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‘Sick system’

by Shawn Cumberbatch

qeheye careControversy has broken out over the allocation of medical internships at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

A group calling itself Concerned Cave Hill Medical Students is alleging that recent graduates from UWI’s Faculty of Medical Sciences here are now “jobless” while their Mona and St. Augustine counterparts are being given posts at the island’s main healthcare institution.

And those affected fear that unless the situation is resolved soon and they are able to secure internships as required by law, they will be unable to practice medicine.

Tonight, however, officials at the QEH said the young doctors had gt it all wrong.

They said students “were called to a meeting just prior to examinations informing them that there are more students than they are available internship posts and that they will have to look for work elsewhere”.

“With limited posts available, the university and the QEH hospital board has failed the students by preferentially offering post to graduates from outside… In hard times like these where, Jamaica and Trinidad and Bahamas (other UWI affiliate hospitals) are looking out for their own first and rejecting applicants from Cave Hill in favour of placing their own graduates first, our very own QEH has left its own out in the wind,” the group complained in correspondence sent to the QEH today.

“Bear in mind that these forgotten students would have worked for two years at the QEH hospital doing clinical rotations without even a lunch or travel stipend, as is offered to the nursing students. Students would have had the responsibility of being a member of a clinical team and performing task including blood collection, lab work, medial procedures and assisting in surgical procedures.

“Students that would have done two years of clinical rotations at the QEH offering free work and care to patients in hope of gaining an internship post once they graduate are now being overlooked for students coming from the Mona and St. Augustine campus,” it added.

The students said the time had come for Government, the QEH and UWI “to do the responsible thing and either create more posts in this currently strained economy or stick to a quota for local medical students taken into medical school in both the pre-clinical an senior clinical programmes”.

“The hysteria and confusion that has been the story of the 2013 class of doctors is only a sign of what the future holds and the numbers to come in the following years are even greater,” the said.

However, in a detailed statement issued tonight, the hospital denied it had fill intership positions, and explained the process.

“This year the … hospital received 41 eligible applications (37 are Barbadian) for 30 available internship positions.

“Through a very sound selection process which maintained that preference be given to top Barbadian applicants and Barbadian applicants from the UWI, it was recommended that all the vacancies be filled to satisfy the clinical service needs of the hospital. In the event an offer is declined it was agreed that the next ranked applicant would be offered the post.

“It must be stressed that no offers for internship have yet been made to applicants, at this time only recommendations have been made by the QEH Internship Selection Committee.

“Of the total 36 internship posts at the hospital it is expected that the 30 remaining vacancies will be filled by Barbadians. The [other] six positions are currently occupied by Barbadian doctors who started their internship in January and who are expected to be finished in December this year.

“This means that seven applicants — six Barbadian students who studied at Cave Hill and one Barbadian student who studied at the St. Augustine campus in Trinidad have not been placed.

“Internship Coordinator, Dr. Clyde Cave indicated that all of the 30 students recommended have demonstrated a very high level of performance. Within the group there are three honours degrees, 10 honours in surgery, two honours and one distinction in obstetrics and gynaecology; 24 are female and six are male.

“Dr. Cave said the current number of positions is adequate to fulfill the patient care needs. Earlier this year he met with the medical students, along with Clinical Dean of the University Dr. Jerome Jones. There he explained the number of positions available and the process for application. He further suggested that the students apply early…

“Dr. Cave further noted that, ‘All the applicants have been considered. No one was forgotten and the most successful were the ones recommended. We intend to acquire the best skilled of all the Barbadian graduates’.”

The statement also quoted the QEH’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Dexter James as saying: “The hospital has objective criteria for selection and a limited number of internship posts. As such we are unable to accept any increases as well as supervise numbers in excess of the threshold.”

The interns are expected to officially enter the hospital on Monday, July 01.

Meanwhile, Barbados TODAY understands internships and related issues are usually settled after negotiations between UWI and the Ministry of Health.

This was confirmed by a senior official at the Cave Hill Campus, who said this evening that the issue was a complex one, and disclosed that UWI officials were currently in discussion with the Ministry of Health to complete a new memorandum of understanding to govern the process.

“The new MOU is being finalised between UWI and the Ministry of Health which has the QEH at its centre to look at issues including matching enrollment in the Faculty of Medical Sciences to the number of beds available,” the official told Barbados TODAY.

“UWI Cave Hill is also currently involved in talks with other Caribbean governments, namely Grenada, Antigua, St. Vincent to look at ways in which we can help to develop our student interns after finding out what the needs in these countries are.

“I’s a complex issue that requires a lot of coordinating. We have decided to grow the enrollment in tandem with hospital beds across the region, not just in Barbados, so the possibility of placement in other places exists for our medical students,” he added.

In its written complaint, the Concerned Cave Hill Medical Students groups also claimed that the internship selection process was not transparent, and that “applicants coming from abroad have been given unofficial offers for internship”.

“This matter urgently needs public attention as the Barbadian public needs to know how the millions of tax dollars spent to fund and build a new medical school are being wasted to produce doctors, who can’t even get jobs at the hospital where they trained, and how the school has abandoned their commitment to placing local medical graduates students in the name of collecting tuition dollars, as more doctors are being trained than we have spaces for in our local institutions,” they said.

Another official familiar with the process explained that it was in fact true that the one-year internships spoken of were a requirement under the law, but said it was untrue that foreign students were the ones finding places at the QEH.

The source said in many instances those given internships at the hospital were Barbadians who had studied at Mona and St. Augustine, not Jamaicans or Trinidadians.

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