Unfair - Medical technology students at UTech and NCU cry foul after government cuts training stipend
Medical technology students at the University of Technology (UTech) and Northern Caribbean University (NCU) are asking for equal treatment after the health ministry's recent decision to pay stipend to 32 of the 41 public health students on internship with state entities.
"The issue I am having is that the students from the School of Public Health at the same University of Technology are being paid to do their internship and currently our medical technology students who have been out there from January 26 are not being paid," said Dr Sonia Richards-Malcolm, chairperson of the Caribbean Association of Medical Technologists.
"So what we have had to be doing ... is saving and putting money together to feed these students who are a part of the system. Because they do work from eight o'clock to four, so they are doing a full day's job," added Richards-Malcolm.
Medical technology, which was introduced at UTech in 1973 as a certificate course, before being upgraded to a diploma and is now a degree course, has always seen students go on internship. Initially, the internship was for a year, but in 2004 this was reduced to six months.
According to Richards-Malcolm, the Ministry of Health abruptly stopped paying the 2012/2013 batch of students. She said she made representation on the student's behalf and Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson gave directives for the students to be paid $20,000 per month for the duration of the period they were assigned to the National Public Health Laboratory.
According to Richards-Malcolm, this was a breach of agreement as the medical technology students were usually paid 90 per cent of a level one medical technician salary, which means the students should be getting $65,050 per month.
"I am a product of that. I completed my medical technology degree in 2002 and the government paid us 90 per cent of a level one medical technician salary," noted Richards-Malcolm.
Last year, the ministry returned to its previous position of not paying the students, leaving the current batch of 55 students (25 from UTech and 30 from NCU) with a dollar.
When The Sunday Gleaner contacted Dr Kevin Harvey, permanent secretary in the health ministry, late last month on the issue of the students from UTech's School of Public Health not being paid he had pointed out that it would not be business as usual where payment to interns is concerned.
"No decision has been taken not to pay interns, but all cannot be paid, however, due to the large number of participants yearly," said Harvey then.
He further argued that the various institutions are collecting fees and the internship is a part of their training, so the institutions should help to offset the cost of the programme.
"Training has become a business and it cannot be that you train as many people as you can take in and then we automatically have to employ them for the internship pay them for the internship period and provide the fund and resources to facilitate that internship for any number of students you put out," Harvey reasoned.
But while acknowledging the financial constraints being faced by the Government, Richards-Malcolm argued that it is unfair for one set of interns to be paid while others are not paid.
"The issue I am having is if you are saying 'we are not paying interns,' why are we paying some? The students at the School of Public Health have a similar programme to the med tech students here at Utech and also to the students at Northern Caribbean University," Richards-Malcolm said.
She charged that despite writing to Ferguson and Harvey she is yet to get a response.
"They need to come to the table and say we can only pay for 10 of your 20 students, for example," said Richards-Malcolm.
"We have been asking for the meeting from when, and though we live in the same country, I have been unable to get to the relevant persons. They have just cut it off blankly like that and there is no dialogue."