Doctors save lives, but who saves theirs?

Medical students and doctors are shockingly the professionals with the highest suicide rate worldwide due to issues with anxiety, depression, and burnout.

Mental health has become a topical issue in the 21st century, with more focus being placed on it than ever before. Even though it is at the forefront of note, medical professionals are suffering from increased levels of anxiety, depression, and burnout whilst trying to save others from the aforementioned.

In an article, Professor Bernard Janse van Rensburg said: “Doctors are 2.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, while physician burnout is a leading cause of medical error”. He explained awareness of this issue needs to start with medical students to reduce the stigma surrounding doctors and their mental health.

For medical students at Wits, their issues are caused by how their curriculum is set up. They have long working hours, which take effect from fifth year. They have weekday shifts, which can last up to 15 hours and night shifts on the weekend. In addition, these students are studying full-time, which includes doing readings, class work, and online lectures.

To further investigate the issue, Wits Vuvuzela spoke to four medical students on campus who said they are suffering from intense stress, depression, and burnout. The students requested to remain anonymous as they fear reprisal. Three of the four students said they were on anti-depressants and/or anti-anxiety medication, and all reported they were on the verge of burnout.

Eileen Maleka, a manager from the Office of Student Success (OSS) at Wits, a programme offering support, counselling, and academic assistance to health science students, said, “South African research reveals higher rates of suicidal thoughts, depression, and anxiety among medical students… barriers to accessing mental health services include time constraints, confidentiality concerns, and fear of stigma.”

The additional pressure to do well academically also adds to the mental toll. Students have been known to write five tests in one day, thereafter, attend shifts at hospitals. This is because students are seen as part of the main workforce, but they feel they are just “free labour”. Students are not paid for the work they do.

Despite Wits having the OSS programme, these young doctors-in-training feel as though they are not fully supported. The students explained the suicide statistic is simply unacceptable, yet not surprising, and institutions need to acknowledge the numbers are not decreasing.

The Dean of Student Affairs, Jerome September, said medical students are welcome to “further discuss what the specific gaps might be with the idea to find improvements where required”. He said, this could include compulsory debriefings or group counselling sessions which could ease the burden on them.  

FEATURES IMAGE: Scenario showing the stress medical students feel on a daily basis. Photo: Adobe Stock


Glucose regulation research to explore racial disparities 

Increased cases of obesity and diabetes influence education on the maintenance of glucose levels. 

Philisiwe Ntuli, a Master of Science (MSc) student in Chemical Pathology at Wits University is currently doing research on the possibility of racial disparities in how different people regulate their blood sugar levels. 

Glucose regulation is the process by which levels of blood sugar (glucose) in blood plasma are maintained by the body. 

The study will compare the difference in how the bodies of black and white females respond when “injected” with glucose. Ntuli, said that previous studies overseas were done on animals, and she wants to see if humans will have the same reaction. 

Journal of Health, Population, and Nutrition reported in 2022 that 67% of the South African population is pre-diabetic, 22% of the population is diabetic and 11% of the population is non-diabetic. Source: Journal of Health, Population, and Nutrition 2022

Ntuli, told Wits Vuvuzela that the study uses normal glycaemic individuals (people who are not diabetic) and analyses data from their pancreatic beta cells. Beta cells produce insulin in the pancreas.  

When glucose is not regulated by the body it can cause long-term effects such as insulin resistance, obesity, and type 2 diabetes among others.  

In a written statement to Wits Vuvuzela, Dr Marketa Toman, Ntuli’s supervisor said: “Catestatin was suggested by several authors as a potential treatment for hypertension, obesity or type 2 diabetes”. Catestatin is an amino acid which assists in the regulation of glucose in the bloodstream.   

In 2018 the government introduced a Health Promotion Levy (HPL) known as the “sugar tax” in an attempt to reduce obesity and related diseases. 

In an article published by Health-e in 2017, Endocrinologist Dr Sundeep Ruder, said “Our hospitals are too overburdened and under-resourced to cope. Inpatient mortality rates are high from the complications of diabetes and obesity.” 

To reduce the burden on the national health care system and reduce the high rates of chronic diseases in the country, Ntuli, said that prevention is better than cure. Knowing your glucose levels will help you make better choices.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Isotape Geosciences lab has opened up advance scientific research. Photo: Nomvelo Chalumbira/File


Crime on the increase outside Health Sciences Campus

THE WITS Health Sciences community has been hit by increased levels of crime just outside the Parktown campus since the end of last year, according to security guards.

David Mlambo, an external perimeter security guard from Protection Services, said that pedestrians with cellphones were being targeted as they walked along York Road, but recently, there had also been incidents of motor vehicle theft and robberies.

There is at least one incident of theft, or attempted theft, every week, according to Mlambo. He said, they had foiled an attempted theft of a Toyota Etios one day at the end of February but a Toyota Yaris had been stolen the very next day.

“You know, criminals are clever. I have noticed that these criminals move around checking or monitoring us, the security. It is very bad. We are all not safe,” he said.

Mlambo’s sentiments were echoed by Peter Selowa, an independent car guard, who said incidents of crime in the area had increased since the Hillbrow Police Station had cut the frequency of patrol cars.

“The police also need to play a big role. They must be visible. I think it might help,” said Mlambo.

Third-year medical student Revaan Singh was attending Awareness Day at the Medical School on March 6, when his Toyota Yaris was stolen from a parking bay on York Road.

“I walked out to go home. I was in disbelief as I approached the space where I had parked not to find my car there. At that point I knew that it had been stolen,” said the 25-year-old.

Toni Batty, a fourth-year BNurs student, said that she wished someone had warned her about the severity of crime in the area.

“Parking my car outside gives me anxiety, not only for the risk of car theft or smash-and-grabs, but also for my own safety, walking to and from my car before and after class,” Batty added.
Director of Family Medicine Dr Richard Cooke said that he was mugged in the area last year and that had made him more cautious.

“I am very vigilant now. I’m always a bit nervous walking up that hill. My main concern is not for individuals like myself, to be frank. I am concerned for smaller and, more predominantly, female students.”
Wits security staff have advised that people should avoid using cellphones in the street, that they walk in groups, and avoid leaving valuables in plain sight in parked cars.


Wits announces revised health sciences admissions policy increasing access for previously disadvantaged students

The faculty of health sciences at Wits University has released a statement outlining a revised admissions policy which will take effect from 2015.

It is not clear whether the new policy will affect students who have already submitted their applications to study next year.

The revisions are based on recommendations made by a task team consisting of deputy vice-chancellor (academic) Prof Andrew Crouch and deputy vice-chancellor (research) Prof Zeblon Vilakazi. 

Previously, only 25% of top performing candidates were accepted and this has been increased to 40%. The remaining 60% of places will be allocated to different categories of previously disadvantaged students.

 Key new points from the policy include:

  • 40% of places will be allocated to top performing candidates based on academic merit
  • The remaining 60% will be split as follows:
  • 20% of places will be offered to top performing rural learners
  • 20% of places will be allocated to top performing learners from quintile 1 and 2 schools
  • Approximately 20% of places will be allocated to top performing African and Coloured learners


Read the full statement below:

Wits University has revised its admissions policy for all programmes offered by the Faculty of Health Sciences. This follows the recommendations of a task team commissioned by the Vice-Chancellor.

Applicants who are currently applying for entrance in 2015 will not be required to complete a Biographical Questionnaire (BQ). Their matric results will carry a 50% weighting and the results of their National Benchmark Tests (NBTs) will make up the other 50%. This weighting may change for 2016 entry with the introduction of an online BQ.

Selection will be made according to the following broad categories: 40% of the places will be offered to the top performing candidates based on academic merit. The remaining 60% will be offered as follows: approximately 20% of the places will be offered to top performing rural learners; approximately 20% of the places will be offered to top performing learners from quintile 1 and 2 schools; and approximately 20% of the places will be allocated to top performing African and Coloured learners.


The new admissions policy is based on recommendations by a Wits University task team, consisting of members of the Faculty of Health Sciences, the Student Representative Council, other Faculties and the Senior Executive Team, that was commissioned to review the admissions policy for the MBBCh, or medicine, degree. The activities of the task team included a public meeting that was held in April 2014 to discuss the current and future admissions criteria and policies for entry into the degree. Wits University is committed to being a demographically diverse and cosmopolitan world class institution furthering the Constitutional vision of a democratic and non-racial South Africa. We will continue to research and review admissions policies in line with the realisation of this goal.



Wits Vuvuzela: Medicine admission criteria to change, April 11