add that while previously there were many Namibian medical students accepted in South Africa, now that Namibia has its own medical school, the South African schools are accepting fewer Namibian students. But the universities will be able to give you the most up to date information.
      Good luck!

  43. Hi.

    I’m a student who was in Matric 2015. And I’m interested in doing medicine in 2017,my marks are as follow:

    ZULHL. ~85%
    ENGFAL. ~70%
    MATH. ~75%
    LIFE. ~82%
    BSTD. ~83%
    LFSC. ~84%
    PHSC. ~81%

    My question is that;since there is competition for spaces Do you think I stand a chance of being accepted at either UCT or WITS??
    Are my marks good enough?

  44. hi! I’m currently in matric and about to start applying for university. which university would you recommend for an MB BCh?

    thanks for you post, it’s really made understand how my studies will

    • Hi Lihle! Honestly, I recommend applying to all of the universities. There are only eight medical schools in the country at the moment anyway, and the more you apply to, the better your chances (theoretically speaking).
      UNLESS of course, there are any universities you definitely don’t want to go to – in that case, don’t waste your time/money applying to those.
      Best of luck with your application process, I hope that it will go very well for you!❤

  45. So can I ask after High school u go straight to medical school if u would like too then two years internship then u are a doctor so it’s just eight years

    • Hi Fatouma. You are a doctor after six years of med school. You are only allowed to go into private practice or specialise after completing two years of internship and one year of community service, though.

  46. Hi. I’m currently doing my 1st year of Medical officer time in South Africa and interested in furthering my studies abroad (in internal medicine>>cardiology) do you know how I can go about it?

    • Hi Melissa – I’m not entirely sure as I’m still an intern! As far as I know you’ll need to write exams for all countries (e.g. USMLEs for the USA) and then apply for residency after that, which usually includes in-person interviews). Some people have some success when they go over to do research or locum posts first, and then apply for residency. It’s a very murky process – sorry I don’t have more info for you.

  47. hi Meggz I am Banele I am considering doing a Bsc life sciences degree with UNISA I am asking whether its a gOOD o bad idea since I want to enroll with Wits at the end of my degree for the GEMP admission

    • Hi Banele – a BSc life sciences degree is a good option if you want to study medicine, certainly! Just a heads up that the GEMP admission is extremely competitive! I know some people who have been trying to get in for the past five years! So make sure you do your very best, and be willing to apply to other universities as well. Good luck!

  48. Hi , I’m a Namibian and I just wanted to know If you need a First language in order to study in a South African Medical School (University)

    • Hi Imms, yes: you will need a first language to study at a South African university – I think any language on First Language level is acceptable. Additionally you will need at least second-language proficiency in English. Good luck!

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  50. Hi
    I just completed my 1st year (MD) at a university in Eastern Europe. Is there a SA University that might accept me for remainder of my med studies?

    • Hi Shane; I really have no idea about this. I would suggest contacting each university’s international students’ office directly and finding out. The only similar situation I know of is the Cuban medical students, who only complete their final year of medical school at various South African universities, so that they qualify with a South African degree. Good luck!

  51. I want to be medical doctor but I didnt had chance to apply online so please help me out before the end of this year .find me on this email:lenyorae@gmail.com

    • Lenyora, I am not affiliated to any of the selection bodies and I am not in the position to assist in a situation where a deadline was missed. I’m sorry you missed the applications this year; do try again next year.

  52. greetings my name is luyolo cona .I am doing grade 11 but I’m interested on doing radiology after my high school.I would like to know where and how I can qualify to peesuit my dream

    • Hi Luyolo. Radiology is a specialisation field, so you will have to study medicine first. After your studies you will complete internship and community service, and then you can apply to a registrarship in Radiology. The alternative is to do radiography, which is different but also works with medical imaging. Radiographers are not medical doctors, but also work in hospitals and other healthcare settings. Good luck with your path forward!

  53. Hi … Finally got the hang of it … One question though , do we require physics and chemistry to be doctor ?? I’m doing Cambridge and we have it separate ???
    Thanx 😊

    • Hi! I do think you require both, but I’m not sure because I didn’t do Cambridge myself… I’ll see if I can find out but I suggest checking with a guidance counselor at your school too!

  54. Allow me to demystify the specialisation process (I am a consultant ENT, and involved in registrar training).
    After your comm serv year, you apply for a registrar post. There is no longer a distinction between the MMed and the College exam (we don’t have a “Royal” college btw – that’s in England. There is now a single exit exam via the CMSA. However, most disciplines require that you also complete an MMed, by way of a research report.
    The length of the specialisagion varies – non-surgical disciplines are usually 4 years, and surgical ones anywhere between 5 and 6. ENT, for example, will be a minimum 5 years, IF you can get in straightaway. However, competition for posts is huge, and you will usually end up doing at least 6 months, if not more, of medical officer time, especially in the better-lifestyle disciplines like ENT, Ophthalmology, Dermatology etc.
    During that time, you will write 2 or 3 exams (Primaries +- intermediates + finals). These are not easy, and nothing like your undergraduate exams. The stress is on self-study, and there is very little didactic teaching like at med school. Specialisation is not for everyone, nor should everyone feel they HAVE to specialise – we need GPs as well!
    There is something else I’d like to talk about. There are a couple of comments asking “What do you earn” and “How much money can I make”. If that is your query before you even qualify/start, please choose another career. Medicine is NOT about making money or being famous (although both of those will come with hard work, it should NOT be your primary reason for studying). It is a calling, and your social life, family and other commitments will ALWAYS come secondary to your patients (or they should -sadly, this is changing now). It doesn’t care whether there is a strike on, or your cat that died, or your aunt who is leaving for the US, or that tomorrow is a public holiday – you will miss many of those occasions.
    If you want a 9-5, choose BCom or BEng. Medicine is a 24/7 job. You don’t EVER stop studying (unless you are happy to be mediocre – in which case, again, please choose something else. Your patients deserve someone who wants to be the best, not someone who settles for mediocre).
    Be prepared for long shifts, especially as a junior – the recent focus on junior hours is necessary, but long hours are unavoidable.
    When you choose hospitals for your internship, DON’T go for the quiet ones that will give you an “easy” internship – choose the busy one, because, even though you will work hard, the best steel is made in the hottest fire! You WILL appreciate it AFTER you have finished, and are in private practice.
    Anyone who thinks any of this is unreasonable, should not be in this career.
    I hope this helped. Forgive my little rant. I see too many students/interns who have the wrong idea about WHY they did medicine.

  55. Hi barefootmegz! Awesome blog. I stumbled upon it by mistake and found all the information on here to be very useful for younger students who wish to pursue medicine as a career.

    How far along are youn now? Are you currently doing your community service year? I’m also a doctor, albeit not in South Africa but I am a South African citizen and thinking of returning to work in South Africa.

  56. Hello there… My name is Leticia Pretorius and I would like to thank you for all the information. I never understood how medical school in South Africa works , but I have a clear picture now. You have answered all my questions I just have one more. Does medicine interns pay a salary? Or is it just like any other internship?

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