Medical School in South Africa

Medical School in South Africa

I am beyond excited to have Medical Education Monday back this week with Renate from “The Regatta” as our guest. Renate is a 20 year old South African medical student in her second year of medical education. She is interested in Pediatric Surgery, but makes sure to let me know that at this stage in her education she has a lot left to experience and is keeping an open mind. Renate speaks two languages fluently (English & Afrikaans), knows enough German to get around and is in the process of learning a couple more languages in order to better communicate with her future patients. How are ALL of my Med Ed Monday guest posters so talented? They never cease to amaze me. When she’s not suffocating underneath a pile of heavy, international edition medical textbooks or practicing a new language, she enjoys swimming, quilting and playing the flute. Thanks for stopping by to read about Medical School in South Africa, if you have questions, feel free to shoot me an email or contact Renate directly!

But first, vote in the poll from yesterday! Pretty please. :)

[polldaddy poll=5261349]

ER24 South Africa EMS

Photo Courtesy of Flickr CC User: ER24 EMS (I chose this picture because I found it really awesome that South Africa's first responder team drives the same model of car as me).

Getting In:
How old is one when they begin medical school?
The majority of students study medicine straight out of high school or a couple of years after high school. Most people are around 18 years old when they begin medical school.
What exams does one have to take to get in?
The prospective med student must pass the National Senior Certificate (aka “Matric,” “Grade 12,” or “The Standard 10” if you happen to belong to an older generation) with university exemption.
Is there any required pre-requisite coursework?
You must have both Science and Maths as matric subjects.
Is it a competitive occupation?
Yes, getting into med school is really tough! You must be a top student (85-90% average for matric, preferably 90% or more). Community service can also help. All students applying for med school must fill in what they call a “Value Added Form” (this always made me feel like a taxable object) which covers all extra-mural activities, leadership positions, extra qualifications, etc. There are also all sorts of rumours regarding quota systems for student intake divided on the basis of ethnic groups. I have no idea whether these rumours have any factual basis or not, it’s simply another interesting part of living in South Africa!
What are you called at this stage of training?
One very stressed high school student!

Being In:
How long is it?
The MBChB degree takes 6 years.
How are the years broken down?

  • The first six months of first year are devoted to basic sciences (chemistry, physics, biology) as well as a bit of philosophy, sociology, medical terminology.
  • The second six months of first year and the entire second year the medical student painfully acquires knowledge in the area of the basic medical sciences like Physiology, Anatomy, Immunology, etc.
  • Third and fourth year, as well as the first six months of fifth year, are devoted to more clinical knowledge.
  • From fourth year onwards the student rotates through different sections of various hospitals for morning rotations. In the afternoons there are lectures and evenings are for studying.
  • The second semester of fifth year and the entire sixth year is spent in the hospital as a student intern, once again rotating through hospitals and departments.

Note: This describes the medical program at my university. This is not necessarily applicable at all South African medical schools!

Describe your typical day.
I’m in second year right now, so my day is not particularly exciting! We usually have lectures from 8:00 until 13:00. Lunch break is from 13:00 until 14:00, followed by practicals or tests on some afternoons, depending on the schedule of my particular group. Usually we’re done by 16:00.
This does change periodically though, depending on what block we’re doing! For instance, during anatomy block we finished at 5 ‘o clock in the afternoon almost every single day, while in Block 1 (the very first block at med school) we would often finish at one ‘o clock and be home in time for lunch!
If you choose a specialty, when do you have to decide by?
I’m only second year, so I’m not totally sure. Our undergraduate degree is six years. However, before a doctor can practice in private practice or specialise, we have to complete 2 years of internship as well as 1 year of community service. (Also known unofficially as “Zuma years”, not so affectionately named after President Jacob Zuma, who may or may not have had a hand in prolonging this time period.) As far as I know, any time during the Zuma years is a good time to apply for a specialty position.
What are you called at this stage of training?
While completing the MBChB degree you are known as a med student or student intern (during the last year and a half.)

Getting Out:
What exams do you have to take?
Uhm…Finals? I don’t think we have a fancy name like USMLE…
Do most people graduate?
According to the upbeat and encouraging “welcome to med school” speech that we had to suffer through on the first day of med school, yes, most people do graduate. (I can’t remember all the statistics they bombarded us with!) Having said that, not all students finish the degree in six years.
When are you finally considered a “doctor?”
Once you have completed the six year MBChB degree, then you are a doctor. However, you cannot move into private practice or specialise until you have completed the “Zuma years.”
Do you have additional training or do you start working immediately?
Zuma years are paid work, although I’m told the pay is not very good.
What’s the average debt for attendance?
Lots! I’m not actually sure what the precise number is. Working on a very generalized average, it would cost about R20 000 ($2,953.40 USD) per year of study, which would work out to about R120 000 ($17,720.40 USD).
Is the job security good?
In South Africa, there are not enough doctors for the population, so you should always be able to get a job. It might be somewhere really rural though!
Other random facts:
What the USA call residents we call registrars. Attendings are consultants.

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63 Comments + Add Comment

  • Wow! Looks pretty awesome! Thank you so much! :-)

    • Thanks for this sites. It has help me a lot. I am a Cameroonian and has been here in South Africa for about 7 years and of age 30. Just graduated from College with a 2 years Diploma in Human Resource Management . I have always wanted to be a Doctor all my life but lack the necessary funds to take me through. I will like to apply into a MEDICAL SCHOOL now,Do you think i can still get a chance at my age and my country of Origin ?

      • You must first believe in yourself and trust that GOD will get you through it for greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world,and remember that its easier when you believe

  • Wow, this is exactly what I was looking for! I’m planning to sponsor a young girl from Swaziland for this in a few years, and I really needed the insider’s info you provide here. Kudos!

    • Glad you found it useful! Big thanks to Renate for the info!

  • i’d like to know if any medical school in S A would admit any foreign student with a first degree into medicine? i am almost done with my degree in Nigeria and would like to come over to S A to do medicine> i am considering doing it for four years> is there any medical school that matches my quest?

    • Hi, thanks for stopping by Mind On Med! This is a guest post by Renate from The Regatta, so all the info I have on Medical School in South Africa is what’s included in this article that she wrote for me! You might try contacting her on her website (http://theregatta.wordpress.com/) if you have specific questions. Sorry I can’t be a bigger help!

    • Hi Bassey, I’m pretty sure that you’ll have to start a medicine degree all over. You’ll have to move to South Africa first before applying to any university, since the universities here in South Africa are very fussy about their medical programs. They don’t like to take over medical students that have not started in their program from year 1.

      However, you do have an advantage in that you’re from Nigeria. The universities here in South Africa will give preference to any other African students above any other international students during application and selection of candidates.

    • Yes, Wits University has a program that lets people with degrees into 3rd year of medicine. There is a strict application process and an entrance exam, but the people who are selected transition into third year, and have to complete the last 4 years of the degree.

  • My son will complete grade 12 next year in Zambia?which month do you Admit freshers?

    • Hi, thanks for stopping by Mind On Med! This is a guest post by Renate from The Regatta, so all the info I have on Medical School in South Africa is what’s included in this article that she wrote for me! You might try contacting her on her website (http://theregatta.wordpress.com/) if you have specific questions. Sorry I can’t be a bigger help!

    • Hi Chikoko! Most universities medical registration requires that you apply as early as March of the preceding year of study. In other words, if your son wants to study medicine in South Africa in 2014, he will have to start applying from March 2013.

      • I am from the united states and ill be done spring 2015 with my bachelors degree in molecular biology. I am in the middle of the application process for US medical schools, both DO and MD. I have recently made some friends in SA and I have been truly enthralled by the idea of pursuing medicine abroad. My end goal is to do international medicine, so getting a degree outside of the US would be amazing. I am serious about applying to UCT i just really need information on what my degree will count for in SA, as well as what program i would apply for? masters? postgraduate? or would i have to start over? any information would be deeply appreciated.

  • Hi There

    My daughter has completed her 6 years and now finalizing her 2 years of intern. Now she has to do her so called “Zuma” year which I consider a waste.

    I am moving to Namibia the end of the year – can she open a practice there without doing her final zuma year? 9 Years study where 3 years is for the government is just a wast of time. Some friends that studied through University of the Free State is already working overseas.



    • Hi, this is a guest post by Renate from The Regatta, so all the info I have on Medical School in South Africa is what’s included in this article that she wrote for me! You might try contacting her on her website (http://theregatta.wordpress.com/) and maybe she can help with your question. Sorry I don’t know the answer!

  • Hi, can a student from other country apply for the medical school in South Africa?
    To be more specific, I already finish my university undergraduate degree in Canada and am 23 years old.
    If I can, what are the requirements?

    • Hi Canadian!

      If you have South African citizenship or a permanent residence in South African, then you will be able to apply to the universities offering a medical program. Although I must warn you, the available spots for students that have already completed other undergraduate degrees are very limited.

      You will need to have excellent marks for the undergrad degree you did, and you will need the equivalent of our final year of high school (matric) physical science and maths with good marks.

      Just remember that if you get in, you will be starting at year 1 of study (1 of 6). Not like in the states where you can start at medical school after college. In South Africa the universities combine “college” and “medical school” into one program, so unfortunately you’ll have to do the whole thing again if you’re studying medicine in South Africa.

      The only other option you have (assuming if you have a permanent address or SA citizenship) is the “GEMP” program from Wits university. You need to have completed first year chem, physics, and biology. If you have an average of 70% or higher the university will invite you to write an entrance exam. If you get in, you start at year 3 of study and not year 1.

      Hope this helped! :)

      • Hi Suzanne I have a question or two. My son is now in Gr 11 and wants to study medicine in Bloemfontein, UCT or Stellenbosch. His marks however aren’t that good. He is a 78% average with a 92% in Biology! If he will not get in for medicine the first year, what suggestions are there for him to make use of for the first year and try the second year? Or what can he study? He absolutely are very fascinated with Anatomy. It is interesting and he does well in it. Can you give us some advice? Thank you

  • I cnt wait to study and be a doctor bt im worried about ZUMA’S year,its a waste of time

  • Im a 1st year student Im looking forward to going back to school,bt I have to say Tankiso my brada u’re right those ZUMA’S YEAR are a waste of time,coz peole need us…its time 4 young Doctors to take over.

  • Very cool article!!!!

  • Hi ive passed my matric last year in 2013 .And now i want to upgrade my maths and science through you .How can i do because i want to study pharmacy or medicine .Please phone or email me the contact and email address My phone is 078 0362062

  • Hi. I just wanted to find out, if you get your medical degree from a South African university, can you work in the EU without taking an exam?

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  • Thanks in support of sharing such a fastidious idea, post is nice,
    thats why i have read it entirely

  • Awesome inormation… Im considering moving my family from the us to south africa. There just has to be something better in this life. I have 3 kids. One would be attending pathways, the other 2 regular school. I have a master degree in speech language pathology but am seriously considering med school. The total price for 6 years of med school is less than one year of my university for sl path in the states. I can save all six years of med school in less than a year and move there being able to pay in full for entire six years at entrance. This is incredibly exciting!! Plus my kids will be able to get degrees so affordably. Im becoming very psyched abut this now! Thanks for this insight! I hope to become a south african very soon! Maybe I will save for a couple years amd have 6 yrs of living expenses and med school paid for when I come. How awesome that would be! :)

  • Hi, I just wanted to add..

    Saying R20 000 per year is understating it..a lot. I am a fith year medical student at tuks(pretoria), and the only time our annual fees has been below R30 000 was in the first and second year. Since the. This has gone up to R35 000 in 4th year and is close to R40 000 this year. Just a heads up. I suspect the writer studies at pretoria , as am I.And they are also talking about increasing that extra “zuma” year or otherwise known as community service to 2 years..which would effectively make our studies 10years. The reason for this is that the government cant force you to stay in south africa after you get your degree, so they try an make up for it by keeping you here longer.

  • Do not go into the South African health system. I am a recently qualified doc here and the conditions you work under are horrible. They make you do two years internship and then two years zuma from next year. You work 160 + hours of overtime and you only get paid for 80. The on call rooms have fleas and the hospital is unsafe (poeple get raped/stabbed) you are left alone often with more patients than you can handle. 30+ percent of the hospital population is hiv positive and tb is rife so you have a good chance of contracting these diseases. Plus some months you do not get paid because someone in health admin is stealing the money through corruption. If you are a new doc from a different country you will be forced to do zuma years. I am leaving medicine as I was left with ptsd due to working in this place.

    If i had children I would get the hell out of this country because with the new socialist health policy (nhi) coming in there will be even less money available and more work for less poeple.

  • I’m a 2nd year MBChB student in SA my fiancé is relocating to the US, I hold 2other degrees is it possible to complete my medical degree in US & what are the pros and cons?

  • Awesome article, however I would just like to point out that the breakdown of the MBChB degree differs between universities. I am currently third year at Medunsa (Or University of Limpopo), an here its done as follows:
    1st year : B Sc subjects e.g. Chemistry, Biology, Physics, esv
    2nd year : Devoted only to Anatomy & Physiology (good luck…)
    3rd year : Pre-clinical and pathologically orientated subjects like Anatomical Pathology, Pharmacology, Microbiology, Psychology,
    4th – 6th years : Clinical years, I don’t know to much about them as I’m not there yet, but I do know that clinical rotations start, which means you’ll be working through the night at the hospital..

    Also throughout the 6 years all students have a clinical subject called Practice of Medicine (Or POME) which teaches you all the practical knowledge needed for medical practice… From Taking a BP to diagnosing Pre-eclampsia. Personally my favourite subject!

    • Hi I’m currently living in Durban and I did not get accepted into Nelson Mandela medical school, so my alternate was homoeopathy at DUT, but I still want to do Medicine really badly can you help me out with information and tell me how you applied I really need your help. I meet the requirements of MEDUNSA. Thank you.

  • I’m a 28 year old South African citizen from KZN. I’m currently a Music and Drama teacher at a high school. I enjoy my work and love working with teenagers but suddenly I’m having dreams on becoming a doctor. I’m even thinking of saving for the studies at least two years and then enrol at 30. Will I still be eligible to enrol at that age?

  • The admission requirements to get in are extremely strict in South Africa when it comes to the medical fields partially because of space constraints. People should look at other options if they really have their hearts set on doing something in the medical field because there are always ways to get around not being accepted in S.A.
    Thanks for the info!


  • I’m a medical student in nigeria in my final year and I would like to come over to south africa to Do my residency programme in general surgery. Pls what is the best teaching hospital in SA that I cAn do my residency programme?

  • I am Ugandan and have just finished my sixth year of high school which i think is referred to as Grade 12 in South Africa. Am wondering if i must have offered Physics in order to qualify to study medicine in South Africa. I offered Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and French in my advanced level of high school but I did offer Physics at my ordinary level of high school. Am also wondering when the dead line for applying is.

  • Hy i just completed my matric last year I’m a south African with 37 points, so what are my chances of studying medicine next year?

  • Hi there,

    If I complete this degree- and specialize too, would there be any further requirements (exams, ect.) to practice elsewhere in the world?

    • Hi Kelly,
      not sure if you got a response to this yet. It really depends from country to country, and which school you go to, and whether it is internationally recognised (that changes from year to year, I think). Generally you can’t go to very many places with JUST MB.ChB., although most African countries and some European countries will accept you. For many countries, they will require you to complete at least their final medical exams, and if your school isn’t internationally recognized, they’ll require you to complete the final year of school again.

      However if you take the Royal College specialisation exams (rather than an M-med) you are generally accepted to work in most places in the world.

      Hope this helps. Remember that these things constantly change, though.

  • that was quite insightful, thanks for that.

  • Hi,i am sbonga im in grade 12 dis year i want 2 be a medical doctor but i only do maths and physics i dnt do biology coz my skul is a technical skul so we dnt hv subjects lyk biology,so i kind of wanted u 2 advice me on wat i shuld do plz its urgent!

  • hey,could you be exampted to study medicine if you pass Biological science well during first year even if you didnt qualify with you matric?

  • hello my name is David and am a nigerian i do really want to study medicine in SA but i don’t knw how to go about it and am in need of an insider who can help me out. dis is ma Facebook name David josephomofomah add me up and lets talk tanx.

  • An interesting post, I know that for one to gain admission to a medical school in S.A, they need exceptionally high marks – so getting in is a feat on its own.
    As South Africans, we might think that our tuition fees are high but in comparison with 1st world countries it’s not that much.


  • ” There are also all sorts of rumours regarding quota systems for student intake divided on the basis of ethnic groups. I have no idea whether these rumours have any factual basis or not, it’s simply another interesting part of living in South Africa! ”

    What is interesting is that the different race groups have to get different% passes to enter the Medical profession . Blacks = 60% , Colored = 75% ,Indian = 85% & Whites = 90% this is what i was informed by a student entering the Medical profession. If so where can i confirm this any sites i can check?

    • Hey there Keith… I have first-hand experience that acceptance into a South African Medical degree is raced-based. However, recently, a certain university has said that White students need 80% preferrably 85%, while Indian students need 95%. The difference between African and Indian students is approximately a shocking 35%.

      These ethnicity-based acceptance marks are really very ignorant if you ask me. I understand that our country is trying to right the wrongs of the past, but the colour of a person’s skin, to me, is not going to save a patient from death.

  • I’m a grd 11 learner in SA.i lyk medicine in my lyf so i decide to do it.Bt wat worries me is dat im nt sure if i can get 80% in english and lyf science.i hv some hope in maths and physics dat i can get those marks.what they ask whn you are in an interview room?cz i knw that im gud at speakng and addressing somethng,and i dnt knw whch university is good 4 medicine in SA,anyone wth help can phne me at 083 363 1312

  • hi l was doing matric last year my aps score is 29 excluding LO but my problem is that l want to study medicine what other altenatives do l have ?

  • Hi,am in matric this year and I want to study medicine I jst want to knw wat APS I should have in order to be admitted in Varsity

  • I have a diploma in nursing an real want to do medicine at Wits but start at 3rd year, I know about the first year Biology, chemistry and physic, ma problem is that I have E in physics from matric . What can I do?

  • Hello. I completed high school in 2013 and I aspire to become a surgeon in the future. I was sent home by Universities because of my undernourished mathematics mark so I’m writing supplementary exams very soon. Since getting straight into medicine is such an uphill battle, I’d like to know if there are any BSc programmes I could apply for as a gateway. Will BSc-Biological Sciences be any good? Please help?

  • Hi I’m a South African and soon to enter final year MBBS in China. I’m really keen on doing my internship back home though, but the internet doesn’t have that much info on how one would go about applying for that. Would appreciate any insight.

    • Hi samantha

      I too am in my final year at sdu … china (mbbs)
      You should contact the medical universities of sa and ask for the elective forms and thereafter they will place you in the respective departments you wish to complete.

      Hope this helps
      All the best

  • After I matriculated, I started working in a few different industries already. It has been a dream of mine to become a Pediatric Surgeon ever since I can remember. I am 24 now, is it too late for me to make my dream a reality?

  • Looking forward to doing ma first year at Wirts next year, thanks for the information it really helped a lot.
    I just hope it’s not to hard ey

  • Hi guys. I am a 1st year MBChB student @ Tuks. I painful acquired a BSc Chemistrey through Tuks. To those who were considering doing BSc Bio-Scie…You will need to have very competitive marks in your 1st year of your Biological science degree as a lot of students are trying to go into medicine via the biological science route. Note as well that there are only 30 spaces available for students taking biological sciences in the second semester of each year, this is the final 10% of MBChB intake, however the number substantially increases as some selected MBChB students fail to progress to second semester and thus the MBChB group of students is supplemented with biological science students.This is to make a total 300 students going into the second semester. Therefore if you consider going into medicine through the biological science route you must really work as there are about 400 students in biological sciences intending to switch into medicine……good luck. As for quotas, the rumours are factual.when I applied last year(2013) I was told that there are only 45 spaces available for mature students ie people with previous varsity experience, out of the 45 only 25 spaces are available for non white students…ie so called fruit salad without bananas (blacks,coloureds,Indians,Chinese etc) so if you are one of the above ,you need a very strong academic record to compete with every other matured student applying for the programme…@ 70% average guarantees you

    I hope this help

  • I also want to go to medical school next year so i want someone to help me about a good school my my facebook page is Mateboho Motsamai,or whatsap0837191673

  • Hi
    My name is kgabisang age 15 (1.8m tall and love to play net ball as an extra mural even went as far as provincial.)
    Unfortunately I’m planning on dropping it of for I see it a my worst distraction towards my books for I seriously want to distinction in all I do inoder to peruse my Medical career, yes medicine.
    After I matriculate I want to go and study medicine at the best university in South africa and then after two years I want to specialize

    I am a math and science student also have Geo life science as my subjects. Oh I forgot to mention that I entered school earlier reason being I was too clever (but honestly I was too tall)

    1.if I drop Geography as a subject would it affect me in any way and take Business studies.
    2.If I drop netball as an extra mural for my books would it affect me in any way?
    3. Which university is the best in SA?
    4. Is it nerve racking becuase I’ve already made up my mind

    My email: kgabi1@mtn.blackberry.com


  • Hi! I am Lindsey I am still a high school student. I have a dream of becoming a Doctor one day ,but I don’t know which kind of Doctor to become, I am still the kind of student who doesn’t receive 80% upwards. please help me try to understand the importance of having a bright future one day.

  • wow go for it girl…i always wishing to study medicine but it seems as if is not easy..especial now i am pharmacist assistant , i am more interested to study further..

  • Hi. I’m in matric this year and I don’t do physics but I would like to be a doctor, does anyone know if there are any physics bridging courses at ukzn, up, uct, wits or anywhere? Someone said u can bridge during your first year, is this true? Thanks.

  • Hi! Nkule, we are the same, contact me on my email address so that we can build our support group to make our dreams come true!

  • I love medicine I’m doing grade 11 this year and I’m soo looking forward in being a doctor one day. I’m doing Mathematics, life science, physical science and geography

  • wow you really know how to keep a person “question-less” this has answered almost all my medical questions thanks

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About The Author

I'm an ObGyn. I started this blog as a medical student (some would call that doctor school) and now I'm working as an Ob/Gyn, which is seriously the coolest job ever. I'm a twin mom and recently added a baby brudder to the mix. My life story through November 2010 can be viewed here. The events in the many years following can be summed up as wedding bells, books, exams, babies, and doctoring. I started this blog in hopes of landing a role in a Lifetime movie so I could quit medicine and move to Hollywood, but that hasn't happened...so if you wouldn't take medical advice from Angelina Jolie, you shouldn't take it from me. I may not even be a real person. In fact, I'm probably a spambot. Or possibly a 15 yo boy blogging from a dingy basement. If you're really interested you can read more about me here. If you have any questions or want to guest post contact me.

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