Young doctors discuss work challenges openly

The outgoing president of Doctors Without Borders South Africa, Dr Mohammed Dalwai, at the Doctors Unscripted meeting.

The challenges facing junior doctors are challenges all doctors must face together. This was highlightedat a Junior Doctors Association of South Africa (JUDASA) Western Cape meeting which took place at the Somerset Hospital in Green Point.

It was the first in a series of public meetings titled “Doctors Unscripted”, the purpose of which, said JUDASA, was to inspire doctors and expose them to alterantive careers.

The chairperson of the Western Cape branch, Farah Jawitz, said there were many challenges facing junior doctors. One of the long-standing debates was the safe working hours campaign.

It came under scrutiny when a junior doctor at Paarl hospital died last year after crashing her car on her way home after having worked a 27-hour shift.

“One of the biggest problems we have is mobilising junior doctors. We are trying to create spaces like these where we attract more and more people to talk about some of the issues. This is coming from a place where we are passionate about medicine and passionate about the system enough that we are going to put in the extra time and effort to change it,” Ms Jawitz, said.

Medicine could no longer exist in an isolated bubble, she said.

“We need to reach out to other sectors in order to change the system. It’s a two-way thing. There is a lot that medicine has to offer the rest of the world and vice versa.

“We are going to be holding as many open meetings as possible to encourage people to come, share ideas and inspire each other.”

She said that the Western Cape had a very well run public health sector and it was a privilege to work in the city.

“Our conditions, for the most part, are a lot better than the rest of the country. The issues are still the same, and they are systemic.”

She said these issues affected doctors no matter where they were based. The biggest one was the safe working hours.

“It is quite an emotive issue because it was triggered by the death of a colleague driving home after a 27-hour shift.

In order to practise medicine, we have to be safe.

“The length of the shift and the demands that are put on largely junior doctors – but senior doctors as well – is becoming more and more unsafe.”

She said one of the challenges was getting discussions started on the matter and involving both junior as well as senior doctors.

“Junior doctors feel very victimised and if senior doctors aren’t part of the conversation it is very difficult for people to start implementing any kind of change.”

She said they were proud that there was a policy change with the guideline for maximum continuous hours being changed from 30 to 24 from January 1.

Vanessa Naidoo, who was one of the guest speakers at the meeting, has just returned from Iraq where she was working with Doctors Without Borders.

Her work with the organisation has seen her go on missions to places such as Syria, Lybia and South Sudan. She said that she always knew she wanted to be a doctor and eventually ended up studying at UCT.

“I got to third year medicine and I was shocked when I had to start seeing patients and ask them about the most intimate details of their life.”

She stuck it out but didn’t get the placement she wanted and felt she wasn’t ready for it at the time. She wanted to travel and ended up going to London.

However, she decided to come home after the short stint and complete her internship.

“The value of a South African doctor is your hands-on South African experience.”

She decided to join Doctors Without Borders after seeing an insert about it on television. She went on her first mission to Afghanistan where her job was to set up and run a hospital.

She came back in 2014 to continue her studies further before taking three months off this year to go to Iraq on another mission. She now works in emergency medicine and said the things that she had learnt along the way had helped her a lot in her career.

The other guest speaker was outgoing president of Doctors Without Borders South Africa, Mohammed Dalwai. Since 2011, Dr Dalwai, who lives in Woodstock, has worked in places such as Pakistan, Libya, northern Syria, Sierra Leone, Haiti and Afghanistan.

“At the end of each mission, I changed as an individual, changed as a person and learnt something about myself that was unique or about medicine that was unique.”

His first mission with Doctors Without Borders was to the north of Pakistan, on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“It is extremely rural, and I was the emergency medicine doctor at the health centre.”

Now Dr Dalwai is largely known for co-founding the EMGuidance application in 2016.

The app was the first free, interactive and consistently updated mobile medicine resource. It was developed by an in-house team of pharmacists and doctors.

Both of the speakers at the meeting encouraged the junior doctors to mobilise and engage with senior doctors.

For future events, keep an eye on the Judasa Facebook page at