Medical laboratory technology graduates from the University of Gitwe (former Higher Institute of Pedagogy of Gitwe) have petitioned the Prime Minister to help them get a practicing licence.
The students had graduated with bachelor’s degree in Human Biology and Biomedical Sciences, but, last year, they were compelled to undertake a diploma course in medical laboratory technology under a ‘bridging programme.’
According to Jean-Baptiste Sikubwabo, the petitioners’ representative, most of the graduates have been practicing for four years, while others have even spent 12 to 15 years working without operation licence from the Rwanda Allied Health Professionals Council (RAHPC).
The bridging programme was developed to fill the gap not covered by the graduates.
Established in 2013, RAHPC regulates biomedical laboratory practitioners among some other professions.
For instance, the programme was said to be 2,600 hours short, according to the Higher Education Council (HEC).
Sikubwabo said a total of 194 of the affected 270 graduates undertook the bridging programme in February last year.
They completed the programme in December, graduating with Diploma in Medical Laboratory Technology, but they are yet to get a practicing licence.
“We have never been given practicing license as RAHPC first said it was awaiting a report from the University of Gitwe but even when the university sent the report HEC said it could not issue practicing licence before administering its own exams,” Sikubwabo told The New Times.
He wondered why the council insists on examining them yet their peers who completed at the same time from the University of Rwanda’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences got the licences without sitting another exam.
Dieudonné Irizabimbuto, the public request officer at the Prime Minister’s office, acknowledged receiving the petition in June, saying relevant organs are studying the issue.
On Monday, Maj Jean Damascene Gasherebuka, the chairperson of RAHPC, told The New Times that all students in biomedical technology or sciences will be doing exams before getting operation licence.
“The role of the council is to protect the public by ensuring that the graduates have the relevant qualifications and skills to be proficient in their work,” he said.
Gasherebuka said HEC asked the University of Gitwe to conduct the programme and send a report indicating how it was covered as required before the students can graduate.
“But the students went and returned to demand for the licence claiming that they had completed the programme without any evidence. We cannot give them the licence without a report from the university,” he said.
Gasherebuka acknowledged that, later, the university sent the report but there was an indication that the course had not been comprehensively covered due to limited time allocated, and HEC advised the students to prepare for its own exams.
Harmonisation of EAC protocol
Contrary to the petitioners’ claims, Gasherebuka said, all students who study biomedical laboratory technology will be required to sit licensing exams in September.
The exams were previously given to some students graduating from neighbouring countries.
The Health Professional Council establishment is a requirement of East African Community’s Common Market Protocol with mandate to ensure that graduates are accepted in any of East African Community (EAC) countries.
It is in line with the free movement of labour in the region, agreed upon in 2011.
HEC executive director Innocent Sebasaza Mugisha said the bridging programme was intended to make graduates more marketable through introduction of relevant modules to fill the identified gaps after the establishment of RAHPC.
He confirmed that new instructions require all graduates from any university taking biomedical programme to sit exams before acquiring a practicing licence.
“Even if students have successfully done the bridging programme, it is a prerequisite for them to sit a licensing examination,” Mugisha said, adding that University of Gitwe has already upgraded its programme.
“The bridging programme was for those who had not done those courses. Those who are graduating after them are doing the validated, completed one,” he said.
Jered Rugengande, the rector of University of Gitwe, told The New Times on Monday that the petitioners wanted operation licence for laboratory technicians, but were denied on grounds that they had studied Human Biology and Biomedical Science.
He said the two were different disciplines.
“The council told them that they had modules they did not study that they had to complete. After negotiations with HEC, we agreed to teach the students required courses leading to award of diploma in [medical] laboratory [technology], then they will get license,” Rugengande said.
He said the students completed the bridging programme and that the University sent a report as it was required by the Council.
Rugengande asked the council to carry out an audit of the bridging programme, but noted that the audit should not be done after the students have graduated.
The rector, however, said they have the discretion to conduct the evaluation any time.
Meanwhile, Rwanda Allied Health Professionals Council declined to share the evaluation reports to establish exactly what gaps were identified in the course and what actions were recommended.