Foreign-trained med students need an apology

05 July 2019
Author   Jackie Wilson Asheeke
A vindicating review of a flawed test given to foreign trained medical graduates blows up a seemingly bias scheme to undercut a group of 240 medical practitioners graduating from overseas institutions.  This situation has left me wanting to apologise for my preconceived notions about the assumed under-qualification of these young doctors. 
I suspect many people owe these young medical graduates an apology, most particularly Professor Peter Nyarango and Professor CJ Hunter of the Unam School of Medicine who set up the “cut and paste”, unrealistic examination that these medical graduates were forced to take.
A pre-internship examination that foreign trained medical graduates were forced to take was recently blasted by an independent panel of experts.  Most of the victims of this test-taking gauntlet are hard-working, young and capable medical graduates of foreign institutions, but the deck seems stacked against them and, as perhaps planned, most failed the skewed assessment. 
At the close of 2018 it was reported that only two out of 240 foreign-trained medical and dental graduates who sat for the Medical and Dental Councils board examinations passed the first part of the examination.  Like many, I accepted that headline and said to myself, what a shame that these kids (and their hopeful families) wasted time and money for a useless degree. 
However, some of the besieged foreign-trained doctors did not take this demoralizing situation sitting down; they fought back and demanded a review.  Bravo for you!
Dr Rodney Lichman is one of the panel of independent physicians who was drafted into the task of reviewing the questions on that controversial exam for foreign trained doctors.  He derided Nyarango and Hunter’s test.  He said that the assessment gave a mix of questions that are significantly different from the one required of Unam medical grads, most of the questions were too difficult and inappropriate for final year students planning to be general practitioners, and that the majority of questions are “cut-and-paste questions that come off the internet.”
These are severely critical evaluations; to me, it means that the entire process must be redone and an apology given.  It leads to the question – Why would you kill young people’s hopes so casually by giving them a skewed test?  It reminds me of the segregation tactics used by whites (or the rich) to keep blacks (or the poor) out of opportunities.  Using their continued control of institutions, they set up ‘standards’ far beyond what they set for themselves, and then force blacks (or the poor) to be twice as good to get half as much.  
These medical graduates want a fair shot at practising medicine, gaining experience and growing into being fine doctors.  Unam medical school is not the only path to being a great doctor and those who think this must take a reality check.  
Maybe I am hooked on too many conspiracy theories, but it seems that it is not in Unam’s interest to have medical graduates trained abroad, coming home to Namibia and competing with and possibly squeezing out their medial grads for the limited hospital internship openings available. 
All that said, my political mind makes me also ask this:  the previously advantaged and those entrenched in the status quo have a ‘thing’ in Namibia against anyone trained in a ‘foreign’ university (unless the person in question is white or the ‘foreign’ university in question is in South Africa or a ‘western’ country).  In fact, due to my own personal experiences and others born or educated abroad who now live and work here, I’d brand Namibia as a xenophobic country. 
I remember back at Independence time when those with ‘foreign’ degrees returning to Namibia were blasted as incompetent before they even said the first word.  Now, here we go again with two Unam professors devising an unfair test just like many things that were done nearly 30 years ago just after independence to cast politically-motivated aspersions on SWAPO students who were trained abroad.
Let’s level the playing field.  Let the foreign trained medical grads take the same test the Unam medical students take to be certified as hospital interns if they pass.  From now on let that Unam test be the standard for ALL (trained abroad or here at home) wannabe medical interns or co-opt a test from another country’s independent medical board. 
The medical graduates involved in this battle of credibility were trained in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, China, Cuba and Algeria.
For the xenophobes and racists out there, consider this:  there are quack-hack white doctors with degrees from South African, UK or US universities, just as there are excellent, superb practitioners from Cuban or Algerian medical schools.  A Unam-trained medical personnel could be guilty of malpractice just like any other doctor.  Competence and commitment in the study of medicine that can heal the sick has nothing to do with birth place, politics and ideology or skin colour.
Remember this:  the doctor that scored 95 percent on the board exams is a ‘MD’ just like the doctor that scored 65 percent.  But, which one do you want doing your surgery? 
The foreign trained medical grads must have the chance for a fair retesting, which should include the Unam medical grads also.  For those who pass the test, let them begin their hospital internships and grow to be the great doctors that Namibia desperately needs.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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