Student desertion worsens among medical postgraduates in Venezuela, NGO alert

The number of medicine graduates taught in the universities of Venezuela is decreasing due to the lack of optimal conditions for training and professional practice, warned the non-governmental organization Open Classroom in its report «Health University students at risk: violations of academic freedom and quality education». Shortage of inputs, violations of academic freedom, censorship, lack of technological updating, budget suffocation, precarious infrastructure, persecution and insecurity are some of the reasons that drive student and teacher desertion among the different postgraduate courses in the area of ​​medicine. In addition, there are reports of robberies at night at the facilities, or theft of food, money, and personal belongings.

In the postgraduate courses of the Faculty of Medicine of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) there is a shortage of medical and laboratory supplies —such as medicines, solutions and injectors— coupled with the deterioration of equipment such as tomographs, resonators or electrocardiographs. Added to the aforementioned problems are threats and harassment against students, teachers and staff at health centers such as the Hospital Universitario de Caracas (HUC) and the Hospital Vargas, both in Caracas.

By 2022 there were 1,587 graduate students or residents linked to the different clinical programs taught in Caracas, according to data from the UCV Postgraduate Studies Management. Nine years earlier, the UCV School of Medicine had 2,027 students. In 2014 it had 2,229 and in 2015 it had 2,156. This means that by 2022 the dropout rate was 26% compared to 2015. In the Andean region, in 2020, according to Aula Abierta, there were only 101 resident doctors in the postgraduate programs of the Universidad de Los Andes (ULA). That year, the completion rate of the studies was only 52.06%, while in the period 2016-2019, the rate was 97.8%.

According to data from the Coordination of Postgraduate Studies of the Faculty of Medicine of the UCV supplied to Aula Abierta, until August 2022 34 graduate clinical programs were closed or inactive (out of a total of 157), of which at least 16 (10 specializations and 6 master’s degrees) stopped being taught due to lack of students. At the University Hospital of Caracas, 35 postgraduate programs and 16 extension courses were taught, but by September 2022 at least 4 programs were closed: Clinical Neurology, Thoracic Surgery, Applied Neurophysiology and the Master’s Degree in Clinical Research.

At the University of Zulia (LUZ) students have also withdrawn: of 42 residents who began the postgraduate course in General Surgery at the University Hospital of Maracaibo, 10 withdrew, a dropout rate of 24%. Already in 2019, Aula Abierta had documented an increase in student desertion from LUZ Medicine postgraduate courses reaching 80% in Thoracic Surgery and 71.4% in Cardiovascular Surgery. High dropout rates have also been recorded in the Medicine course itself at LUZ: in October 2014 there were close to 800 students, while by the end of 2022 it was estimated that only 300 students were about to graduate.

In the Eastern University (UDO) in Anzoátegui, the Family Medicine postgraduate course had 5 graduates for this 2022, but there were no residents in training or new admissions. In previous times, the postgraduate program had 14 students enrolled. In the case of the General Surgery postgraduate course, although there are 20 residents in the three years of training, close to half state that they want to emigrate. In addition, they report that they have had to assume new care areas in the hospital in order to guarantee patient care.

The report also refers to arbitrary arrests of postgraduate students and professors from different universities in the country, a situation that continued to be recorded in 2022 and increased fear among students. Cases of expulsions of students for political reasons were also included. Professors have also had to leave their posts, a situation that limits the academic training process. In 2020, of the 48 postgraduate courses in Medicine at the University of Los Andes, only 5 had active professors for the more than 500 students in training. At the UCV, since 2017 the decrease in teachers has caused the closure of some postgraduate programs. By October 2018, the faculty payroll had been reduced by 40%. In 2022, as highlighted by Aula Abierta, more than 80% of the postgraduate professors of the UCV are not part of the ordinary teaching staff of the University, but instead depend administratively on the employing body. In the case of LUZ, teacher desertion is driven by the forced migration and retirement of teachers, whose vacancies were not being filled. By 2019 there were only 2 professors per graduate on average.

A Venezuelan non-governmental organization (NGO) has warned of a worsening trend of student desertion among medical postgraduates in the country. The NGO, Doctors for Health, has raised the alarm over the increasing number of medical postgraduates who are abandoning their studies due to the deteriorating economic and political situation in Venezuela.

The organization has highlighted the plight of medical postgraduates in Venezuela, who have been hit hard by the country’s economic crisis. The lack of access to basic resources, such as medical supplies and equipment, has made it difficult for students to complete their studies. In addition, the high cost of living has made it increasingly difficult for students to afford the necessary resources and materials needed to complete their studies.

The situation has been further exacerbated by the government’s failure to provide adequate funding for medical postgraduate studies. The government has been unable to provide the necessary financial support for medical postgraduates, which has left many students with no other choice but to abandon their studies.

The NGO has also warned that the situation is likely to get worse in the coming years, as the economic and political crisis continues to worsen. Doctors for Health has called on the government to take urgent action to address the issue of student desertion among medical postgraduates in Venezuela.

The organization has urged the government to increase the funding for medical postgraduate studies, as well as to provide better access to resources and materials needed to complete their studies. In addition, Doctors for Health has called on the government to ensure that medical postgraduates are provided with adequate financial support and access to resources.

The increasing rate of student desertion among medical postgraduates in Venezuela is a worrying trend that needs to be addressed urgently. If the government fails to take the necessary steps to address the issue, it could have serious implications for the future of healthcare in Venezuela.