Extension to fifth-year dental students curriculum now up for negotiation.

Dean of the Wits Health Sciences faculty, Professor Shabir Madhi, after engaging with oral health science students at a meeting on August 18, 2021, announced the consensual decision to extend the academic calendar.

The extension is due to the covid-19 pandemic which hindered clinical practicals during the hard lockdown and the fire at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH), which halted clinical practicals until its staggered reopening in June.

Since the fire at the hospital, the fifth-year students have not had adequate exposure to fully resourced facilities to complete their required quota of practicals. As a result, students became anxious about their prospects of graduating at the end of the year.

That led to the students staging a protest on August 13, 2021 out of desperation after continuous back-and-forth with their Head of School, Professor Simon Nemutandani, which was fruitless. The students felt their concerns were not being treated with the necessary urgency.

However, the dean hit back, saying that they had engaged with the Gauteng Department of Health to speed up the reopening of Charlotte Maxeke.

Professor Madhi said approximately seven months of clinical training had been lost. The proposal made by the head of school will be presented to the university’s senior executive next week Tuesday.

The meeting at the Wits Astroturf on the Education Campus comes after a recent protest held by the dentistry class on August 13, 2021, where a memorandum of the students’ grievances was presented.

Students who preferred to speak anonymously told Wits Vuvuzela the protest was a result of desperation.

A student representative echoed those sentiments, saying, “There is a break in communication, the same way you were falsely led about the reopening of CMJAH we were also falsely led.”

Prof. Madhi countered claims.

“The students see it as a Wits problem. It is not only a Wits problem [referring to CMJAH closure and staggered reopening that will affect training across disciplines].”

Charlotte Maxeke is the only well-resourced accredited facility where students can perform all clinical practicals. “We can only leverage on facilities made available to the university,” said Prof. Madhi. The school of oral health sciences clinic in CMJAH operates at 60%. It is therefore unable to accommodate all the students.

The likely extension of the academic calendar was not received well by students. The dean acknowledged that their disappointment was valid, and said, “We will not allow students to graduate unless they show competency.”

The dean and fifth-year students are due to meet this Saturday to discuss a proposal formulated by the students to adjust the academic calendar.

FEATURED IMAGE: Fifth-year dental students holding protest signs on arrival at the meeting held on August 18, 2021 at the Wits Astroturf with Professor Shabir Madhi. Photo: Amanda Khumalo.