#DoctorsUnderOppression : Why this hashtag went viral in Morocco

Oumaïma O, Morocco

It has been 3 months since I last talked to a patient or set my foot in our lecture hall. I miss this! I even miss the ugly part of being a medical student, a medical student in a developing country to be more accurate. If my colleagues and I had one wish it would have been for this nightmare to end soon.

Our strike started on March 25th 2019, when 18.000 students whom one can easily describe as nerds (No offence) started one of the longest – if not THE longest – boycott in the history of Morocco. Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy students have been boycotting their clinical rotations, lectures, practical work AND FINAL EXAMS. These students who would usually beg for additional courses, shadow their seniors whenever they are allowed to, get super excited when they discover a new study spot or do voluntary nightshifts just for the sake of learning, were forced to leave the beating heart of their existence; their PUBLIC MED-SCHOOLS, for the sake of saving them.

To put things in context, I should take you back to 2014. Five years ago, rumours went around that a private medical school would soon open their doors to students. These rumours provoked a general fear and worry. A strike started where students and professors from public universities made it clear to the leadership that they were against the privatization of medical studies. As a response, the former minister of higher education, Mr. LahcenDaoudi, reassured us all saying that private medical schools will never see the light in Morocco. The strike stopped and a few months later, students started enrolling in the first class of medical studies in the first private University in the country. This was our first deception.

In 2015, Medical students led another 2 months long strike to protest against the obligatory civil service, which was only required from Public medical school graduates, forcing them to serve two whole years in remote areas instead of recruiting actual practitioners. Our movement succeeded, leading to the abortion of this new forced labour project and the raise of our hospital service indemnities from 10$ to almost 60$ a month. It was a medical spring that gave us all new hopes. The agreement our representatives signed with the minister of higher education at the end of the protests also included terms about future resolutions that were not respected later on, but I will get back to this later.

4 years after the stethoscope revolution (the name we gave to the 2015 protest), we had to go back again to the streets, leaving the two sacred places where we belong; our Public Med-schools and our Public University hospitals, in order to protect them. It is not our mission nor our job one would say, but we were left with no other choice.

 

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In Morocco, after the 5th year of medical studies, you can take a specialization exam. If you pass, you get to spend 2 years as an intern in the university hospital and you get to choose your speciality. More than 600 students take it in every school for 50 spots. After graduation (7 years) there is another exam that medical graduates can take to specialize. These 2 exams are very competitive, and the number of spots is gradually shrinking, and even for the lucky ones who pass them, the public hospital resources are very limited.

At the beginning of 2019, we learned that our colleagues in private universities were also allowed to take the public schools’ specialization exams. This injustice was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Our representatives asked for meetings with the ministry of health and the ministry of education to clarify the situation, but all the requests for a hearing were ignored, and the boycott started.

The specialization exams were just the last straw, there had been a pre-existing frustration and hopelessness. One of our main demands is the cancellation of the new reform of studies. It is a reform of our curriculum that was copied from a western country without taking into account Morocco’s challenges and specificities, a reform that is still incomplete and yet they started applying it since 2015, and while drafting it, students were excluded from the discussions. This reform brought a lot of invisibility to our already unclear and unsure future, and it is so ambiguous that even its founders don’t know what will happen next, and even professors attest that it was a failure, but the ministry refuses to admit it.

The third demand next to the protection of our specialization tests and a « reform » of the new reform, is the restructuring of the 7th year of medical studies. Medical students, during their final year, work as full-time interns in peripheral hospitals for a monthly compensation of 150 $. This year, that should contribute significantly to their training, is a year spent with no pedagogical activity, and no assistance from professors. Even worse, citizens are fooled into believing that these interns are doctors, which is logical since they are mostly the ones you find in the Emergency Department. Seventh-year medical students should manage Emergency Departments on their own, and when patients and their families discover the reality of our poorly-equipped hospitals, they get angry, they look for someone to blame. And who will be their scapegoat? Of course seventh-year interns! The ministries want to exploit dentistry students the way it did for us by adding a 6th year to their 5 years training.

The minstries sent a draft resolution on May 15th to our council, a resolution that not only doesn’t include our main demands but it also doesn’t legally protect our rights. It also includes demands they promised they will meet in 2015 and to our not-so-big surprise, they failed us. No simulation centers, no better training conditions, over-crowded labs and clinical departments etc … How are we supposed to trust the same structures that lied to us in 2014, failed us in 2015 and kept escaping its responsibilites for the past 4 years? So, naturally we won’t trust anything less than a signed document with our representatives, a document that FULLY protects our rights and our public universities and hospitals resources.

91% of medicine dentistry and Pharmacy students in all 9 schools in Morocco refused the draft resolution. So what happened next ? The ministries stopped the conversation and the negociations again, leaving us with no other choice than boycotting the final exams. 18000 students were waiting for June 10th, with a lot of fear and legitimate apprehension. The government threats started and we had to endure a lot of pression. We all prayed our union wouldn’t be broken and that each student would respect the majority’s decision to boycott the finals. I don’t believe in miracles but what happened on that day was a miracle, to say the least. NO student showed up to take their exam on that day, and 100% of students boycotted the finals. All of us. No one betrayed the union. I think June 10th could be the second happiest day of our lives, right after the day we got admitted into our dream schools.

Seeing where this is all heading, and how we might end up with no doctors graduating this year, and instead of communicating effectively, the interior ministry got involved. Three of our professors who were supportive to us were suspended, the father of one of our representatives was also suspended from his job, and the pharmacy of the father of two of our representatives was closed. I have also to mention that his pharmacy reopened the day his daughter and son resigned from their positions in the students’ council. We were deceived but not surprised. A flow of threats followed but we kept not showing up to our exams.

The day we started this movement, we were convinced of the legitimacy of our actions and our demands, and we knew we were morally obliged to lead this fight.

To this day, national and international instances keep supporting our cause, and they all confirm the legitimacy of our fight. If we allow more exploitation of the public hospital and the public school resources, we will be signing the death sentence of public universities. We will watch the natural history of the epidemic of privatization killing higher education the way it killed public primary and secondary education.

For our cause is noble,

For our rights are worth pursuing,

For becoming a doctor, pharmacist or dentist should only be about our competences,

For our public hospitals are already over-crowded,

For private institutions should rely on their own resources,

For the beauty of our union,

For the professors who were suspended,

For the representatives and the students who were threatened,

For we love each other and care about each other,

For a more beautiful and fair Morocco,

For education is not a privilege,

We will not surrender.

If you consider helping us, share our hashtag #DoctorsUnderOppression on your social media platforms

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