NO one understands the frustration of being asked for â€˜work experienceâ€™ than a job hunter who is switching to another field of specialisation outside his training or current profession.
But a fellowship-a non-degree programme aimed at enhancing individual proficiencies in identified fields of study or programmes can be handy.
The Makerere University School of Public Healthâ€™s (MUSPH) HIV Fellowship is such programme that can kick-start oneâ€™s career and make an impressive addition to a resume.
Dr. Rhoda Wanyenze, the Programme manager says the fellowship which started in 2002 is funded by the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC).
â€œWe observed that although a lot of successes have been registered by the increasing number of HIV/AIDS related programmes and funding, a number of challenges have been created by the same programmes.â€
â€œThere is shortage of trained personnel with necessary skills to provide the much needed stewardship in programme leadership and management.
â€œMore so, in the rural areas, where sustainability of the various HIV/AIDS programmes is a big problem,â€ she argues.
Requirements for admission
Wanyenze says the two-year programme which admits graduates with masters degrees from varied professional backgrounds focuses on increasing the number of professionals equipped with leadership and management skills to spearhead HIV/AIDS initiatives.
â€œI did my internship as a medic but as a leader I faced problems. Most people with specialised training like medics and journalists lack the training as leaders. I was a pure clinician but because of the fellowship, I learnt how to develop budgets and that made a big difference,â€ Wanyenze says.
Prof. David Serwadda, the programme director says they admit people with reasonable level of experience â€” a minimum of one year in HIV/AIDS related work.
The programme is field-based, with a 25% academic component that comprises multidisciplinary short courses offered at the school, and 75% practical.
â€œWe place students in a host institution that does work related to HIV/AIDS for them to practice what they know and learnt at school. All through, they are assigned academic and host mentors to guide them, while we follow-up with periodic checks to monitor theirprogress,â€ he says.
Serwadda says 74 fellows have been enrolled on the programme, 54 of whom have graduated-with majority in high-level positions in national and international agencies.
â€œBuilding on this success, we have also introduced medium term fellowships, short courses and technical placements,â€ Serwadda says.
Who is a fellow?
Few people understand what being a â€˜fellowâ€™ means. Dr. Rebecca Kivumbi, a pediatrician on the programme, was asked,
â€œAre you doing a PhD, I thought you finished a masters degree long ago. Which qualification are you going to get now?â€ She adds, â€œEven in meetings, the mere mention of the title fellow, people think you are simply trying to be cheeky.â€
The institutions where the fellows are placed for their apprenticeship are also yet to understand the concept.
Experiences of alumni fellows has shown that once they are placed in these institutions, many employees do not know how exactly to treat them.
Nonetheless, Joseph Matovu, the MUSPH-CDC HIV/AIDS fellowship programme reveals that they are addressing this through mentorship and dissemination workshops for institutions and the public to understand fellowships.
â€œFellowships are still a gray area in developing countries like Uganda,â€ Matovu argues. â€œPeople value accumulating academic papers the reason scholarships are more popular.â€
Scholarships are normally awarded to undergraduate and graduate students, primarily for general education expenses and may be based on superior performance while some take into account need or specific skills.
Fellowships on the other hand are not based on need, but rather skill, performance and qualifications to work in a certain field. They tend to pay for internships or fieldwork, so that students, usually at the post graduate level, can enhance their training in their field of interest and specialisation.
â€œSomeone is more comfortable obtaining many degrees and other post graduate qualifications than enrolling for a two-year fellowship.
â€œAnd that is the problem we are facing today; people presenting for job interviews with too many academic credentials but when they cannot even write a descent report,â€ Matovu argues.
Wanyenze appeals to the Government to institutionalises fellowships. She says there are a few other specialised fellowship programmes conducted by the Infectious Diseases Institute in Mulago, The School of Medicine, The Joint Clinical Research Centre, and the Walter Reed Project.
However, these programmes are quite scientific, highly specialised and externally fundedâ€œWe need locally funded fellowships. Most are foreign funded, which raises concerns of sustainability,â€ she says.
Fellowships: A chance to learn on the job