From the interviews and FGDs, we found that the training of AMOs was challenged by; non-responsive static curriculum, limited sponsorships, human resources inadequacy and limited teaching infrastructure (figure 1).
Figure 1: Challenges facing AMOs’ training in Tanzania
The use of non-responsive static curriculum for AMOs training
The use of static non-responsive curriculum attributed to lack of regular revision and low emphasis on basic science courses in the curriculum was among major challenges facing AMOs training in Tanzania.
From the AMOs tutors, we found that the curriculum that is key to the training of AMOs was written in 2000 (over 15 years ago), this was the first written curriculum since 1963 and it has never been reviewed since 2000. The informants added that the failure to review the curriculum is attributed to the dilemma that surrounds the overall structure of the course. Noteworthy, the AMO program is the only course in which graduates are offered advanced diploma at the end of the course in Tanzania. In the contemporary academic system of Tanzania, Advanced diploma courses have been phased out.
“…it has never been reviewed…I know some years back they called us to a review meeting but then came to a conflict with the ministry of education that advanced diploma programmes are no longer in the national academic framework. Since then I have heard nothing about the review of this curriculum…” (KI-AMO training college).
Informants from the district hospitals stated that despite the changes in both the training and practice in medicine, the AMO training has remained static. They added that the AMO curriculum is having serious knowledge gaps in basic sciences that form the foundation of medical practice. The basic sciences are limited to a period of only eight weeks and they are not the only subjects in that period rather they are taught concurrently with clinical rotations.
“…in clinical officers training, the training on anatomy and physiology is too basic…it was expected that when one joins AMOs training, then the training on physiology, anatomy, biochemistry and other basic sciences be upgraded….surprisingly, eight weeks everything is lumped together with other clinical subjects….then understanding of basic sciences to AMOs is negligible… ” (KI- Kigoma).
In Tanzania’s health system, there is no formal internship programme after completion of AMO studies. Analysis of the interviews shows that; each council has its own coping mechanism to create an opportunity for “working under the supervision of AMO graduates” before starting working independently. Depending on the council that AMO is working, the time for working under supervision varies from three to twelve months. It is imperative to note that this process is not structured and thus there is no clear-cut goal on what an AMO should gain from this process.
“… When they return from their training, we have senior AMOs and MDs here, so we attach these fresh AMOs to these senior in different departments…When the senior feels that now this AMO can work independently then s/he moves to another department…the duration varies from three months to 12 months for the individuals …” ( KI-Mtwara).
Limited sponsorship for AMOs training
Across health facilities and colleges, AMO trainees and junior AMO reported having attempted self-sponsorship as a response to the failure of the government to provide sponsorship to them. They added that, as government employees, AMO trainees used to receive sponsorship from the government once they were admitted. However, they reported that the scholarships were decreasing gradually and nowadays it has remained at the discretion of each council. They added that most of the councils have failed to provide the scholarships. Majority of the AMO trainees were now attempting self-sponsorship that affects themselves and their families.
“…Some council supports their students and some do not... At your home, you have left children who need school fees… So, it is very difficult to concentrate on a situation when you have no money…sometimes you feel like you have given your family a burden by your decision of coming to school…” (FGD-AMO training college).
Inadequacy in human resources
The challenges of human resources manifested as an absolute shortage of tutors and relative shortage in terms of experienced tutors and lack of pedagogical teaching methods.
Informants from the AMO schools stated that despite the desire of producing high-quality workforce, AMO schools as well as the hospitals where AMO are trained face a deficiency of teaching staff. The shortage of teaching staff affects the AMOs training to acquire essential skills especially in the clinical rotation where the shortage is worse.
“…the serious shortage is in clinical rotations, as we do not have a single specialist in this AMO School. …., For instance, in obstetrics and gynaecology we have only one registrar and mostly we rely on the only one available gynaecologist at the hospital who sometimes has travelled for other hospital duties …” (KI- AMO Training College)
Furthermore, informants from the AMOs training schools stated that most of the tutors were employed to the AMO training schools immediately post their internship without any experience. Given the fact that AMO training is a continuing education that requires proper methods as most of the students are adults, the informants felt that the use of fresh graduates was creating an unfavourable learning environment to the AMO trainees who have seen the real workplaces compared to the fresh graduate medical doctors. Ascribed to the feelings of the AMOs, the tutors expressed that they also felt uncomfortable in teaching the clinical skills due to lack of experience.
“…Immediately after my internship, I applied for a job through the Ministry of health….after six months I was posted here to teach the AMOs. At first, it was a very hard job as when I reported I found that most of the tutors were also fresh graduates like me…only four were experienced…for the lectures, it was not a challenge, but for the clinical rotations, yeah it took sometimes to cope…” (KI-AMO training school)
Some tutors participated in this study added that apart from being medical doctors; they were not equipped with the teaching methodology. Therefore, it was tough for them at the beginning of their work as trainers of adult learners. Trainer and trainee communication in training session was limited and thus creating a communication gap between the two groups. They stated that this was making life harder to the AMO trainees and in long run affecting the quality of the AMOs produced.
“… If it is the problem, I think, it is in the methodology; you know teaching is a profession…. I mean, that ability to deliver a message to the other person and yet understood… So, with regard to that problem, my advice is that it was better for evaluation to be done in the given year and the trainers receive training methodology course…” (FGD-AMO training college).
Limited infrastructure for AMOs training
Informants in this study revealed the existence of limited infrastructure that challenges the delivery of quality training to the AMOs. Across AMO schools, shortage of teaching materials and space for practical training were stated as the main setback to the AMOs training. With regards to the teaching materials, overhead projectors, teaching models, computers, skills laboratory and books were the main outcry of the trainees and trainers. The challenge was reported to be more pressing at the government-owned schools.
“…We used to have enough teaching models but as time goes, they get old and now we have remained with just a few. …. We have only two overhead projectors, more than two teachers cannot go to the classes at the same time …we have only one printer and a photocopier, all of them are aged, so it is a challenge during the examinations period.
We also do not have a computer in the office so everyone uses a personal laptop if have one…It is really challenging…” (KI- AMO training college).
Limited space for practical training was complained hospitals by students and junior AMOs across training institutions and district to limit them from acquiring the desired competencies. They added that in most AMO schools, there were many other groups of trainees and the hospitals were small and thus at the time it was not possible for them to get a chance to even see a patient during surgery due to existence of other groups. Some AMOs added that sometimes they were not even included in the schedule for practical training due to lack of space to accommodate them.
“…There are many challenges as I said in the beginning; we were like tourists in the theatre and ward rounds because of the existence of Interns who assisted almost all procedures, Medical students who were also struggling to assist and the residents. In this situation, how do you expect an AMO student to learn? …” (KI-Kigoma).