Working in South Africa as a Doctor

Otherwise known as ‘Rainbow Country’, South Africa has at least 13 official languages and numerous cultures and ethnic groups resident in its 9 provinces. One of the main attractions of South Africa is its offerings of stunning natural beauty and preserved wildlife attracting millions of tourists each year.

It is an emerging popular destination for medics who search for experience in rural settings where many doctors are required to work as pure generalists with low resources and a variety of vocational skills in order to manage the sheer range of medical or surgical presentations, not often seen in urban settings. Unfortunately these rural settings are unpopular with locally trained doctors for a variety of reasons which mainly center around being drawn towards academic centers and living closer to modern amenities.

Many local and foreign doctors who work in South Africa find their experience extremely rewarding and we would strongly encourage medics to consider this destination.

Hamba Kahle!

Quick Facts:



Estimated about 53 million (2013)






Median age at death was 47.9 years in 2010

Current life expectancy is estimated at 49 years.


TB was the leading cause of death in SA in 2010 (12%) and continues to be a significant health problem, however this number is declining. Non-natural deaths (ie. Assault or trauma) accounted for 10% of the population affecting 3 out of every 8 deaths in the 15-19 years age category.

HIV was the 7th commonest cause of death, beaten by other categories such as Cardiovascular, Diabetes and intestinal diseases.


With several high profile cases involving violent murders, nobody can debate that South Africa is notorious for high crime rates, however like most countries, minimising risk to yourself by taking sensible precautions should enable you to live and work safely. The vast majority of foreign doctors of have worked in SA have not been victims of crime, however many will work with patients who have on a day-to-day basis.


Main road infrastructure is very well maintained by private companies, hence heavily tolled, particularly in urban areas. Those living or visiting rural areas will benefit from having an off-road vehicle to maneuver tricky dirt tracks.

We do not recommend the use of public transport in areas outside of the major cities. Many of these vehicles are overcrowded, subject to severe to fatal road traffic accidents, and largely remain unregulated. If you are considering working in South Africa, it is strongly advised you purchase a private vehicle (or be very good friends with someone who has one!)

There are several local and international flights from major hubs allowing easy and affordable air travel within and from South Africa.


Two tiered system:

Public healthcare system. – ‘80% of the population catered for by approximately 20% of working doctors in SA’.

Private healthcare system – caters mainly for those in middle to high income brackets, hence attracts the vast majority of doctors working in healthcare.

Access to healthcare is relatively poor in rural areas due to fewer hospitals serving larger populations, with lower quality public transport infrastructure.


Post 2 years graduation onwards. The more experience you have, the more rewarding it can be.


Minimum 6 months to 1 year. Most of this time is sorting out the dreaded paperwork which is perhaps the biggest obstacle you would have to face whilst planning and working in SA.


Health Professionals Council of South Africa

For more on working in South Africa as a doctor, check out the following related articles:

General Surgery in South Africa