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Scholarships to address doctor shortage

In a bid to address the local shortage of doctors the Oceania University of Medicine (O.U.M.) Samoa is continuing to offer five-year programme scholarships to Samoan citizens. 

The monetary value per scholarship - the bursaries are named after the Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr Sa’ilele Malielegaoi - is about $375,000 according to the University Vice-Chancellor, Toleafoa Dr Viali Lameko.

“Back in 2002, there were only 35 medical doctors in total working in the Department of Health," Dr. Lameko said in response to questions from the Samoa Observer. 

"The Prime Minister knew about this major issue and when the Founder of O.U.M. Taffy Gould visited Samoa and introduced this medical University, it was welcomed with open hearts and arms at the time. 

“Nowadays, the number has increased dramatically to approximately 80 medical doctors, working in the Ministry of Health.”

The Vice-Chancellor said there are about 30 general practitioners running their own clinics or doing locums but there was still a desperate shortage of medical expertise:

“And there is still [a] need for doctors to work in [the] Ministry of Health. 

"There is only one permanent doctor at the hospital is Savaii, and two rotating doctors from Apia every week. 

“The senior doctors also need to go for post graduate training and while overseas on training, other doctors need to fill in the gap. The doctors also need to take their annual leave and to rest from time to time but that hasn’t happened. 

“Hence we still need another 40 new doctors within the next five years."

The total cost of the full-tuition scholarship for the whole medicine degree is approximately $375,000 tala. 

“This is free of charge and it is opportunity to fulfil that dream you've always had, but never had the time to do it," he said.

Dr. Lameko said the O.U.M degree is the ticket for graduates to write and sit the Australian Medical Council (A.M.C.) Examinations and the New Zealand Regulation Exams, to allow graduates to practice medicine in these countries, respectively, if they pass these licensing exams:

“The greater advantage to the Samoan graduates is once they pass these exams, it will give them the opportunity to enter the postgraduate and specialist training by the various Royal Colleges in Australasia. 

“Samoa is in dire need of more specialists in different specialties to manage and treat our patients within our country".

The O.U.M.S. was founded in Samoa in 2002 and has graduated more than 120 doctors who are practicing or training in Samoa, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States.  

“To date, some of O.U.M.’s Samoan graduates are among the future physician leaders at Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital.” 

He said the first three years or pre-clinical portion of the five-year programme is completed online with live and recorded lectures and live interactive discussions with other students and faculty located in 10 countries.  

“The final two years of the programme, or clinical clerkships, are completed at Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital with the option of taking electives in New Zealand, India, the USA, and other countries. 

"Internships are completed in Samoa. 

“The O.U.M. students will study under the careful supervision of Dr. Lameko and the other clinical faculty at T.T.M. and other health facilities in Samoa.  

“Online faculty is located in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA, though academic assistance and advising is as close as the student’s computer.”

The O.U.M. decided to offer full tuition scholarships to Samoan citizens to start with Graduate-Entry- Bachelor of Medicine  and Bachelor of Surgery (M.B.B.S.) degree Programme, since its establishment in Samoa in 2002. 

“Our first recipient of such scholarship, and first Samoan graduate from O.U.M., is Dr Tapa Fidow (in 2007), who is currently a senior doctor at the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, T.T.M.H. at Moto'otua. 

“And about six other Samoans took up the same graduate-entry scholarships from O.U.M. and all had since graduated and currently working at T.T.M.H.” 

In 2010, the O.U.M. started a new undergraduate-entry M.B.B.S. degree programme to cater for National University of Samoa, University Preparatory Year graduates with 14 full-tuition scholarships being offered in the same year. 

“In 2013, a new Faculty of Medicine was born out of N.U.S. and all the Undergraduate M.B.B.S. students were taken up by that programme," Dr. Lameko said. 

“Then in 2015, O.U.M. restarted a new scholarship scheme for the graduate-entry medical degree, whose name had been changed to Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree, for Samoan citizens; offering four times per year. 

"To date, nine candidates had applied and all had been accepted; eight still continuing and one [as] failed the programme."

 He said offering the scholarship is their response to human resource problems and planning (in this case, qualified medical doctors) in Samoa.

He said the O.U.M.S. was the first medical school in the South Pacific to achieve international accreditation, first accredited in 2010 by the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities.  OUM graduates may practice medicine in any country in the world. 

Dr Lameko told the Samoa Observer qualified applicants should have a Bachelor’s degree with a grade point average of 3.0-4.0, preferably in the sciences and must be a citizen of Samoa for at least 10 years. 

The deadline to apply for the February 2020 intake is 2 September 2019, and the deadline to apply for the July 2020 intake is 2 March 2020.  



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