The path to becoming a doctor is particularly difficult. Even more difficult is getting funding to specialize, as Dr Wada Goitsemang-Keofetlhile would find out when she got accepted into a Masters in Medicine programme in 2016.
“I spent the entire year of 2016 seeking scholarships only to realise that scholarships available in Botswana were restricted to fund finance related courses and if offered for medicine, mostly would be restricted to a 2-year period for public health only,” she said in an interview recently.
It was this costly experience, following repeated rejections of full sponsorship by the only body so far that offers sponsorship to medical doctors, Ministry of Health, that gave Dr Keofitlhile and some of her colleagues the idea to found the Botswana Society of Medical Specialization(BSMS). With the collective efforts of a team of 38 united doctors, the BSMS was registered in 2018.
“The intention is to liaise with government and parastatals to not only raise awareness on the need for doctors to specialize but to also advocate that all involved stakeholders help us achieve our mandate of funding doctors to specialize,” she said.
Dr Keofitlhile, who is the Chairperson of the MSBS, said part of the society’s mandate is also to speak and inform communities. “Most people are not aware how taxing medical specialization is, most people know they need specialists in both the public and private sector as current government waiting periods in Marina go as long as 10months for some bookings, the specialists’ clinics are congested with certain specialities like orthopedics seeing up to 60-70 patients a day. For medicine that is a ridiculous number to consistently give the best form of care!” she exclaimed.
Currently, no speciality meets the required quota of specialist to patient ratio in Botswana, although getting any correct and up to date data is often difficult. To date, government continues to depend on the goodwill of expatriate medical staff from among others Cuba and China to assist with medical personnel.
“We are grateful foreign doctors are helping us out in our greatest hour of need, but let us not be complacent. There are hidden costs associated with the use of foreign specialists such as we could never measure how much history is lost in translation when the foreign doctors who often have a basic command of our national language, English and a bare minimum of Setswana, interact with the ordinary Motswana who struggles with a simple English word or a Motswana from a non-Setswana speaking tribe who struggles with Setswana. We often struggle to understand some of the specialists we work with, yet we both speak the same dialect of medical jargon.”
She revealed and added:
“I believe the cost of hiring foreign specialists in the long run far supersedes the cost of training our own. In addition, training our own means job opportunities. We are currently a country focused on one area of income, why not establish medical tourism in Botswana. We have state of the art facilities that can be turned into money generating areas by also recruiting medical residents from other countries to specialise here while at the same time they offer a service to Botswana,” Dr Keofitlhile shared.
She further said the amount of money that is spent yearly, sending patients to various countries to seek care can be reverted back into the country. “We acknowledge the value of working with others but we also know what it means to be self-sufficient in every regard, and it is a path worth exploring,” she said.