General Surgery in crisis - the critical shortage

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South African Journal of Surgery

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Health and Medical Publishing Group


University of Cape Town

Introduction: General surgery is facing a serious crisis. There has been a significant decline in the number of applicants for registrar posts and an inability to attract and retain general surgical specialists in the state sector. The Association of Surgeons of South Africa (ASA) undertook this study to determine the extent and cause of the problem. Methods: The study involved a combination of desk research and structured interviews. In addition, the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) database was reviewed and compared with the South African Medical Association (SAMA) and ASA databases. The medical schools provided information about student numbers and demographics, and the National Department of Health provided information about the status of medical practitioner and specialist posts in the state sector. Results: Overall, 26.1% of the specialist posts were vacant. The situation was particularly critical in Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape, where 84% and 58% of the specialist posts were vacant. Using a predictive model, a conservative estimate of the need for general surgeons was found to be at least 50 per year. Currently the eight medical schools graduate about 25 general surgeons per year. The changing demographics of medical students may be partly responsible for the decline in registrar applicants. Conclusion. The findings from this study have revealed that the shortage of general surgeons in the state sector has reached critical levels.