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Intern medics carry weight of public hospitals

 Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union members demonstrated along Eldoret Streets in Uasin Gishu County over poor payment of their salaries and delayed employment of medical students (interns) by the government on March 21, 2024.  [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

The ongoing doctors' strike has exposed a reality about the role of medical interns in public hospitals.

Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission have found themselves in deep trouble with doctors' representatives over the matter of intern doctors. By yesterday the matter remained contentious.

The ongoing debate has laid bare the role of interns; who medical professionals describe as the workers who “carry the weight of emergency health care as well as routine care” in hospitals.

It now emerges that the young graduates are government employees contrary to the stand taken by Health CS.

According to the Medical Council’s Act, intern doctors are government employees working under supervision but doing all the services of a doctor.

“Internship means a prescribed period of employment during which a medical or detail graduate works under supervision to fulfill registration requirement,” reads a section of the Medical Practitioners and Dentist Act.  

According to the law an intern is attached to a hospital during the third year as a medical student. After years of study, depending on the course or university of training, medical students graduate as doctors and proceed on internship program on an employment basis.

During posting, they handle health roles on their own and only seek guidance when needed. The role is done with close monitoring by consultant doctors. “Consultants in hospitals play other roles. It is not like the intern doctors are with them all the time unless they encounter complicated cases,” Kenya Medical Practitioners Dentist Union Secretary General Davji Atellah said.

He adds: “Intern doctors are certified to offer healthcare, after taking an oath of practice. The only thing they lack is a license to practice, which is issued after one year of internship”.

Their significant role is demonstrated by the fact that most counties depend on them for care, and they are on call for 24 hours.  

According to the 2017 CBA signed between doctors and the ministry, an intern doctor should earn Sh206,000 a month. But SRC has slashed the pay to between Sh47,000 and Sh70,000, earning the wrath of health workers.

Doctors have consistently scoffed at Health CS over remarks that she had received calls from about 50 intern doctors ready to work without stipends just to be registered.

Prof Lukoye Atwoli said medical interns carry the weight of emergency healthcare as well as routine care in public hospitals.

He said it is also wrong for SRC to convert intern doctors' salaries into stipends.

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