How to Become a Medical Doctor in South Africa (7 Steps)

South Africa is the southernmost country in Africa, and one of the most developed on the continent. It is famous for hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2010, and has one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, with a variety of biomes, plants, and animal life.

South Africa also is a very diverse multi-ethnic society, with people of many different backgrounds and cultures. It is a developing country, and its progress will largely depend on its ability to attract highly skilled professionals to move there and improve the quality of the workforce. In this article, we will go over the steps you will need to take to become a licensed medical doctor in South Africa.

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1. Learning the language and language requirements for becoming a doctor in South Africa

There are 11 official languages in South Africa, which makes it the 4th highest when it comes to the number of languages. The most popular languages are Zulu and Xhosa, which are spoken by the Black majority in the country, followed by Afrikaans, which is a modified version of Dutch and is spoken by the White minority.

That being said, English is also an official language and is spoken by nearly 10% of the population, and is the most used in government and public organizations. This means that there is quite the language barrier for aspiring doctors who want to move to South Africa, as they will have to be able to speak the language that is dominant in the region that they are working in.

All medical graduates who graduated from a non-English speaking university have to pass the IELTS exam with a score of at least 6 if they want to qualify for the exam that will allow them to become a medical dcotor in South Africa. A great level of knowledge in English is also required to attend medical school in South Africa.

In addition to English, knowledge of the local is not mandatory, but still very recommended. While some hospitals have interpreters to help doctors communicate with their patients, studies have shown that speaking the same language as the patients is crucial for building rapport and trust.

2. Study Medicine in South Africa if possible

Medical programs are very popular in South Africa. There are 8 medical universities in the country, offering programs that last for a period of at least 4 years, depending on the field of study. Only the top-performing students in high school are accepted into these schools, with high scores in mathematics, physics, chemistry, English, and biology being particularly important to be considered.

Apart from the high school NSC exam, students are required to take an entrance exam before becoming enrolled in a medical school. Some universities even have multiple entrance exams covering different subjects such as English, logical reasoning, math, etc. Most undergraduate courses last for a period of 6 years.

3. Required Tests and Residency

Foreign-qualified doctors who wish to work as a doctor in South Africa are required to take the Board Examination for Foreign Medical Practitioners. This exam makes sure that the candidate possesses sufficient clinical knowledge and skills, as well as ethical and medico-legal knowledge.

The test is in the form of a written paper containing two components that will test the candidate’s ability in the two previously mentioned areas. Candidates who pass the written exam with at least a 50% score, qualify for the practical test which takes place 10-14 days after the initial test.

In addition to this, foreign doctors also need to have their medical degree verified by the Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), as well as a few other documents and certificates.

While all South African medical graduates are required to undergo a residency at a hospital after graduation, while ever since 2001, foreign graduates are not allowed to complete an internship/residency in South Africa, but they are also not required to do so if they can prove their medical competence and abilities, and prove that they have completed an internship In their native country.

4. Getting Medical License

The Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is the medical licensing authority in the country, meaning that you need to be registered with them if you want to work as a doctor there. The processing time for the application can last for up to 2 months and costs over $200.

To become licensed, you need to provide various documents such as a letter of endorsement from the FWMP, equivalation of your medical degree, passport, proof of internship, a job offer from a South African hospital, and more.

Note that registration with the HPCSA is not required if you are going to South Africa as a medical volunteer.

5. Getting a Work Visa

After obtaining the medical license (which requires you to have found a job placement), you can then apply for a work visa that lasts for a period of 3 years to work as a doctor in South Africa. To be able to apply, you need to have applied for Foreign Workforce Management with the Department of Health (FWMP), have a police clearance certificate, a medical report, job offer, and a few other documents. After all of these documents are provided, the visa process usually takes about 2 weeks.

6. Starting your own practice or finding hospitals to work in South Africa

While finding work in large urban areas such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, and others can be pretty difficult, there are plenty of vacancies available in rural areas of the country, and finding a job there shouldn’t be too difficult. However, this also means that you may need to learn another language other than English as you start working there. Job positions can be found online, with many hospitals posting job openings on their website.

Starting your own practice will be much harder than gaining employment in a hospital, and you can’t even move to the country or become medically licensed before working in a hospital first. After you move into the country and gain permanent residence, starting your private practice may be possible.

7. Procedure for foreign-trained doctors to become a doctor in South Africa

The first step for foreign-trained doctors who want to start working in South Africa is to find a job placement in a hospital. After this, they can begin the process of becoming medically licensed in the country. To start that process, they need to register with the FWMP, for which having a job offer is required. After that, they can apply for registration with the HPCSA. To become registered, they will need to pass the Board Examination, which will test their theoretical and practical knowledge in medicine.

To qualify to take the exam, they need to have their degree verified, and pass the IELTS test to show sufficient knowledge in English. After passing the test and becoming licensed, they are allowed to start the process of getting a visa, by providing all the necessary documents including the medical license and job contract. After that, they are free to move to South Africa and start working there as a doctor.