White doctors leave South Africa

June 26, 1998

ALMOST HALF the doctors who graduated from one of South Africa's top medical schools, most of whom are white, work abroad, according to a report.

The finding follows a government announcement that its funding for medical schools will reflect the racial mix of their first-year intake.

The exodus of doctors trained at the University of the Wi****ersrand peaked in the 1970s - 57 per cent of medical students who graduated that decade emigrated.

The government's new funding system, which will be imposed next year, aims to give all sectors of society access to medical education and ensure that historically white medical schools speed up their efforts to admit black students.

However, it is almost certainly also an attempt by the department of health to tackle the serious problem of expensively trained doctors leaving the country.

Black doctors, who comprise only 3,000 of the country's 22,000 doctors, are perceived to be less likely than whites to emigrate.

Evidence of the white exodus comes in an article in the South African Journal of Science, "Wits Medical Graduates: Where are they Now?", by Renee Weiner of Wits's department of community health, and Graham Mitchell and Max Price, respectively vice-dean and dean of the health sciences faculty.

It is based on a study in which the emigration of 5,294. Wits medical graduates between 1925 and 1993 was estimated by analysing alumni addresses and surveying a sample of graduates between 1960 and 1994. A previous study revealed that prior to 1975, only 16 per cent of Wits graduates emigrated.

"Our study shows that this proportion has increased greatly. Of those graduating in the 1960s, 45 per cent are overseas, compared with 57 per cent of the 1970s graduates, 42 per cent of the 1980s graduates, and 35 per cent of those graduating in the 1990s.

Over the past 35 years, between 44 per cent and 47 per cent of Wits medical graduates have left the country, 42 per cent of them to the United States, 16 per cent to Britain, 13 per cent to Australia, and 12 per cent to Canada.

One solution discussed is that students be selected on the likelihood of their staying in South Africa: but Wits has used this idea for 15 years with little effect, the doctors write.

The quota system, still to be legislated, would oblige next year's medical student intake to be 76 per cent African, 13 per cent white, 8.5 per cent coloured and 2.5 per cent Indian. It has been condemned by the deans of South Africa's major medical schools - and is likely to remain controversial.

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