The medical and scientific fields of study in South Africa present a wide range of opportunities, including disorders ranging from those seen in developed countries to those typical of other places in the world where infectious diseases present a significant burden. Healthcare, teaching and research are under various authorities and funding is limited but there is a reasonable infrastructure though staff has waned and technology has lagged somewhat behind international standards. It is important to consider carefully whether the specialisation or academic studies discussed below are what is really desired and to begin preparations for these ahead of taking all the steps outlined below:

For specialisation in chemical pathology (elsewhere termed clinical biochemistry or clinical chemistry), the route to follow is an application to the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) based in Johannesburg and coordinating the pathology training posts. The NHLS places an advertisement in the Sunday Times newspaper, reviews the applications and makes recommendations for interviews at the various teaching hospital laboratories.  The NHLS runs a diagnostic laboratory service in C17 in Groote Schuur Hospital which is the referral hospital used for teaching and research by UCT. There is an extension of the service and academic activity at the Red Cross Children’s War Memorial Hospital. For specialisation there must also be a university student registration and the submission of a thesis at M Med level is a requirement for specialisation. 

For academic studies such as BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD, MMed or for academic laboratory projects, the route is the university. The Division of Chemical Pathology of the University of Cape Town (UCT) is on the 6th level of the Falmouth Building that houses other pathology disciplines where laboratories often share equipment and expertise. There is scope for projects in a wide range of biochemical pursuits, including lipoproteins, enzymes and genetics. There are no funds assigned to be used for salary or equipment at the discretion of the division for students. Study funding will have to be sought and new equipment as well if essential for projects. Some funds are available for consumables from the MRC project on HDL and dyslipidaemias. Prospective students who are good candidates for a successful career will receive support from staff in these ventures and should preferably visit the premises before making a decision about academic studies.

For persons who are not South African citizens there are additional steps to take for study in South Africa. It is unpredictable how long this process will be. In order to apply for temporary registration the head of chemical pathology can provide a letter of intention to study, the business manager of the NHLS at Groote Schuur Hospital supplies a similar letter and the dean’s office will supply a letter indicating acceptance of the student will follow on registration with the Health Profession Council and with the necessary permission of the department of Home Affairs.  The university may request an English examination if the prospective student does not speak English as a first language.

These requirements will have to be in place before applications can proceed with the NHLS specialist training which will require an interview and, if training is approved as a supernumery registrar, an agreement is signed on a NHLS contract indicating that the conditions will be the same as for training of South Africans training in chemical pathology with the exception that there is no salary forthcoming from the NHLS.

(1) If there is a medical practitioner or specialist qualification from elsewhere, then it is important to register this with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) with the following website:
(2) A study permit or a work permit to be resident in South Africa is required from the Department of Home Affairs (DoHA) whose website is:
More information can be found at:

The command of English will be assessed at the interview with the NHLS which will be conducted in the same way as for South Africans wishing to specialise. The proficiency in English is important for the reasons of study, responsible evaluation and communication of results, as well as for teaching.  Additionally, it is important at or before the interview, to prove that the financial resources are in place to study. A document from the supporting government, scholarship or other means of proving that the study will be affordable.


Specialisation in chemical pathology requires a minimum qualification of MBChB, as well as HPCSA registration as an independent practitioner after having completed internship and community service. The registrar position is under the employment of the NHLS. Registrar training takes a minimum of 4 years. The specialisation will require registration for a postgraduate degree with UCT, passing a Mmed thesis, and passing the part I and part II examinations set by the College of Pathology of South Africa.

Priority is given to South African citizens and positions are limited to a small number. Persons who are not South African citizens or who have alternative funding, may still join the programme on equal working and studying conditions as South African citizens in training, but will not be employed by the NHLS, and are termed “supernumerary”. These students have to prove that there is financial support for accommodation, subsistence, transport, university registration, healthcare and other expenses that they may incur before registering with the university. They are subject to university requirements for leave and progress assessment. Such registration is done through the University Registrar Office. The Dean’s Office at the Faculty of Health Sciences may also assist.

To apply, prospective students will need to respond to NHLS advertisement for registrar posts with a curriculum vitae as well as referees for short-listing decisions (see advertisement for details). Selection will result in an interview, whereafter the NHLS will make a decision.  Generally the advertisement is in September or April, with interviews in October or May and appointments commence in January or July.



There are several options for postgraduate studies. BSc(Hons) Biochemistry is available as a separate course in the faculty and serves as a preparation for MSc, MD or PhD studies. Mature students with merit may enter at the MSc of PhD level in exceptional instances.
Registration with the HPCSA is still advisable for those with medical qualifications. Prospective students who are not South African citizens need to proceed as outlined to obtain residency and permission to study.

General information is available on the UCT website: and the home page has a menu of topics under Applying to UCT. Under Becoming a Student there is information about postgraduate studies and funding mechanisms.

For MSc and PhD studies it is preferable that there has been some laboratory experience and that there is a direction of interest and some preparation. Collaborative studies with other units in the country or other countries may extend the scope of the work. Additionally, there must be planning for finances for the duration of the study; generally 2-3 years for MSc and 3-5 years for PhD. Within weeks of commencing on a postgraduate degree, a project proposal will need to be submitted for approval. Progress reports are due to the faculty as well.