Algeria’s medical schools start this academic year with a new education system to be applied for the first time for years four through six of a seven-year curriculum. The reform’s first phase, covering the first three years of medical school, started in 2018. The seventh year consists of intensive training in hospitals.
Abdelbaki Benziane, the minister of higher education and scientific research, said in a press statement that these measures are part of efforts to modernize medical education in Algeria and improve training in the medical sciences that future doctors will need to meet current challenges.
Only students of the 2018 cohort, who were included in the first phase of updates, are subject to the new system in years four through six. Previously enrolled students will continue their studies according to the old system.
There are about 12 faculties of medicine in Algeria that annually graduate a total of 1,500 to 2,000 students, according to the National Syndicate of Doctors.
New Programs and Methods
The reform’s second phase includes the introduction of new study programs such as scientific research, critical reading of medical articles, and a special program for clinical research methods. These updates also combine practical and theoretical courses, and allow clinical workshops to be held at teaching hospitals and health-care centers during the second three years.
This “comprehensive reform was adopted to adapt our medical sciences education to the new scientific, socio-demographic and epidemiological data” regarding disease patterns in the region.Abdelkrim Messaoudiِ
A professor of medicine who helped design the new system
The reforms of the first three academic years included a more detailed study of human body systems and each organ’s diseases, as well as the introduction of modern devices at the laboratories of medical colleges that allow physicians to examine body organs in an experimental way instead of through direct examination of human beings.
Also in the reform’s first phase, the ministry introduced teaching both English and French to students in their first academic year for about three months, with the aim of improving their French, the instruction language, before starting their studies, and learning English, the language of research papers and medical scientific conferences.
Focus on New Disease Patterns
Abdelkrim Messaoudi, a professor at the University of Algiers 1 Faculty of Medicine and one of those who helped prepare the new education system, said in a phone call that this “comprehensive reform was adopted to adapt our medical sciences education to the new scientific, socio-demographic and epidemiological data” resulting from the increasing prevalence of diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and cancer in the region. (See a related article, “Patterns of Disease Are Changing in the Arab World.”)
Algeria’s old medical curriculum focused on infectious diseases that were prevalent in the 1970s, such as cholera. That means deep and radical reforms are needed to keep pace with new health trends, said Messaoudi.
Messaoudi, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the Mouloud Mammeri University of Tizi Ouzou, explained that the new curriculum also allows students to attend patients in hospitals from their first year, and this will be reflected in modernizing Algeria’s health system and the medical services provided by doctors.
Covid-19 and Other Hindrances
A number of doctors and students at Algeria’s medical schools say that while they believe the curriculum reform is a good step, there were problems in the implementation of its first phase. These stemmed from conditions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the “poor” capabilities of the medical colleges in the country’s southern parts.
The second and third years of the new system coincided with the spread of Covid-19, resulting in the lack of sufficient training courses for educators on teaching the new curriculum.Salah Laouar Abdelhamid
President of the National Syndicate of Doctors
In a Zoom interview, Salah Laouar Abdelhamid, president of the National Syndicate of Doctors and one of those who helped prepare the medical education reform program, said that the second and third years of the new system coincided with the spread of Covid-19, resulting in the lack of sufficient training courses for educators on teaching the new curriculum.
Other also hindered training educators on all devices and modern teaching methods in parallel with the reforms, Abdelhamid added. For example, many universities do not have a fast Internet connection.
In a meeting held in July, attended by the minister of higher education, the deans of Algeria’s medical faculties, and officials of the new programs, Abdelhamid discussed the problems faced in implementing the reforms’ first phase, and proposed ways to avoid similar problems in the second stage.
However, Abdelhamid said the changes in the training program had helped medical students learn to differentiate between a healthy and an unhealthy body in an experienced accurate manner.
“The old system directly teaches students on sick bodies and diseases without teaching students to recognize the healthy body,” he said. “There is a big difference in being able to distinguish the healthy from the ill, and to discover the disease later on.” He explained that new specialties and programs have been introduced such as oncology, geriatrics, and disease prevention, which can help graduates to be well-trained on how to deal with such diseases.
A Student’s View
For his part, Badreddine Reziga, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Batna 2 in eastern Algeria, said in a phone call that the new system is more organized than the old one in terms of arranging each unit’s subjects. “Students can pass seven exams for five units of study, unlike the old one system, in which a student has to sit for an exam twice a year, six months apart,” he said.
“Students can pass seven exams for five units of study, unlike the old one system, in which a student has to sit for an exam twice a year, six months apart.”Badreddine Reziga
A fourth-year medical student at the University of Batna 2 in eastern Algeria
One of thousands of students who started under the new system three years ago, Reziga added that he had not seen a clear shift towards practical training at teaching hospitals, despite the plan to provide more practical training. Reziga called on the authorities to intervene to push the translation of theoretical reforms into practical training.
Another factor that hinders practical training is the lack of chemicals in the colleges’ laboratories in Algeria’s eastern states, and the inadequacy of teaching hospitals, said Reziga.
“Practical training, even without the Covid-19 pandemic, is of poor quality,” he said. “That’s because we live in the east. For northern states, practical training is of a much higher standard compared to ours.”
General Medicine as a Specialty
Turning “general medicine” into a specialty in its own right, like other medical specialties, was among the proposals made by a number of those who had participated in preparing the reform system during their meetings with officials from the ministries of higher education and health. However, the ministries did not accept that idea.
The proposal suggested offering a three-year specialty program in “general medicine” to be studied after graduation, with the aim of confronting the poor training of Algeria’s general practitioners, who are “the backbone of the medical system in developed countries,” according to Abdelhamid, the head of the National Syndicate of Doctors.
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Abdelhamid said that patients should primarily consult a general practitioner before being referred to a specialist, explaining that what is happening in Algeria is the opposite due to the lack of confidence in general practitioners. This disrupts the medical system, for specialties cannot serve the entire nation, he added.
Students involved in this new medical education system aspire to see its results reflected on improving doctors’ physical working conditions, and help reduce the number of emigrants fleeing the country.
“We aspire to see Algeria as an exporter of health services, and to become a destination for treatment for all citizens in North Africa instead of Turkey and Europe, especially since it is a link between Africa and Europe,” said Messaoudi.