Original Research

Medical internship training during the COVID-19 pandemic – A case of ‘sacrificial pawns’ or not?

Veena S. Singaram, Kimesh Naidoo, Labby Ramrathan
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 14, No 1 | a3103 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v14i1.3103 | © 2022 Veena S Singaram | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 June 2021 | Published: 13 January 2022

About the author(s)

Veena S. Singaram, Department of Clinical and Professional Practice, School of Clinical Medicine, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Kimesh Naidoo, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, School of Clinical Medicine, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Labby Ramrathan, Department of Teacher Development Studies, Faculty of Education, University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Background: Newly qualified medical practitioners in South Africa (SA) are part of the frontline health care workers who face Africa’s most severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The experiences of interns during the pandemic reflect SA’s preparedness to respond in a crisis and inform strategies that could be adopted to balance training and service in resource-challenged contexts.

Aim: To explore the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats posed during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as reflected on by interns within the clinical training platforms in SA.

Setting: Public hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal.

Methods: An online questionnaire consisting of eight open-ended questions based on the SWOT framework related to personal and professional perspectives to clinical training during the COVID-19 pandemic was developed using SurveyMonkey. All data were collected remotely via social media platforms. Data were thematically analysed.

Results: Forty-six interns reflected on personal and systemic challenges as the major threats and weaknesses in intern training during the COVID-19 pandemic. Extrapolating on strengths and opportunities, there were three overarching learnings interns reflected on. These related to being a medical professional, communities of practice and the development and enhancement of clinical and non-clinical competencies. Existing challenges in the environment exacerbated the threats posed by COVID-19 and innovative strategies related to improving support, feedback, broadening the intern curriculum and online training.

Conclusion: Although the clinical environment where interns learn and work is often stressful and overpowered by high service burdens, there are unique opportunities to enhance self-directed learning and graduate competencies, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.


medical interns; stress; burnout; well-being; training; workplace; competencies; self-regulated learning


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